Israel. The name brings forth many images. Post-Nazi Jews, Operation “Wrath of God”, hi-tech weapons, Natalie Portman, a campaigning topic for American presidential hopefuls, crude bomb diagrams in the UN General Assembly… The list goes on. Recently, another one has been added. Potential apartheid practitioners.
Disclaimer: Some of my views may hurt certain Israelis. Please understand that I mean no disrespect to your country and religion, but am simply at odds with a certain viewpoint which you seem to be particularly fond of.
A recent poll (registration required) published in the Haaretz newspaper surveyed Israelis on a very innocuous question. In effect, it asked them what the fate of the residents of the West Bank would be if Israel annexed it. An overwhelmingly large majority answered that they would like those people to be given second class status. You know what this reminds me of? South Africa before Nelson Mandela became president. White people lording it over the others.
Well, you can counter, the situation is highly hypothetical. After all, the entire prospect of the apartheid actually occurring can only be possible if Israel and Palestine decide to renege on their commitments to the two-state solution. That’s not going to happen, right?
Well, I can’t really predict the future. But what I can do is make inferences from the present and the recent past. Israel was formed in 1948, according to a UN mandate. It has since had very tense relations with its Arab neighbors, which is understandable seeing that none of them wanted Israel there in the first place. The US has supported Israel for almost all of its existence. In fact, this support is what has given Israel the strength to keep countering those baying for its blood.
Arab countries see the very formation of Israel as belligerence, and its later actions have served to cement this image. Over the course of years, Arabs have learned to live with the fact that Israel is going to be a permanent part of Anatolia. It’s been a bitter pill to swallow, and not all Arabs have been able to do so, Hamas and Hezbollah being the most visible such groups.
However, many other Arabs have accepted Israel as a permanent political entity and have the desire to live peacefully alongside it. This plan is great in theory, but it hinges on one crucial assumption. That the Israelis have the same desire of peaceful co-existence. For most states, it is true. I doubt Israel wants to eliminate Egypt and Syria. However, Palestine is a very different beast. Israel sees that territory as its own, and I doubt it has plans to change its worldview in the near future. In fact, the building of settlements there is an open sign of defiance of the world consensus. No matter how many plans there have been to salvage a two-state solution out of the mess that is whatever is left of Israel-Palestine relations, it stops simply because Israel is not interested. There was a time when Israel needed a two-state solution simply because it wasn’t technologically strong enough to maintain itself. Its neighbors had the capability to overwhelm it with numbers. While the numbers remain the same, Israel’s current capabilities are enough for it to be surer of its existence.
On the other hand, the in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah, as well as the inefficacy of the PLO seem to suggest that the Palestinians, while they have a lot of sympathy, are being sidelined and pacified with false promises. The most obvious of this was the PLO’s bid for being accepted as an Observer State in the General Assembly which was downgraded by Abbas on the behest of the US. Also, the recent Gaza visit of the Emir of Qatar sparked an outrage from the PLO, which says that the Emir should have okayed the visit through them, seeing that they are the representatives of the Palestinian quest for recognition. Hamas pooh-poohed it. This kind of infighting weakens the fight for a Palestinian state.
Because of that, it is time to rethink the two-state solution. I believe that the world clings on to it simply because it is comforting and morally sound. Both the Palestinians and Israelis are different nationalities, after all, right? Well, yes. They are. But the two state solution is still wrong. The stance of Israel, while rhetorically for a two state solution has in recent times shown quite some contempt for it through its actions. The ultra-orthodox and rightist Likud party dominates the Knesset and the Prime Minister, Netanyahu is a hardliner who advocates Israel’s rights without considering anyone else. And with the centrists and the leftists nowhere to be seen, it may safely be assumed that the next few elections will also be in the hands of the Likud party and its ilk. Israeli society as a whole seems to be shifting to the right as well and recent news seems to suggest that more and more of them favour a single-state approach over a two-state solution. It is only the implementation which leaves something to be desired.
On the ground, news has come that a Palestinian village was given building permits by Tel Aviv after being lobbied for by a Jewish settlement. There are rumblings that many Jews and Arabs have been able to get along peacefully on the ground, despite their many differences.
So is this the correct time for the international community to propose a change in its thinking? Well, I think yes. The number of people for apartheid seems to be increasing. An increasing number of Jews have said that they have problems with their Arab neighbors. Many of them say that it would be better for their Arab neighbors to be rounded off and sent to live under the Palestinian Authority. I fear that we may be going towards a point of no return. Once enough Jews say that apartheid is their preferred method of governance, then a one state solution remains a solution no longer. Then we might be facing South Africa part two, this time with American support.