Palestine, Ukraine, and International Socialist Solidarity
By Howie Hawkins
October 24, 2023
We are witnessing genocidal war crimes by Israel as it once again attacks Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. As I write this, since October 7 nearly 6,000 Palestinians, including about 2,360 children, have been killed by Israeli bombardment that has already damaged or destroyed over 40% of Palestinian homes in Gaza. All 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza face disease and death due to the Israeli blockade of water, food, fuel, electricity, and medical supplies. While the world’s attention has been focused on Gaza, Israeli settlers and security forces have attacked Palestinians on the West Bank, killing at least 100 Palestinians and detaining over 1,400.
The wanton killings of Israeli civilians by Hamas on October 7 are war crimes that we must condemn as well. But war crimes by Hamas do not justify war crimes by Israel.
For the last two weeks, Israel has been threatening a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza any day now. At this writing, Israel has begun reconnaissance incursions into Gaza to “prepare the battlefield.” Leaders in Israel’s far-right governing coalition such as Bezalel Smotrich, Finance Minister and also a minister in Defense ministry, have been saying for years that they intend to annex all of the Palestinian territories and expel or kill all the Palestinians who are not willing to live as second-class citizens in Israel’s apartheid state. Israel’s larger war objectives, beyond the stated goal of destroying Hamas, may be the expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza strip to refugee camps in Egypt and the annexation of Gaza and the West Bank to Israel.
The war could easily escalate into a regional conflagration. Iranian-backed forces, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi movement in Yemen, and Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, have exchanged rocket, drone, and artillery fire with Israel and with US forces deployed in Syria and Iraq. The US has deployed two US carrier groups and a rapid response force of 2,000 Marines to the eastern Mediterranean Sea ready to intervene if the war expands
We must oppose Israel’s offensive and call for constructive solutions, which means a just peace based on the human rights, equality, and security for all Palestinians and Israelis who inhabit Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Our immediate demands must be:
- Ceasefire Now.
- Humanitarian aid into Gaza, including food, water, fuel, electricity, medical supplies, shelter, and other lifesaving necessities.
- Negotiations to swap and release captives and prisoners in both Gaza and Israel.
- No US weapons and warships to Israel.
- An end to US support for the Israeli offensive.
Addressing the Root Problem of Palestinian Oppression
Beyond these demands to address the immediate crisis, we need to support a solution that addresses the root of violence in Israel/Palestine in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians without detailing the form of that solution, which should come out of negotiations and agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.
We should demand a reversal of US policy toward Israel/Palestine that has long provided military and diplomatic cover for Israel’s policies of apartheid and occupation of Palestinian territories. We should demand a US diplomatic surge for a political solution that provides equality, human rights, and security for all the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine.
The US has leverage over Israel because Israel has been dependent on US military and diplomatic support. Using that leverage means ending US military aid to Israel until it ends apartheid, stops the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, recognizes the rights of Palestinians, and negotiates in good faith with the Palestinians toward a political solution.
It also means US support for democratic elections in the Palestinian territories using a proportional representation system. The last legislative elections in Palestine were in 2006, using a mixed system of proportional representation and single-member-district plurality elections. The last presidential election was in 2005. Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the secular democratic Palestine National Initiative who came in second to Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas in the 2005 presidential election, is calling for new elections as soon as the current war ends. He believes there is a majority of silent and unrepresented Palestinian voters, who favor neither the autocracy and corruption of the governing Fatah party, nor the authoritarian fundamentalism of Hamas.
Representation in the Palestine legislative council elected in 2006 was grossly distorted by electing half of the seats by the single-member-district, winner-take-all method. The results show that although Hamas had 41%, Fatah had 36%, and independents had 20% of the total winner-take-all districts vote, Hamas won 46 of 66 seats for 70% of the winner-take-all seats; Fatah won only 16 district seats for 24% of the winner-take-all seats; and independents won only 4 seats for 6% of the total. In the proportional vote, the seats won by each party far more accurately reflected their actual support. Hamas won 45% of the popular vote and 30 seats for 44% of seats of the 66 seats. Fatah won 41% of vote and 27 seats for 40% of the 66 seats. Nine minor parties split the remaining 14% of the vote and four passed the 2% threshold for representation resulting the election of 9 minor party legislators for 14% of the proportionally-elected seats. Putting the winner-take-all and proportional halves together, it is clear that the results radically over-represented Hamas, which received 58% of the total seats with only 45% of the proportional vote and 41% of the winner-take-all vote. If the whole election has been proportional, Hamas would not have won a strong majority of seats and would have had to form a coalition with other political parties, most likely a grand coalition with Fatah, which would have prevented the subsequent fragmentation of Palestinian governance and political representation. In the wake of these distortions by the winner-take-all half of the election, the Palestine National Initiative and six other left-wing Palestinian parties called for rebuilding the Palestinian Authority on the basis of new elections using only proportional representation.
Effective negotiations toward a political solution require a legitimate Palestinian partner. Neither Hamas nor Fatah have majority support among Palestinians. Recent polling from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 77% in Hamas-ruled Gaza want new legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian territories. The poll found that in a new Palestinian election, only minorities would support Hamas (34%) and Fatah (31%), while a 43% plurality wants another alternative. Democratic forces in Palestine should have proportional representation in a newly elected Palestinian legislative council.
The occupying authority, Israel, with the complicity of the US, has preferred to keep Palestinians divided and weak between Hamas ruling Gaza and Fatah ruling the West Bank. Hamas and Fatah are not eager to hold elections they may lose. The most recent attempt at elections were cancelled by Fatah with the complicity of Israel after Israel refused to allow voting in East Jerusalem.
A one-state solution creating a secular democratic multi-national state in Israel/Palestine would be the best outcome. But that seems unrealistic to me at this time. It would require a socialist transformation in Israel, Palestine, and really the whole region to replace competing nationalist claims on land and resources with a political and economic democracy committed to equitably sharing resources. A socialist transformation seems the prerequisite before Israelis and Palestinians can reconcile and live to together peacefully as equals in the same state. Radical socialists like Joseph Daher have called for a long-term regional revolutionary strategy of grassroots self-organization and class struggle from below toward a socialist federation throughout the Middle East and North Africa within which could be established a democratic, socialist, and secular state in historic Palestine with equal rights for both Palestinian and Jewish people.
But those revolutionary socialist political forces are weak throughout the region, except for the Rojava revolutionaries where Kurdish leftists are leading the construction of a grassroots-democratic, secular, multi-ethnic, feminist, and ecosocialist Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. It will take many years to build a regional revolutionary movement. In the meantime, we must raise demands that promote peace and an end to Irael’s apartheid system. As Daher also recognizes, we need to push immediate campaigns like BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) against Israel to pressure it to abandon apartheid as the sanctions campaign against South Africa helped end apartheid in that country.
In the meantime, international law, which prescribes a two-state solution, provides a catspaw to reopen the peace process and negotiations. No Israeli/Palestinian peace talks have been held since 2014. While the US is nominally for a two-state solution, it has done next to nothing to pressure Israel to stop deepening its racist laws and practices that discriminate against Palestinians or stop expanding its settlements in the West Bank.
We must demand that the US join the rest of the world’s nations to enforce international law regarding the two-state solution Israel/Palestine based on the pre-1967 borders (UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967), which incorporated the right of return to Palestinian refugees or compensation for their property lost (UN Security Council Resolution 194 of 1949). Whether the peace process and negotiations yield a two-state or one-state solution, the rights of Palestinian minority in Israel and Israeli minority in Palestine must realized and enforced. It may require UN peacekeepers to monitor and enforce a settlement. The important point is to demand that the US stop giving Israel unconditional support for its violations of international law and use its leverage over Israel to get the peace process restarted.
Palestine and Ukraine
As international socialists, we support struggles for national liberation without exception. We support the Palestinian resistance to Israeli aggression just as we support the Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression.
US President Biden and Ukrainian President Zelensky are wrong to say Israel is analogous to Ukraine. Israel is analogous to Russia as colonial aggressors. Palestinians are analogous to Ukrainians as victims of colonial aggression. The root cause in both conflicts is colonialism by Israel against the Palestinians and Russia against Ukraine.
The position of unconditional support for Israel from Biden and Zelensky is not only morally repugnant, it is politically self-defeating because it undermines international support for Ukraine’s national liberation around the world, particularly in the post-colonial Global south, which sees the US, Ukraine, and other Western countries’ opposition to Russia’s war on Ukraine and support for Israel’s war on Palestinians as hypocritical and a double standard.
Biden and Zelensky’s statements have also made Ukraine solidarity work more difficult on the left where some groups in the authoritarian left and the peace movement agree with Biden and Zelensky that Ukraine is analogous to Israel. They claim that Ukraine is a mere proxy for US imperialism, that its self-defense against Russia’s invasion and occupation is not indigenous and legitimate, but externally organized and motivated. That kind of analysis flows from a geopolitical analysis of state interests rather than a class analysis of oppressors and oppressed. The geopolitical analysis of these campists, who take the anti-Western side between competing camps of capitalist states, are promoting state interests, not the class interests and liberation of oppressed people. If the socialist left is about liberating exploited and oppressed people, the campist left is not really in it.
Despite the lack of solidarity for Ukraine from the campist left and peace groups, it was encouraging to see chants and signs in Palestine solidarity demonstrations last weekend that linked the Ukrainian and Palestinian national liberation struggles. In Burlington, Vermont, demonstrators chanted, “From Palestine to Ukraine, occupation is a crime.” In Dublin, Ireland, a demonstrator’s sign with both the Ukrainian and Palestinian flags on it read, “From Palestine to Ukraine, occupiers have no claim.”
The inconsistency in Zelensky’s in initial statements that equated Ukraine and Israel is that historically Ukraine has been critical of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in the United Nations, for which Israel has publicly criticized Ukraine. Israel has not been supportive of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression. Israel has refused to support sanctions against Russia or provide arms to Ukaine.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry tempered Zelensky’s initial statements in an October 17 statement that, while recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, distanced Ukraine from Israel’s bloody offensive in Gaza. “It is of crucial importance that ongoing hostilities should not lead to further growth of the number of victims among civilians from both sides of the conflict, in Israel and Palestine. We believe that the Middle East peace process remains the basis of any efforts aimed at restoring regional stability and security. Ukraine consistently supports the implementation of the principle of two states, Israel and Palestine, which will live side by side in peace and security, and advocates the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with the help of political and diplomatic means.”
We should support the resistance, including military resistance, by Palestinians as we do by Ukrainians. But our support should not be uncritical. Given the military balance of forces, armed struggle against Israeli apartheid and occupation is a questionable strategy. Massive nonviolent resistance is advocated by many on the Palestinian left such as Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestine National Initiative and Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement. One thing all tendencies in Palestinian politics agree upon is that Palestinians need to the support of the international community, particularly the US-led West, to force Israel to abide by international law and accept Palestinian rights.
We should not give our political support to reactionary, authoritarian, or neoliberal pro-capitalist forces, whether it is Hamas or Fatah in Palestine or the Zelensky government in Ukraine. Our political support should go to the progressive democratic forces in Palestine and Israel as in Ukraine.
While there has been no expression of solidarity with Ukraine from the Hamas or Fatah rulers in the Palestinian territories, reporting has indicated much sympathy for the Ukrainians at the grassroots in Gaza where people can see the parallels between Russian and Israeli aggression. Until there are new elections in Palestine, it is hard to know how much support there is today for the parties of the democratic secular left, but they exist in the Palestine National Initiative and other parties. There is much support across Palestinian society for the BDS campaign. One clear way to support the progressive democratic forces of Palestine is to support the call of the National Palestinian BDS Committee for sanctions against Israeli apartheid and occupation, starting with an end to military aid to Israel.
The democratic left in Israel of Jewish and Arab activists has been declining for decades. It is currently relatively small but it persists in left-wing political parties like Hadash and Meretz and civil rights and peace groups like B’Tselem, Peace Now, Alliance for Middle East Peace, Breaking the Silence, and others. In terms of Ukraine solidarity, the Israeli anti-occupation left was mostly shamefully quiet despite the obvious parallels when Russia’s full-scale invasion and occupation began, although Meretz leaders condemned Russia’s invasion. While one can criticize particular stances and actions taken by many of these groups at various points in time, they could play an important role in forging a progressive majority against occupation and apartheid by aligning with Palestinians in both Israel and the occupied territories. In any case, as a beleaguered minority in current Israeli politics, international solidarity helps them sustain their struggle.
The left in Ukraine has no confusion as to the analogous positions of Palestinians and Ukrainians who are both resisting colonial aggression by Israel and Russia. Vladyslav Starodubstev, a member of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement), made this clear in an interview last March about “Ukraine, Palestine, and Internationalism.” The Ukrainian socialist journal Commons published in August an interview with Palestinian leftist Dana El Kurd that drew the same parallel: “Palestinians are tied to this particular place, like Ukrainians are tied to theirs.” The Ukrainian feminist and socialist, Daria Saburova, also articulated this position of solidarity in an October 19 article, “Why Ukrainians should support Palestinians.”
Adeeb Shaheen also has no confusion about the analogous positions of Palestinians and Ukrainians. He is a Palestinian Ukrainian who was forced into exile from Palestine by Israeli aggression in 2003 and then into exile from Ukraine by Russian aggression in 2022. Shaheen’s personal experience encapsulates why international socialist solidarity and the struggle for self-determination is indivisible, from Palestine to Ukraine and every struggle for national and social liberation.