Machover: Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution
Reviewed work(s): Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution, by Moshé Machover. Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket Books, 2012. xiv + 302 pages. Endnotes to p. 316. Index to p. 327. $24.00 paper.
Born in 1936 in Mandatory Palestine, Moshé Machover is an emeritus professor of mathematical logic, a lifelong militant socialist, and—along with such authors as Jabra Nicola, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Eqbal Ahmed, and Noam Chomsky—one of the most analytically lucid interpreters of the origins and consolidation of the Arab-Zionist matrix. With a small group of leftist dissidents expelled from the Israeli Communist Party in 1962, Machover co-founded the Israeli Socialist Organization, better known by its journal’stitle Matzpen (Compass). With Akiva Orr, he published in 1961 the Hebrew book Peace, Peace, and
There Is No Peace. Based on publically available sources, this book explained why David Ben-Gurion’s Israel opted to invade Egypt in 1956 and collaborate with British and French colonial powers rather than inch towards rapprochement with its most powerful Arab rival. It was this pioneering book, in conjunction with the explicitly regional, materialist, and internationalist conceptualization of the conflict as fashioned by Nicola and Matzpen comrades, that laid the principal Marxist explanatory framework for the understanding of settler colonialism in the context of Palestine/Israel. Subsequent texts that have deepened the settler colonialist framework departed from Matzpen’s foundational terms, yet did not introduce new ones to replace them.
Israelis and Palestinians gathers thirty-five texts that Machover wrote during the past fifty years, either alone or with comrades. It is mindboggling to realize how these crisp and non-pretentious texts remain razor-sharp, relevant, and radical vis-à-vis contemporary Israel/Palestine and the Middle East generally: for analysts of sociopolitical affairs, this lifelong achievement of Machover’s is truly the stuff of dreams. The book’s essays are thematically grouped into six uneven parts: “The Palestinian Struggle and the Arab East: Jabra Nicola and His Heritage,” “Israeli Society,”“Racism and the National Question,”“Polemics Against Zionism,”“Reviews,” and “Final Analysis.”The book engages with all major puzzles shaping the debate over Palestine/ Israel during the past half-century, including the distinct Zionist political economy underlying the conflict (which differentiates Israel from neighboring cases such as colonial Algeria or apartheid South Africa); the parochialism of the post-1993 one-state/two-states debate; and the hegemonic analysis of Palestine as if it were, or remains, a sociopolitical island confined to its fetishized Lilliputian territory in the caged borders drawn by Churchillian colonialists a mere century ago.
While Machover advances innumerable arguments, there is a pre-1967 one that remains consistent throughout his and Matzpen’s longue durée analysis, and that concurrently distinguished their Marxist conceptualization from those of the PFLP around 1967 and certainly from contemporary religious and liberal anti-Zionist currents. Since its inception, Matzpen emphasized that “Zionist ideology denies the fact that a new Hebrew nation has come into existence because its self-legitimation depends on the fiction that all Jews around the world are one nation that has an eternal right over its God-given homeland” (p. xii). Since this Zionist denial was dialectically shared by the Arab Left (and Right), in May 1967, Nicola and Machover argued:
As a result of Zionist colonization, a Hebrew nation with its own national characteristics (common language, separate economy, etc.) has been formed in Palestine. This nation has a capitalist class structure—it is divided into exploiters and exploited, a bourgeoisie and a proletariat. That this nation has been formed artificially and at the expense of the indigenous Arab population does not change the fact that the Hebrew nation exists. It would be a disastrous error to ignore this fact. . . . Nationalist Arab leaders who call for the liberation of Palestine ignore the fact that even if Israel would be defeated militarily and cease to exist as a state, a Hebrew nation will still exist. If the problem of the existence of this nation is not solved correctly, a situation of dangerous and prolonged national conflict will be re-created whichwillcause endlessbloodshed andsuffering. ...Itisnocoincidence that the leaders who advocate such a “solution” are also incapable of solving the Kurdish problem. (p. 13)
In May 1973, Nicola and Machover reemphasized against the dominant left (and right) anti-Zionist current, arguing that “the idea that Israeli Jews do not constitute a nation is a myth, a piece of wishful thinking based on lack of familiarity with the actual facts” (p. 23). They maintained that the resolution of the conflict necessitated the overthrowing of both Zionism and reactionary Arab regimes and the formation of a socialist Arab federation that—if needed—must be sociopolitically capable of granting equal national autonomy (rather than individual rights alone) to non-Arab collectivities within it.
For Machover’s publisher, it would have been more powerful to adopt the poetic dictum “less is more” and resist the temptation to lump together too many different texts. Instead, it would have been preferable to only include Machover’s shiniest and historically most momentous writings. Thus the entire fifth part, “Reviews,” could have been omitted and the reader’s attention left to focus on Machover’s foundational formulations. His following eighteen essays should now become compulsory reading for all contemporary students: essays 3–6, 8, 13–19, 22–24 and 33–35.
Moshe Behar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Manchester and co-editor of Modern Middle Eastern Jewish Thought: Writings on Identity, Politics and Culture, 1893-1958 (Brandeis, 2013).