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Zionism and its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine

January 16, 2015 at 11:18 am

  • Book Author(s): Ran Greenstein
  • Published Date: 2014-10-19 23:00:00
  • Publisher: Pluto Press
  • Paperback: 248 pages pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745334677

Contemporary perspectives of class struggle, the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle in Palestine have been thoroughly discussed in Ran Greenstein’s book, “Zionism and its Discontents: A century of radical dissent in Israel/Palestine”. Presenting an analysis of prominent movements involved in the challenge to the Zionist settler-colonial project, the book discusses four main political movements within their respective eras, commencing with the bi-nationalist movement that started during the British Mandate, the Palestinian Communist Party which spans 1919-1948, the Palestinian National Movement since the Balfour Declaration, as well as the anti-Zionist Matzpen, which rose to prominence in the aftermath of the 1967 war.

Greenstein’s analysis of the movements is based upon several historical writings, charters and documents, presenting the local turbulence against a backdrop of the international situation during the period. In doing so, the class, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles can be viewed from within different yet intrinsic perspectives, particularly in relation to the regional anti-colonial struggle and internationalism.

All the movements discussed in the book challenged Zionist hegemony prior to and after the massacres committed by Zionist paramilitary groups during the Nakba of 1948. However, ambiguity is prevalent in all movements, commencing with the liberal humanist perspective of the bi-national movement.

The Balfour Declaration, which advocated for a Jewish national home in Palestine, provided the bi-nationalist movement with space for manoeuvre. Greenstein states: “There was a deliberate ambiguity there that potentially allowed for creative policies and negotiated spaces beyond the quest of both national movements for exclusive control.” Within these parameters, the bi-national movement was able to discern the contradictory terms of freedom that Zionism hailed as one of its goals through dispossession of Palestinians. However, the bi-nationalist perspective that was based upon the importance of cooperation with regard to autonomy and social relations was hindered through Jewish allegiance to British imperialism, as well as Zionist revival of the “global Jewish existence”.

The Palestinian Communist Party’s participation in the anti-colonial struggle is shown by Greenstein to have been affected by a number of factors, among them the directives of the Communist International, of whom the party was a member. Internationalism was considered an imperative within the global communist structure, at a time when a struggle against various forms of dominant rule was happening, including challenges to British imperialism. The party had a weak presence among Palestinians. Nationalism, however, proved to be a defining concept for the Middle East and its anti-colonial revolts, thus diverting the struggle away from the international socialist revolution and from the Palestinian Communist Party, which was affiliated to the international communist movement. The lack of autonomy, therefore, contributed to the party’s eventual decline and shift to the Israeli left – Greenstein notes the party’s signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948.

Greenstein’s discussion of Palestinian nationalism and the anti-colonial struggle is linked to three defining events – the Balfour Declaration, the UN Partition Plan and the 1967 war, all of which consolidated the existing ideology and shaped reactions to colonisation. The events “helped give rise to new patterns of settlement and resistance, and thus reshaped relations between the main protagonists of the evolving conflict.”

The end of the Ottoman Empire allowed imperialism to gain a foothold in the region, with Britain and France, through the League of Nations, infiltrating and exploiting the territories under the pretence of independence. Greenstein notes that while British imperialism and the Zionist settler-colonial project had different objectives, both forces had a common aim – that of opposition to Arab independence. The differences were reflected in the perspectives of anti-colonial struggle – Palestinian-Arab nationalist sentiment considered Zionism to be the main enemy while the left wing’s struggle was against British imperialism in the Middle East.

Greenstein notes the unique factors in Palestine’s anti-colonial struggle compared to other successful revolutions, such as Cuba. The displacement of the Palestinian population, as well as many of their leaders, forced the anti-colonial struggle to operate from other territories. Greenstein explains: “This was not a temporary situation but a prolonged one, possible the only case in modern history of a people fighting to liberate its country from colonial conquest, forced to operate from outside its boundaries.”

The Israeli Socialist Organisation, or Matzpen as it became known, originally focused upon the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Jews, providing a critique of Zionist ideology post 1967. While Zionism was clearly questioned and singled out as colonialism that sought to dispossess Palestinians in order to expand its settler presence and state, Palestinian rights were discussed alongside the concept of Israeli self-determination. Matzpen was criticised by the Revolutionary Communist Alliance. As quoted by Greenstein, the RCA claimed: “Matzpen tends to detract from the typical colonial character of the [Israeli-Arab] contradiction, and to emphasise its national aspects.” The RCA deemed “Zionism and Israel as colonial instruments aligned with imperialism and operating at the expense of the Arab and Palestinian populations.”

Greenstein summarises the importance of nationalism, the limitations upon liberal discourse and the issues that shaped the prospects of the discussed parties, providing an overview as to why the Oslo Accords should be overturned based upon the validity of the historical processes discussed and the importance of ideology behind the movements. Equally important, Greenstein makes the point of Palestinian fragmentation in 1948 and 1967 – two important dates which, unfortunately, are perceived as separate occurrences rather than a process which, in turn, separates the struggle against occupation from the struggle against colonisation to the detriment of Palestinians.