Thursday, June 12, 2008

Achcar interview on Middle East

Gilbert Achcar makes a number of good points in an interview on ZNet. I can wholeheartedly endorse his discussions of the history of Israel and the PLO, of the surge, the Sadrists, and the Kurds.

There are a couple of points where I'm not sure whether or not I agree. First, his view on the one-state/two-state debate:
To be frank, I consider this debate to be largely a waste of time. I mean this is a debate on utopias in both cases and yet, some are conducting it as if the stakes were at hand... Of course, an "independent Palestinian state" that would be limited to the West Bank and Gaza is totally utopian. But I would also say that a single state with ten million Palestinians and six million Jews is much more of a utopia, since it requires the destruction of the Zionist state... That is why I think that these are utopias and too much energy is focused on this debate, such that it becomes a waste of time. In my view there are two levels to be considered when facing the Palestinian issue. On the one hand are the immediate and urgent interests or needs of the Palestinian people. What are the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank fighting for? They are fighting to get rid of the occupation, of course -- not for the right of voting in Israel. They want sovereignty over their territories. Their fight should obviously be supported... Now, on the other hand, if you are considering a long term solution to the question, I mean if one wants to elaborate a long term program with a utopian dimension, then why limit it to Palestine, whether with one or two states?

... I would say that no long term, final, lasting and just solution can be conceived other than at a regional level and under socialist conditions -- through a socialist federation of the Middle East and beyond. Of course, this is a utopia, but this is an inspiring utopia. As I say all the time, if you want to be utopian, go for an inspiring utopia, not a mean one. Go for the big one... This is an interesting utopia, whereas a one-state, "one person one vote" solution limited to Palestinians and Israelis strikes me as an uninspiring utopia. I'm not convinced at all that the Palestinians would like to be citizens of the same state with the Israelis, even if they were the political majority under hugely unequal social conditions like what you have now in South Africa where whites still constitute by far the main section of the dominant class and are getting richer, many of them living in gated communities. And I am positively sure that the Israelis will never accept being a political minority. So this is a dead end.
Achcar is right, on the one hand, that we must support the demand for an end to the post-1967 occupations. He's also right that there's no solution within historical Palestine alone, and that even a secular binational state modeled on modern-day South Africa would hardly be all joy and goodness. But I'm not sure that makes the one-state/two-state debate "a waste of time". The promotion of a two-state "solution" as, in fact, a sufficient and complete solution, is used consciously both by the Fatah leadership Achcar rightly excoriates and by liberal and centrist Zionists to foreclose debate on Zionism as such and on the settler-colonial nature of Israel. A one-state solution might not be feasible absent a massive regional upheaval of the sort that would place greater things on the table, but it can illustrate the basic issues of justice and equality at stake without assuming agreement on the need for a socialist revolution. This is fine. A revolutionary must agitate not only on the basis of demands that can be won short of revolution, but also on the basis of demands which, while not on their face revolutionary, cannot ultimately be satisfied under the capitalist world order.

The second point, on supporting the resistance:
I don't think that you can have a general rule here. It depends on which situation you are talking about. For instance in Iraq you have groups that are fighting the US occupation but the same groups are simultaneously involved in sectarian violence. And these groups have killed many more civilians on sectarian grounds than coalition troops. In such circumstances, to say "We support the Iraqi resistance" is completely wrong and misleading. You cannot say that you support such forces. One should say "We support the fight against occupation" or better, for didactic purposes: "The fight against the occupation is legitimate, by all means (truly) necessary." That's fine. You support the acts selectively, not the actors when you cannot take responsibility for all their acts. In Iraq, you cannot support any specific force because all forces that are fighting the occupation are at the same time sectarian forces. So two wars are being waged at the same time: a just war and a very reactionary one.
Achcar goes on to argue that by contrast, one can say "we support the resistance" when one is referring to Hezbollah or Hamas in the fight against Israel, though one must also remain critical of their leaderships. With that I have no issue.

The thing is, no one of whom I am aware who says "I support the resistance" means "I support the groups resisting the U.S. no matter what they do, be it attack U.S. soldiers or bomb Iraqi civilians." The "resistance" in leftist usage refers to precisely what Achcar wants to support - "the acts selectively, not the actors". (This may not be just a Western leftist usage; though I do not have the book in front of me, I recall that Nir Rosen writes in In the Belly of the Green Bird that Iraqis too commonly make a distinction between the "honorable resistance" and the salafis or jihadis.) So Achcar's critique here is really linguistic rather than political. Of course, as far as language goes, he may be right.

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