Posted by: Lister | April 22, 2007

The Apartheid Comparison

Uri Avnery describes the Bed of Sodom, as a comparison to the way people distort situations to fit a preconceived idea. “When a stranger came to Sodom, he was put in this bed. If he was too tall, his legs were shortened. If he was too short, his limbs were stretched to fit“.

I’ve used apartheid in the context of Israel, and that’s the main theme Avnery takes up.

It is easy to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the South African bed, since the similarities between the symptoms are obvious. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has been going on for 40 years now, and almost 60 years have passed since the Naqba – the armed conflict of 1948 in which the State of Israel came into being and in which more than half the Palestinians lost their homes and land. Relations between the settlers and the Palestinians are in many ways reminiscent of apartheid; and even in Israel proper, the Arab citizens are far from real equality.

[…] world public opinion saw the injustice of apartheid and imposed a world-wide boycott on South Africa, till in the end the white minority capitulated.

[…] If this happened in South Africa, the proponents of this view say, it must happen here, too. The idea of establishing a Palestinian state next to the State of Israel (the “Two-State Solution”) must be discarded, and the single state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (the “One-State Solution”) must become the aim. This must be achieved by the ultimate weapon which proved itself in South Africa: boycott.

I’ve not done a survey, but not everyone who makes the apartheid example is against a two-state solution. Jimmy Carter is a famous example:

[Amy Goodman refers to President Carter’s appearance on CNN, where he was asked about the one-state solution]

JIMMY CARTER: To incorporate the Occupied Territories into Israel and have just one state, I don’t think that would work, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, the Palestinians, if they were given a right to vote on an equal basis with all Israelis, they would play a major role in making decisions about the whole country. And with the rapid population growth of the Palestinians, which in Gaza is 4.7% a year, one of the highest of the world, and in the foreseeable future the Palestinians would actually have a majority in that nation. So I think the only real practical solution is to have two states, side by side, in their own territories living in harmony and peace. That’s I think the best and most likely approach.

Avnery’s example is Ilan Pappe:

THIS WEEK I listened to a lecture by Professor Ilan Pappe of Haifa University, one of the leading spokesmen for this idea. The audience consisted of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists in Bil’in, the village that has become a symbol of resistance to the occupation. He presented a well-structured set of ideas, expressed with eloquence and enthusiasm. These were the principles:

There is no sense in opposing just the occupation, nor any other particular policy of the Israeli government. The problem is the very essence of Israel as a Zionist state. This essence is unchangeable as long as the state exists. No change from the inside is possible, because in Israel there is no essential difference between Right and Left. Both are accomplices in a policy whose real aim is ethnic cleansing, the expulsion of the Palestinians not only from the occupied territories, but also from Israel proper.

[…] There is no doubt that the real disease is not the 40-year long occupation. The occupation is a symptom of a more profound disease, which is connected with the official ideology of the state. The aim of ethnic cleansing and the establishment of a Jewish State from the sea to the river is dear to the hearts of many Israelis, and perhaps Rabbi Meir Kahane was right when he asserted that this is everybody’s unspoken desire.

But unlike professor Pappe, I am convinced that it is possible to change the historical direction of Israel. I am convinced that this is the real battlefield for the Israeli peace forces, and I myself have been engaged in it for decades.

Moreover, I believe that we have already attained impressive achievements: the recognition of the existence of the Palestinian people has become general, and so has the readiness of most Israelis to accept the idea of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. We have compelled our government to recognize the PLO, and we shall compel them to recognize Hamas. True, all this would not have happened without the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and (sometimes) favorable international circumstances, but the contribution of the Israeli peace forces, which pioneered these ideas, was significant.

[…] THE IDEA of the “One-State Solution” will harm this effort very much.

It diverts the effort from a solution that has now, after many years, a broad public basis, in favor of a solution that has no chance at all.

There is no doubt that 99.99% of Jewish Israelis want the State of Israel to exist as a state with a robust Jewish majority, whatever its borders.

The belief that a world-wide boycott could change this is a complete illusion. Immediately after his lecture, my colleague Adam Keller asked the professor a simple question: “The entire world has imposed a blockade on the Palestinian people. But in spite of the terrible misery of the Palestinians, they have not been brought to their knees. Why do you think that a boycott would break the Israeli public, which is far stronger economically, so that they would give up the Jewish character of the state?” (There was no answer.)

And the Palestinians, of course, need a solution ASAP. People need to be realistic about the chances of building a single state — in which the Palestinians would be much poorer and so have less influence economically.

One can say: OK, we will accept the Two-State Solution because it is realistic, but after its realization we shall endeavor to abolish the two states and establish one joint state. That is alright with me. As for myself, I hope that in the course of time a federation of the two states will come into being, and relations between the two will become close. I also hope that a regional union, like the EU, will be established, consisting of all the Arab states and Israel, and perhaps also Turkey and Iran.


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