The Middle East at the Crossroads

10 September 1969

in Documents, The Other Israel

This position paper, written by M. Machover and Abu Sa’id (Jabra Nicola), was adopted by the ISO as a position paper.


The Middle East is approaching a crossroads. The four great powers are conferring in an attempt to reach an agreed “solution,” which they will then proceed to impose on the inhabitants of the region, and which they hope will restore the stability that was shaken by the June 1967 war and its aftermath. Our aim here is to analyze the dangers which wait, at this crossroads and which threaten the future of the revolution in the Middle East.

An important new protagonist has appeared on the Middle-Eastern political stage: the Palestinians. True, they had taken action into their own hands a few years before the June 1967 war, but the real impetus came only after that war. The positive factor here is that Palestinian action has transferred a struggle formerly between governments into a mass struggle.

For nearly twenty years the Palestinians had been an object of history, passively awaiting salvation by the Arab states in general, or by the “progressive” Arab states, in particular Egypt, under the leadership of Abdel Nasser. The 1948 war exposed the bankruptcy of the old middle-class and landowners’ leadership of the Arab national movement As a result, a new leadership – petit bourgeois in its class nature – came to the forefront; it overthrew the old regime in several Arab countries and scored considerable successes in the anti-imperialist struggle. But the June 1967 war revealed the limitations of this leadership; limitations resulting from its class nature and its nationalist ideology. Among other things it proved its total inability to solve the Palestinian question. Despite the Soviet support, Nasserism and Ba’athism are in a state of political bankruptcy.

Against this background the emergence of Palestinian mass struggle can be understood. As mentioned above, the emergence of this new factor is a positive phenomenon. But one can also discern a negative and dangerous trend in it. Some sections of the Palestinian movement have adopted the view that the Palestinian masses can and should “go it alone” and solve their problem themselves, in separation from the all-Arab revolutionary struggle. Those who hold this view present the problem solely as a Palestinian one, which can be solved in a purely Palestinian framework. The stick has not been straightened, it is being bent in the opposite direction.

The former passive attitude, hoping for salvation by others, risks being replaced by a narrow localist attitude. The only help which is demanded from the rest of the Arab world is aid to the Palestinian front itself. This attitude disregards the connection between the Palestinian struggle and the struggle in the Arab world as a whole, and it therefore advocates “non-intervention in the internal affairs of the Arab states.” The Arab governments encourage this attitude. The very mobilization of the masses in Arab countries – even if only for the Palestinian cause – threatens the existing regimes. These regimes therefore wish to isolate the Palestinian struggle and to leave it entirely to the Palestinians.

The Arab governments – both reactionary and progressive – are trying to buy stability for their regimes with a ransom to the Palestinian organizations. Moreover, the governments want to use this financial aid to direct the Palestinian struggle along their own politically convenient lines, to manipulate it and to utilize it merely as a means of bargaining for a political solution acceptable to them. The Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian governments are mainly interested in regaining the territories they lost in the June war (and in thereby regaining their lost prestige and consolidating their authority), while the Palestinian cause is, from their point of view, only secondary, a means rather than an aim. This is what the Arab governments mean when they call for “liquidating the results of aggression.”

Clearly, if the Arab governments achieve their aim (e.g., through the four great powers), they will be prepared to desert the Palestinians, and even to take an active part in political and physical liquidation of the Palestinian movement. The four powers will probably insist on this as a condition for a political settlement. As the consequences of the 1948 war provided the background for the downfall of the old national leadership in the Arab world and for the emergence of the petit-bourgeois leadership – so the consequences of the 1967 war have set the stage for replacing this leadership by a new one, representing a new class.

Since the propertied classes proved unable to solve the social, political and national problems of the Arab world, it has become apparent that only the exploited masses themselves, under a working-class leadership, are capable of solving their historic problems. But the existence of suitable objectiveconditions does not mean that this new leadership will automatically emerge. For this further requires a subjective factor – a political organization with a revolutionary theory and a revolutionary all-Arab strategy.

However, it is precisely this need for political work and for an all-Arab revolutionary strategy that is explicitly rejected by some important sectors of the Palestinian movement. They advocate theconfinement of the struggle to the Palestinian front alone and its limitation to armed operations without a political program. The balance of forces, as well as theoretical considerations, shows the impossibility of solving the Palestinian problem in a separate Palestinian framework.

What is the balance of forces? The Palestinian people are waging a battle where they confront Zionism, which is supported by imperialism; from the rear they are menaced by the Arab regimes and by Arab reaction, which are also supported by imperialism. As long as imperialism has a real stake in the Middle East, it is unlikely to withdraw its support for Zionism, its natural ally, and to permit its overthrow; it will defend it to the last drop of Arab oil. On the other hand, imperialist interests and domination in the region cannot be shattered without overthrowing those junior partners of imperialist exploitation that constitute ruling classes in the Arab world. The conclusion that must be drawn is notthat the Palestinian people should wait quietly until imperialist domination is overthrown throughout the region, but that they should rally to the wider struggle for political and social liberation of the Middle East as a whole.

Just as it is impossible in practice to defeat Zionism without overthrowing imperialist domination throughout the region, so it is theoretically absurd to present formulas for solving the problem within the territory of Palestine alone. If one speaks about the situation existing before the overthrow of imperialism in the entire region – then the de-Zionization of Israel and the establishment of a Palestine without Zionism is quite impossible. And if one thinks of the situation after the overthrow of imperialism – then what is the sense of a formula which refers to Palestine alone, without taking into account the necessary changes which would take place in the whole region?

In the last analysis, the formula that restricts itself to Palestine alone, despite its revolutionary appearance, derives from a reformist attitude which seeks partial solutions within the framework of conditions now existing in the region. In fact, partial solutions can only be implemented through a compromise with imperialism and Zionism. In addition, the solutions which are limited to Palestine cannot grapple successfully with the national problem. The formulas which speak of “an independent democratic Palestine all of whose citizens, irrespective of religion, will enjoy equal rights” have two defects.

On the one hand, they imply the creation of a new separate Palestinian nation whose members do not differ from one another nationally but only religiously. The authors of these formulas are themselves aware of the absurdity of separating the Palestinians from the general Arab nation; they therefore hasten to add that “Palestine is part of the Arab fatherland.” This looks suspiciously like the old slogan of “Arab Palestine” dressed up in new – and more nebulous-garb.

This attitude, results from a misapprehension of the national problem in general and of Israeli reality in particular. It is true that the Jews living in Israel came to settle here under the influence and leadership of Zionism, and that they – as a community – have oppressed and are still oppressing Palestinians. But it is impossible to ignore the patent fact that today this community constitutes a national entity (which differs from world Jewry on the one hand and from the Palestinian Arabs on the other), having its own language and economic and cultural life. In order to solve the Palestinian problem, this community (or at least a substantial part of it) must be severed from the influence of Zionism and attracted to a joint struggle with the revolutionary forces in the Arab world for the national and social liberation of the entire region. But clearly this cannot be achieved by ignoring the existence of that community as a national entity.

This problem cannot be solved within the narrow framework of Palestine. If one is thinking of a democratic state pure and simple – “one man, one vote” – then in fact it will be a state with a Jewish majority, and there is nothing to prevent it from being like the present state of Israel, but having a larger territory and a bigger Arab minority. If one is thinking of a bi-national state, then it will be an artificial creation separating the Palestinian Arabs from the rest of the Arab world and from the revolutionary process taking place in it. Besides, in a bi-national structure there are no inherent guarantees that one of the two national groups will not dominate the other. All this refers to proposed solutions which can be considered feasible within the present condition of the Middle East, i.e., which do not presuppose a comprehensive social revolution.

On the other hand, if one considers the situation which will exist after a victorious social revolution, after imperialism and Zionism are defeated, then there will not exist a separate Palestinian problem, but rather the problem of the various national groups living within the Arab world (Kurds, Israeli Jews, South Sudanese). This problem can be solved only by granting these nationalities the right to self-determination. Of course, recognition of the rights to self-determination does not mean encouragement to separation; on the contrary, it provides the correct basis for integration without compulsion or repression. Moreover, self-determination in the Middle East is impossible so long as that region is under direct or indirect imperialist domination, but is possible only after it is liberated from all imperialist influence, i.e., after a victorious socialist revolution. In particular, this situation presupposes the overthrow of Zionism.

To sum up: The existing objective conditions enable and require the creation of a revolutionary mass movement, led by the working class, guided by a revolutionary Marxist theory and acting according to an all-Arab strategy, which will recognize the national rights of the non-Arab nationalities living within the Arab world and prove capable of attracting them to a common struggle for the national and social liberation of the entire region.

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