Israel-Palestine: Race against history
What future for Israel? asks Moshé Machover
Palestinians: left out
will not presume to predict the future of the Zionist state,1
but confine myself to outlining the main contradictory factors and
processes that are at work, and whose conflicting interaction will
determine its fate.
I have pointed out on several occasions,2 Zionist
colonisation deliberately followed the practice of settler colonies
such as those of North America and Australia, in which the aboriginal
people were displaced and excluded. Rather than serving as the main
exploitable labour force, providing the settlers with the surplus
product (as, for example, in Algeria and South Africa), the
indigenous Palestinian Arabs were regarded by Zionism as being
themselves surplus to requirements.
the two models of colonisation - the one exploitative, the other
exclusionist - differed fundamentally in their political economy, and
hence in their evolution and outcome. In exploitative colonies, the
settlers were a small, privileged quasi-class, vastly outnumbered by
the indigenous people. This made decolonisation possible: in many of
these colonies the settlers were either ousted or - as in South
Africa - lost their institutional (albeit not real economical)
privileges and had to accept legal equality with the natives. In
contrast, the colonisers in every exclusionist colony formed a new
settler nation that overpowered, overwhelmed and pulverised the
indigenous people and in some cases exterminated them altogether.
There is no historical precedent of decolonisation in a colony of
by these precedents, it would seem that the ultimate triumph of
Zionist colonisation is assured, and the Israeli settler state will
fulfil its ‘manifest destiny’. Decolonisation - which in this
case means deZionisation - appears to be impossible.
Zionist colonisation and its product-cum-instrument, the Israeli
settler state, have some unique features that may act as
countervailing factors and militate against this prediction.
such exceptional feature, as I have also pointed out on several
occasions,3 is the national form of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What I mean by this is that not only
the settlers have formed a new Hebrew (‘Israeli-Jewish’) nation -
as indeed is the general pattern in the exclusionary model of
colonisation - but the indigenous Palestinian Arab people have also
emerged as a single national entity. Moreover, this indigenous
national group is a sub-nationality of the all-Arab nation, one of
the world’s largest national formations and a major living
cultural-linguistic group. It is primarily for this reason that the
Palestinian people have not been pulverised, unlike their
North-American or Australian counterparts, who were isolated and
divided into many national or tribal groups speaking diverse
languages. Zionist colonisation and the Israeli state confront not
only the Palestinian Arabs, but also the whole of the Arab world,
whose masses have profound feelings of solidarity for the
the way, the fact - exceptional in colonial history - that both
the settlers and the indigenous people have formed new single
national entities in the colonised territory has given the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict the misleading superficial form of a
symmetric territorial dispute between two neighbouring nations.
exceptional feature is the numerical ratio between colonisers and the
indigenous population: in the territory controlled by Israel, the two
populations - Hebrew settlers and Palestinian Arabs - are of roughly
equal size, with the latter expected to overtake the former in the
near future, if it has not done so already.
is, of course, quite unlike the situation in exploitative colonies,
in which the settlers were a small minority. But it also contrasts
with other exclusionary colonies, in which the settlers became a
decisive majority. Unlike those other cases, the net balance
between inflow of settlers and ethnic cleansing of natives did not
result in the former numerically overwhelming the latter.
important reason for this is so obvious that it has been largely
overlooked. While North America and Australia accepted immigrants of
diverse religious denominations and ethnic origins (provided they
were white …), Israel only admits Jewish immigrants and their close
family members. Following the last influx of Jews from the former
Soviet Union and Ethiopia, there does not exist a large remaining
reservoir of likely would-be immigrants acceptable by Zionist
shortage of potential immigrants is one of the consequences of the
Nazi genocide of the Jews of eastern and central Europe. While this
genocide was no doubt an important argument justifying the
establishment of Israel to western public opinion, it also
exterminated millions of Jews whom the Zionist movement had hoped to
attract as immigrants.4
could arguably stabilise itself for the foreseeable future as a
Jewish-majority state with a manageable Arab minority, if it would
accept a so-called two-state solution, allowing the creation of a
Palestinian Arab state in part of pre-1948 Palestine. Indeed, this
seems to be such an obvious escape from the ‘ethnic peril’ posed
by a large Arab population under Israeli rule that many observers are
unable to understand why Israel has done everything to prevent it.
But no Israeli government since 1967 has ever made a legally binding
commitment to accepting a sovereign Palestinian state west of the
river Jordan; and all Israeli governments since the 1967 war have
persistently created facts on the ground in the territories occupied
in that war that preclude the establishment of a Palestinian Arab
would indeed be difficult to explain if the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict were a symmetric national conflict between two neighbouring
nations over disputed territory. The obvious bourgeois nationalist
way to resolve such a conflict is by territorial compromise.
this is not the real underlying nature of the conflict. And Zionism
has a profound ideological reason for rejecting such an ‘obvious’
resolution. It concerns the very core of Zionist self-legitimation.
has always denied that its project is one of ‘ordinary’
colonisation of a territory by foreign settlers. Rather, it claims
that this is the ‘return’ of an alleged Jewish nation to Eretz
Yisrael, its ancient ‘historical’ homeland. In the Zionist
myth it is not the Jewish settlers but the Arab residents who are
aliens in the Land of Israel.
could legitimise an Arab state in any part of that territory? There
is only one possible legitimation: the right of a people inhabiting a
territory, or constituting a decisive majority in it, to national
self-determination. But Zionism cannot accept such legitimation,
because if it applies to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip now it
surely also applied by the same token to the whole of Palestine in,
say, 1923, when its population was overwhelmingly Arab. This implies
that Zionist colonisation was not legitimate. Thus, accepting the
legitimacy of an Arab state anywhere west of the river Jordan would
totally undermine the self-legitimation of a Zionist Israel.
general Moshe Dayan pointed out in a remarkable speech:
“Fundamentally a Palestinian state is an antithesis of the state of
Israel ... The basic and naked truth is that there is no fundamental
difference between the relation of the Arabs of Nablus to Nablus and
that of the Arabs of Jaffa to Jaffa … And if today we set out on
this road and say that the Palestinians are entitled to their own
state because they are natives of the same country and have the same
rights, then it will not end with the West Bank. The West Bank
together with the Gaza Strip do not amount to a state ... The
establishment of such a Palestinian state would lay a cornerstone to
something else … Either the state of Israel - or a Palestinian
other words, if an Arab state west of the Jordan is legitimate, then
Zionist colonisation and its state were and are illegitimate. So by
acting consistently to prevent a ‘two-state solution’ Israeli
governments since 1967 were not behaving impulsively or
opportunistically: they have been driven by a deep commitment to the
Zionist self-legitimation of Israel itself.
by pursuing this policy, Israel’s leading politicians are taking a
very risky gamble. The risk, from a Zionist viewpoint, is that Israel
will be stuck with having to control a sizable Arab population -
eventually considerably larger than the Hebrew settler nation - whose
national identity would be impossible to obliterate and whose
national aspirations and demands for equal rights would be
increasingly hard to suppress.
the same time, changes in the Arab world may alter the balance of
power in Israel’s disfavour. These and other international
developments may also lead the US, Israel’s all-important backer
and senior partner, to reconsider its vital support for the Zionist
state. That would spell doom for the Zionist project.
is a race against history, which makes the so-called Sharon plan of a
new round of massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs very
attractive to the Zionist gamblers.6 Whether they will be
able to pull it off remains to be seen.
Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra, p12b) warns that “since the
Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been denied to prophets and given
to idiots and infants”.
my book Israelis and Palestinians: conflict and resolution
London 2012 (especially chapter 35). Also ‘Breaking the chains of
Zionist oppression’ Weekly Worker February 19 2009.
Jabotinsky, in his otherwise offensive ‘Iron wall’ article,
published in 1923, argued explicitly against expulsion of the Arabs
from Palestine. He counted on massive immigration of Jews from
eastern Europe that would relatively rapidly reduce the Arabs to a
manageable minority. See
December 12 1975. For other Zionists putting forward the same
argument immediately following the 1967 war, see chapter 19 of my
book, cited above.
van Creveld, ‘Sharon’s plan is to drive Palestinians across the
Jordan’ The Sunday Telegraph April 28 2002.