Socialist Worker

How can Palestine be free?

by Jinan Coulter
Issue No. 2101

As Israel celebrates 60 years of statehood, another dark chapter in the history of Palestinian suffering is being written.

Beyond the fireworks and the endless sham of “peace” negotiations lies the real history of the last six decades – occupation, expulsion, state terror, apartheid walls and checkpoints – for Palestinians.

The creation of a Zionist state in Palestine meant the expulsion of almost a million inhabitants.

This refugee population has now swelled to around six million across the Middle East and beyond – with many condemned to a life of poverty and persecution in refugee camps.

Palestinians in the West Bank are constantly being pushed out to make way for new Zionist settlements. Meanwhile Palestinians in Gaza have been left to die in a massive prison camp – home to 1.5 million people.

The Palestinians living as second class citizens inside Israel are increasingly seen as a demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish majority, fuelling new debates among Israeli hard-liners about the need for yet more “population transfer”.


Israel continues to be the US’s crucial ally in the Middle East – and the biggest recipient of US foreign aid. It is a highly militarised society that has been ceaselessly engaged in aggression against Palestinians.

So what kind of solution can be reached with a state built on racist violence and so intent on the destruction of another people?

The basis for repairing the huge injustice done to the Palestinians must include their right to return to their historic home.

It must also include the sharing of the city of Jerusalem and an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

These demands cannot be met through partition or through a two-state solution that creates one land for an exclusive Zionist state and one for the Palestinians.

There have been several attempts to reach such a solution, such as the Oslo agreement signed in Washington in 1993. This was not an agreement of equals – the deal meant Israel claiming more than 80 percent of historic Palestine.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) effectively agreed to police its own people on behalf of the Israelis in return for nominal “sovereignty”.

Israel’s military dominance meant it could rule out any sharing of Jerusalem, force through an agreement that excluded Palestinian refugees and then proceed to expand its settlements on the West Bank.

Perhaps the nearest the two sides have come to reaching a “two-state” solution was the Camp David Summit in 2000 between PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israel’s Ehud Barak and US president Bill Clinton. Arafat even gave up the Palestinians’ right to return.

Yet his compromises were met with contempt.

Israel continued its aggression towards the Palestinians and further accelerated its programme of building illegal settlements on the West Bank.

Israel continues to blatantly disregard both international law and Palestinian sovereignty, most recently by attempts to undermine the democratically elected Hamas government and by enforcing the economic siege of Gaza.

Neither argument nor diplomacy can win Israel to respecting Palestine’s right to exist. It is a racist state that must be dismantled.

A one-state solution – open to Jews and Palestinians – may seem far off but it is the only just and viable solution that will allow Palestinians to be free.

This begs a question about what forces can win liberation for the Palestinians.

Palestinians have not just accepted their oppression but fought back repeatedly.

In particular the two intifadas – uprisings – starting in the late 1980s and in 2000, ensured that the suffering of the Palestinians remained in the public eye and that the injustice they continue to endure could not be hidden away.

But most Palestinians have been expelled from their lands and live as exiles or refugees. They are excluded from most of the Israeli economy.

On their own, they lack the economic or military power to take on Israel – a state armed and backed by the US.

Israel’s defeat by the Lebanese resistance group Hizbollah in 2006 showed that Israel and its backers could be beaten by wider forces.

But the history of the region has shown that pro-imperialist Arab regimes are no allies of the Palestinians.


Recent events in the Middle East, however, offer a glimpse of a different future for Palestine and indeed the entire region – one in which the Palestinian struggle can become part of a wider struggle for social and economic justice in the region.

During the Israeli blockade of Gaza earlier this year Palestinians broke through the border with Egypt and demanded food, water and supplies.

This triggered mass protests of solidarity across Egypt and shook Hosni Mubarak’s pro-US regime.

What worried Mubarak and his allies in the US and Israel was the possibility of the Palestinian liberation struggle becoming tied to the Egyptian resistance and workers’ movement.

The ongoing wave of strikes and protests in Egypt is linked to a wider set of demands calling for Mubarak to go.

The movement has also at times raised the slogans of freedom for Iraq and Palestine.

There is a potential for such strikes to grow into a larger surge of resistance across the region.

This could pose a serious challenge to the complicit Arab regimes that have opened their arms to Israel and US imperialism and continue to allow Palestine to be plundered.

Israel may be turning 60, but the tide of resistance is also turning.

Jinan Coulter is a Palestinian activist living in London

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