First Intifada in Gaza 1987. Photo: : Efi Sharir, Dan Hadani collection, National Library of Israel / CC
First Intifada in Gaza 1987. Photo: : Efi Sharir, Dan Hadani collection, National Library of Israel / CC

Launching the second of our Introduction to Marxism series, Judy Beishon traces the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the current brutal war on Gaza. This is a shortened version of the original article which can be read in full at

The world’s imperialist powers have always intervened in the Middle East for their own political, strategic and economic interests. On the one hand dishing out investment, aid, trade deals and promises of protection, and on the other hand threats, sanctions and military force, they have extracted what they can for themselves, to the detriment of the region’s peoples. The Israel-Arab conflict arose out of imperialist interference following the first world war, and in the century since has seen 13 wars and much other bloodshed in between.

In the feudal period, the caliphates encompassing the Palestinians and other Arab territories were eventually conquered by the Turkish Ottoman empire. That empire fell apart following military defeats before and during the first world war and the Middle East was carved up between the imperialist victors. The plans to grab control had included the 1916 Sykes-Picot secret deal between Britain and France, for Britain to take control of Palestine and Jordan, and France to take Syria and Lebanon. It broke a British promise previously made to Arab leaders that they would have their own state in those areas.

Through that deal and other imperialist treaties, Britain ruled Palestine after the first world war until it withdrew at the time of the creation of Israel in 1948. The way had been paved for an Israeli state by the 1917 ‘Balfour declaration’, an undertaking by Britain’s foreign minister Arthur Balfour to “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

This was a great gift to the Zionist movement that was campaigning for a Jewish state in Palestine. But it was a massive blow to Palestine’s Arabs, around 90% of the population, then under British colonial rule with no promise of their own state. Jewish immigration increased, causing growing alarm to the Arabs. They broke out in mass rebellion in 1936-39 and were brutally suppressed by British forces. During that revolt, in 1937 British imperialism proposed that a small Jewish state be created in Palestine.

In the early twentieth century most of the politically active Jews were not looking towards Zionism but rather to workers’ organisations and struggles. The goal of the Zionists, a small minority of Jews worldwide, wasn’t to fight antisemitism and campaign for the rights of Jews in Europe, but rather to escape from it, an ideology that became boosted by the failure of workers’ movements across Europe to emulate the Russian revolution and remove capitalism.

Following the rise to power of Hitler in 1933 in Germany, support for Zionism increased. Unsurprisingly, the horror under Hitler of the holocaust – the slaughter of six million Jews along with many socialists, trade unionists, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and others – was widely viewed as further grounds for Zionism.

Creation of Israel

In the two years following the end of the second world war, British forces reached a crisis in their ‘divide and rule’ strategy in Palestine. They tried to limit Jewish immigration, to which Jewish militias responded with sabotage and terrorist acts. The Zionist revolt against British rule sent shockwaves worldwide in July 1946 when the Irgun militia blew up part of Jerusalem’s King David hotel, being used by British personnel, killing 91 people. In 1947, with Britain’s Atlee government unable to stabilise the “wasp’s nest” of Palestine, as British chancellor Hugh Dalton described it, the United Nations (UN) voted to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. That decision wasn’t only due to a false perspective of trying to stabilise Palestine; US imperialism also saw it as a destination for hundreds of thousands of post-war Jewish refugees who were being rejected by countries across Europe, and by the US too.

Palestine’s Arabs reacted with outrage to that imperialist edict. At the same time the Zionists were eager to grab as much land for their new state as possible. Civil war broke out, in which Jewish forces led by the Haganah militia seized territory, leading to them announcing the State of Israel in May 1948.

In a second phase of the war, the new Israeli state fought off an invasion against it by five Arab armies. By 1949 Israel had taken more land than the UN had designated to it, Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt had the Gaza Strip. The monstrous injustice had been inflicted of Palestine being wiped off the map, with around 750,000 Palestinians displaced from their homes, becoming refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and surrounding countries. Palestinians call that terrible expulsion their Naqba, ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic.

Leon Trotsky, in the month before he was murdered by Stalin’s agents in 1940, had warned that a Jewish state in Palestine could be a “bloody trap” for Jews, as the land was already inhabited. That has been tragically borne out, for Palestinians as well as Jews.

In 1949 Israel obtained armistice agreements with its four Arab neighbours: Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Its population grew rapidly due to immigration. By no means were all the post-war immigrants Zionists; a lot had nowhere else to go.

Israel from its birth was based on capitalist relations. After an initial post-war economic crisis its economy grew, spurred on by reparations from Germany, foreign investors and US aid. It benefitted greatly from the high profit and investment rates during the post-war world economic boom.

The economy was also developed through a high degree of nurturing by the state. The state and the Histadrut (General Organisation of Workers in Israel) between them employed 40% of the country’s workers in the 1950s and the state gave subsidies to other major corporations. But this was no form of socialism, as finance minister Levi Eshkol stressed in 1957: “What is our regime? It is a regime of preparing the way and paving the road for private capital, provided only it exists and wants to come here”. Eshkol was a leader of the political party Mapai which led all the Israeli governments for the first three decades, pro-capitalist throughout, firstly as Mapai and from 1968 as the Israeli Labour Party. In parallel with growing the economy was the building of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) armed with hi-tech weaponry, including an unpublicised nuclear capacity.

World relations

US imperialism came to have increasing political interest in aiding Israel as part of its strategy in the post-war ‘cold war’ between the US-dominated western capitalist powers and the Stalinist eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union (USSR), a standoff between two antagonistic economic systems. The Middle East was of interest to both superpowers, not least because of its oil reserves and geographical importance for trade. They were jostling for influence in what was a period of tumult and regime change across that region. The USSR sought to gain influence in Arab nationalist regimes that came to power, including making an arms deal with the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt in 1955, who was balancing between the capitalist west and the Soviet bloc.

Western imperialism wanted to counter that influence, and in any case saw the left-wing Nasser regime and its great appeal to the Arab masses as a major threat. Nasser ruled autocratically and stayed within the boundaries of capitalism, but in what was a revolutionary process that impacted across the Middle East, he adopted aspects of socialist ideology combined with Arab nationalism. His regime redistributed land from the top landowners to the rural poor, nationalised the Suez canal and other British and French owned companies in Egypt, and delivered an unprecedented level of public services to the Egyptian masses. Therefore, Western imperialism saw staunchly pro-Western imperialist Israel as an important base of support for its interests against the challenge that Nasserism posed.

The so-called ‘Jewish lobby’ in the US was also a factor in US-Israel relations and still is today, with US capitalists from a Jewish background having links with Israeli big business, and US workers with a Jewish background having an influence in the US electorally.

Israel’s ruling class, on its part wanted US aid and also protection; it feared the arming by the USSR of hostile Arab regimes. It developed a history of aiding US interests in the Middle East and other areas of the world with intelligence and military coordination.

Conflict and war

However, the 1956 Suez war wasn’t welcomed by US imperialism. In October 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai peninsula, quickly backed up by British and French military forces, to try to seize control of the Suez canal and remove Nasser. Fury erupted on the Arab streets and from other workers internationally, including a 30,000 strong rally against the war in London (the biggest demonstration to that point since 1945). The US was desperate to prevent disruption to oil supplies and other trade, and a spread of the war – the USSR was threatening to intervene – so piled pressure on the invaders to pull out. The result was a humiliating withdrawal for British and French imperialism, followed by Israel pulling out of Sinai.

In 1967, following the build-up of further tension and clashes between Israel and neighbouring countries, a new war was being prepared on both sides. After receiving a green light from the US, on 5 June Israel launched military attacks on Egypt, Syria and Jordan, in what became known as the ‘Six-Day War’. The Israeli forces had dramatic and unexpected success, gaining control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Sinai from Jordan, Egypt and Syria. As well it being the start of Israel’s occupation, the war created around 400,000 Palestinian refugees, some for the second time.

In November 1967 the UN Security Council passed its well-known resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from the areas taken. But with the exception of Sinai they remain occupied by Israel to this day. Over and over again Israel has been accused by human rights organisations among others, including many groups on the left, of violating international law, but the entire history of the conflict has shown how inconsequential those appeals are. That law is a creation of the imperialist powers and attempts to enforce it can only be made by their nation state military forces. In the case of Israel, on balance it hasn’t been in their interests to enforce it and Israel’s rulers know that.

Within months of the six-day war Israel started building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, along with developing a regime of brutal repression against the Palestinians living there. Virtually every aspect of their lives became controlled by Israel, with harsh and deadly punishments for transgressions. Many bloody raids have been carried out by the IDF into West Bank towns and Gaza over the years and assassinations carried out of Palestinian militia leaders and fighters. Time has been spent in Israeli prisons by 40% of the male population in the territories, with thousands detained at any one time, including many without trial.

Palestinian resistance

A group of Palestinians formed Fatah, a reverse acronym for ‘Palestinian National Liberation Movement’ in the late 1950s, led by Yasser Arafat. By 1969 Fatah was the dominant party in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), an umbrella for numerous Palestinian organisations, mainly secular, that developed mass support in the Palestinian diaspora. The PLO promoted Palestinian identity and awareness of the Palestinians’ plight. It carried out armed attacks against Israeli’s military and infrastructure. At the same time, however, terrorist acts carried out in the 1970s by various PLO factions repelled many workers internationally from its methods. Those acts included hijacking planes, killing Israeli school children, and taking hostage and killing Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich summer Olympics.

The PLO called for one secular Palestinian state with equal rights for Jews within it, but didn’t regard them as having collective rights as Jews. Some of its component organisations were influenced by Stalinism, with some receiving aid from the Soviet Union and China. In tune with Stalinist ideology they relegated the struggle for socialism to a stage after Palestinian liberation. However, not only were the PLO’s methods of struggle not going to achieve Palestinian liberation, neither was it possible to achieve it on a capitalist basis. The Israeli capitalist class has never been willing to allow the existence of a neighbouring independent Palestinian state with control over its own borders and resources, fearing that it would elect leaders very hostile to its own interests.

Also, no type of capitalist Palestinian entity will ever be able to provide decent living standards for its population. Where in the world does any capitalist ruling class in today’s conditions of capitalist decline consistently provide rising living standards for any class in society but those at the top? Least of all in an area without an industrial base and with a history of bloodshed.

In any case, the Arab regimes, based on capitalism too, have always exerted strong counter-revolutionary influence on the PLO through financing and hosting it. On the one hand their elites try to portray themselves as being as angry as the masses across the Middle East at the plight of the Palestinians, while on the other hand it is in their interests to obstruct any moves towards building the only forces that can end the occupation: working-class-based organisations in the occupied territories and in Israel.

Yom Kippur

In October 1973 the Yom Kippur war began on the Jewish religious day of that name. Egypt and Syria launched an unexpected but failed military offensive on Israel to regain their lost territories, with the assistance of a number of other Arab countries. Reflecting the cold war, the Soviet Union was arming the Arab combatants, and after the Yom Kippur war the US started seriously to boost Israel’s arms.

Following the war, Saudi Arabia led an Arab boycott of oil exports to the countries that had supported Israel during it, causing a tripling of the oil price over the following five months. That impacted on a world economy already showing signs of a fall back from the heady years of the post second world war boom. Global recession set in, and Israel’s economy was badly affected.

By the early 1980s it still hadn’t recovered. In 1983, the share price of the largest banks collapsed, and the government resorted to nationalising them. In 1984 inflation reached 445%. A short-lived ‘national unity’ government introduced a neoliberal ‘stabilisation plan’ in 1985 that cut government spending, held down workers’ wages and devalued the currency, among other measures. The government and its successors then embarked on a massive bonanza for the rich through the privatisation of state-owned corporations, including eventually returning the banks into capitalist hands.

Approaching Israel’s 1977 general election, its Labour government, which since 1974 had been led by Yitzhak Rabin, was still being blamed for being taken unawares by the Yom Kippur war, and there was anger over corruption scandals at the top. The worsening economy made disenchantment with Labour even greater, especially among Israel’s Mizrahi Jews, whose background is from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, and Sephardic Jews who originate from around the Mediterranean. They had always suffered discrimination at the hands of Israel’s Ashkenazi Jews, mainly originating from central and eastern Europe, who were dominant in Labour.

In the 1977 election many Mizrahim and Sephardim voted for the right-wing party Likud, helping the right to come to power for the first time, as a Likud-led coalition. This had consequences for the occupation. The Israeli right have usually rejected any compromise over territory and claim that Israel has the right to all of Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the West Bank, and Gaza too. Once in power, they accelerated the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank with the aim of a ‘Greater Israel’.

Menachem Begin, who led the Irgun militia in 1943-48, was the Israeli prime minister at the head of Likud in 1977. Begin oversaw the Camp David accords signed in 1978 and 1979 with Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat. In return for Egypt accepting Israel’s existence and allowing it to use the Suez canal, Begin withdrew Israel from Sinai, which the Israeli right didn’t regard as part of the ‘Land of Israel’.

In 1987 the Palestinians in the occupied territories erupted spontaneously in a massive protest movement that lasted for six years and came to be known as the ‘first intifada’. The entire population took part in mass demonstrations and strikes. The IDF responded to the unarmed crowds with rubber bullets, water cannon, tear gas and gunfire. It also resorted to curfews, detentions, closure of schools, house demolitions, torture and deportations.

But as author Avi Shlaim wrote: “The intifada accomplished more in its first few months than decades of PLO military operations. At least some of Israel’s leaders began to concede that military power has its limits, and that there could be no military solution to what is essentially a political problem”.

The PLO leaders in Tunis had played no role in the outbreak of the intifada but they intervened to gain leadership of it. Under pressure from the Palestinians for an end to the occupation, the PLO decided in 1988 to recognise the existence of the Israeli state and officially adopted a two-state solution: for the occupied territories to become a Palestinian state, alongside Israel. That proposition was quickly rejected by Yitzhak Shamir, Likud’s successor after Begin.

Oslo accord

The collapse of Stalinism and return of capitalism across the USSR and eastern Europe in 1989-91 profoundly changed world relations. It opened up a period in which US imperialism was able to play a dominant role globally and the Middle East elites could no longer manoeuvre between two different economic systems. A major show of the rapidly changing relations was the coalition put together by the US against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The coalition encompassed 42 countries, including the Soviet Union, the Western powers and many of the Arab states.

To keep the Arab countries on board, the US excluded Israel from the coalition, though Israel gave back-up support. Just two months into that first Gulf war the IDF killed 19 Palestinians in Jerusalem, which jeopardised the coalition because it exposed US imperialism’s different approaches to the Iraqi occupation of oil-rich Kuwait and the Israeli occupation that it was brushing aside.

Trying to paper over those obvious double standards was one of the US’s reasons for pushing for Israel-Palestine peace talks after the war. But the overriding reason was that the first intifada was still raging, with military repression not subduing it, so the US and Israeli leaders were seeking to head it off through talks. They were also hoping to cut across Palestinian militias in the territories based on right-wing political Islam that were becoming more combative.

In October 1991 talks began in Madrid and multiple rounds followed in Washington. Despite the fact that Shamir was conceding virtually nothing, his governing coalition in Israel lost its majority when two ultra-nationalist parties resigned in opposition to the talks. In the subsequent general election in June 1992, Israel’s electorate brought to power a Labour-led government headed by Rabin on the basis of him promising a deal for Palestinian autonomy. That election result reflected the desire of ordinary Israelis for an end to repeated conflict, which has been expressed many times over the decades, for example in a 100,000-strong peace demonstration in Tel Aviv in 1978 on the eve of the Camp David accord, or the 90% support for withdrawing Israeli troops from Lebanon in 1985.

The Washington talks were going nowhere, but a separate channel started secretly in Oslo – for the first time directly with the PLO – which led to the 1993 Oslo accord. It partly ended direct occupation but opened up a period of major disappointment and increased bloodshed because conditions for the Palestinians only worsened. It led to a Palestinian Authority (PA) being set up to administer part of the Gaza strip and just 18% of the West Bank, in 14 disconnected areas. The IDF continued to invade Palestinian areas; and Jewish settlements with their supporting infrastructure were expanded, imposing ‘facts on the ground’ to make a Palestinian state seem impossible. The accord didn’t even mention a Palestinian state, which for Rabin – as for every leading Israeli pro-capitalist politician – wasn’t on offer.

Today there are around 670,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most of them live in the settlements for financial reasons – housing there is less expensive than in Israel – but a minority do so for the ideological purpose of colonising West Bank land, with mobs of them regularly inflicting atrocities on Palestinian villages to try to expel the residents.

The PA, firstly led by Arafat, and later by his Fatah successor Mahmood Abbas, is condemned by Palestinians as corrupt, with enrichment by those at the top while ordinary people live in poverty. It acts in collaboration with Israel’s security and military forces, as a first line of repressive policing. Today the PA is so unpopular that President Abbas has refused to call legislative elections for 17 years, knowing that Fatah won’t be re-elected.

After the collapse of Stalinism, Fatah had turned to the Western capitalist powers for aid and looked towards them to put pressure on Israel to make concessions. But the Western capitalists have never had any genuine concern for the peoples in the region. The terrible devastation inflicted by coalitions led by the US and UK on the people of Afghanistan from 2001 and Iraq from 2003 is a reminder of that.

US imperialism’s alliance with the Israeli ruling class limits US interventions for concessions towards the Palestinians, though at times US presidents have felt compelled to exert some pressure on Israel, reflecting pressure on them to do so.

Methods of struggle

In November 1995 Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing religious Jew who opposed the Oslo deal. Shimon Peres took over but then lost the May 1996 general election to Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who proceeded to undermine the paltry results of Oslo. Peres had been 20% ahead in the polls but Netanyahu gained an advantage from several suicide bombings that killed 67 Israelis, carried out by ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’ Hamas in opposition to Oslo.

Hamas, based on right-wing political Sunni Islam, was founded soon after the start of the first intifada and provided charitable services like health and education. Through its armed wing it came to be seen by many Palestinians as a leader of the fight against the occupation because of its combative approach and opposition to Oslo, in contrast to the inaction of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.

However, its actions aren’t under democratic control, and while its atrocities against civilians draw attention to the oppression of the Palestinians and show the desperation of the young Palestinians who join the militias committing them, they cannot defeat the Israeli state with its massive military superiority. In every case they serve the interests of the Israeli right and the whole agenda of the Israeli capitalist class and its political representatives. The latter can point to the killings to step up their nationalist and racist propaganda and draw a large layer of the Israeli population behind the use of massive firepower with the false aim of delivering security.

This certainly doesn’t mean the Palestinians should renounce arms. On the contrary, they have the right to armed resistance against the brutality they are up against. But their resistance needs to take the form of mass struggle and actions under the control of democratically elected popular committees of the working class and poor; and be directed against the occupation and not Israeli civilians. They would then be building the most effective means of struggle, and by targeting the forces and infrastructure of the occupation they would be better able to appeal to Israeli workers to oppose the military slaughters carried out by the Israeli state and gain the ear of a layer of them. This would be part of a process of helping to expose the class divide in Israel and of creating links between the Palestinian masses in the occupied territories and the working class in Israel.

Second intifada

More talks with the PLO in 1999 back at Camp David ended in failure. Desperation at their terrible conditions, together with frustration and despair following Oslo, led to the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. The trigger was a mega provocation by the then Likud leader Ariel Sharon. He walked into the Noble Sanctuary – the third most important religious site in the world for Muslims, containing the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock. To Jews it is the Temple Mount, once the site of Jewish temples.

Palestinian anger erupted, initially as an unarmed popular uprising. Ahron Bregman, in his book Cursed Victory, argues convincingly that Israeli strategists wanted to transform it into a violent insurgency so they could take advantage of Israel’s military capacity. The IDF fired “a staggering 1.3 million bullets” during the intifada’s first month and “did indeed manage gradually to transform the Palestinian civilian uprising into an armed insurgency in which… guns replaced stones”.

The IDF sent in tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets. So this intifada had a different character to the first one. Mass action became superseded by individual and group terror attacks, with Israeli civilians targeted. This again played into the hands of right-wing reactionaries in Israel and led to Sharon winning the 2001 election. It’s worth noting, though, that to take into account the desire for peace in Israel, Sharon promised to pursue peace talks, a gross deception as he didn’t ever start moves towards a final status settlement for the Palestinian territories.

The settlements expansion continued, and it was Sharon’s government that began construction of a massive security wall inside the West Bank that annexed a strip of West Bank land into Israel.

In 2003 came the intrusion of then British Labour prime minister Tony Blair, who spearheaded a ‘road map’ from the quartet formed by the UN, the European Union, UK and US. Then later in 2003 came a separate initiative – the Geneva Accord. Sharon made sure these limited interventions went nowhere and turned to superseding them with a plan of his own: unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

That went ahead in 2005, with the removal of settlers from the Gaza Strip, not as a concession to the Palestinians but to remove the settlements that were the most difficult and costly to protect and to turn the strip into a blockaded prison. His senior advisor, Dov Weiglass, bluntly said: “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state”.

Israel’s ruling class was concluding that the Palestinians couldn’t be subdued militarily, the occupation was expensive, and relative birth rates would result in Palestinians outnumbering Jews in all the land controlled by Israel, so a forced separation was in the best interests of Israel, not least to keep it as a mainly Jewish state.

War on Gaza

It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that Hamas won the PA elections in 2006, under the banner ‘change and reform’, in what was a crushing defeat for Fatah. US agents in collaboration with Israel intervened to try to prevent Hamas from being any part of the PA leadership. They encouraged Fatah into a violent power struggle with Hamas. The resulting clashes led to Hamas ruling in Gaza, and Fatah continuing to control the West Bank.

The blockade of Gaza was stepped up, along with regular missile strikes on Palestinian fighters and civilians inside the strip, killing around ten times more Gazans than the number of Israeli civilians who were being killed by rocket fire into Israel from various Palestinian militias.

At the end of 2008 the IDF went to war on Gaza, in Operation Cast Lead, aimed at crushing Hamas. The three-week war killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Further terrible wars on Gaza were carried out in 2012, 2014, 2021 and 2023, repulsively dubbed ‘mowing the grass’ by Israeli military figures. Each time the IDF inflicted mass slaughter and terror. None of the wars can wipe out Hamas, as its ideology can live on through a layer of the Palestinian population.

This history of the conflict has been written in November 2023 with the worst war yet on Gaza taking place. Before it, the death toll in the conflict from the year 2000 was 10,655 Palestinians and 1,330 Israelis. Both those figures doubled in the space of just five weeks and the former could treble or more. Terrible devastation, displacement and trauma have been inflicted on the trapped population in the Gaza strip.

The unprecedented attack by Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Israeli military bases and residential areas on 7 October 2023 sent a massive shockwave across Israel. Great anger was directed at Netanyahu’s government for not having prevented it, the sixth government led by Netanyahu, with two of the most far-right parties being part of his coalition. They openly incite racial division, threaten Muslim prayer at the Noble Sanctuary /Temple Mount and desire further expulsion of Palestinians from all the land they claim as Jewish.

Israeli working class

Israel is a capitalist, class-based society with the second-highest level of inequality in the industrially developed world. Living standards for a majority of Israelis have been eroded by low wages, exorbitant housing costs, inflation, and cuts in services and benefits.

There have been a great many workers’ strikes – including some general strikes – and community-based struggles. In 2011 a mass movement broke out against the housing crisis and extended to other issues, inspired by the uprisings that shook the Arab countries that year. From December 2017 large protests were regularly staged against Netanyahu over corruption charges against him, and from January 2023 a nine month mass movement began – the largest ever – against the government curbing the powers of the judiciary. There have also been many struggles by minorities in Israel, including among Palestinian citizens of Israel, Ethiopian Jews and Bedouin.

Ordinary Israelis are certainly not happy with the state of their country and the number emigrating is high. Middle East Monitor reported that the most common words in Google searches in Israel had become “moving out” (6 October 2023). Support for the Labour Party has haemorrhaged away over the last three decades and there is disillusionment towards all the main political parties.

Each war has meant spikes upwards in the siege mentality inside Israel, drawing Israelis into supporting the use of military might. Some left organisations wrongly believe this will always be the case – that nationalism in the Israeli working class will forever come before support for the rights of the Palestinians. But the cause and driving force of the conflict has always been the imperialist powers and Israeli ruling class and not ordinary Israelis, who have nothing to gain from it. At many times a majority have expressed support for peace processes and for the Palestinians to have their own state, but the interests of their ruling class have stepped in.

Mass struggle

This doesn’t mean the Palestinians should wait for Israeli workers to challenge Israeli capitalism. As well as the intifadas there have been many other mass mobilisations of Palestinians that point the way forward for future struggles to advance their interests, from demonstrations next to the Gaza fence in 2018-19 to strike action by public sector workers and others. A third intifada is needed, only this time organised democratically and based on socialist ideas.

Palestinian workers also need to build their own political party that can challenge the pro-capitalist parties in the West Bank and Gaza. The same is true in Israel: an Israeli mass workers’ party needs to be created. As no solution to the conflict is possible in keeping with the interests of the capitalists and their rotting system, those parties will need to adopt socialist programmes for the removal of capitalism. Public ownership of the main corporations and democratically controlled economic planning would mean the necessary resources could be generated to end poverty and raise living standards on both sides, using environmentally sustainable methods.

The ending of capitalism with its need for competition and markets would deliver the basis for ending the conflict. Democratically elected representatives from both sides would be able to negotiate solutions based on cooperation, in two socialist states if desired, with minority rights protected.

Today, even though there is a loss of hope that two states can be achieved, the idea of them is much more acceptable on both sides than one state, because of the huge level of distrust that has developed after decades of bloodshed and the fears of being discriminated against in one state. But it will be democratic discussion between Palestinian and Israeli workers’ representatives that will determine what borders there will be and where, if any.

Under capitalism, conditions for the overwhelming majority of people in the entire region are becoming worse as time goes on. The rotten, dictatorial Arab regimes need to be overthrown as well as the ruling class in Israel and the elite in the Palestine territories. A socialist confederation of the Middle East on a free and equal basis will need to be built, with all resources under the democratic control of workers and the poor.