Secretary of State John Kerry prompted a diplomatic gasp and a Ted Cruz hissy fit by warning of the dangers of apartheid if Israel and the Palestinians can’t achieve a workable two-state solution. Kerry’s private comment was uncharacteristically undiplomatic but not without truth.
A Boston Globe editorial sums up succinctly Israel’s dilemma if a two-state solution fails and the West Bank stays occupied: Israel can either adopt a one state/one-person/one vote democratic approach and, in about a generation, be reduced to virtual nothingness by disproportionate Palestinian population growth. Or, to preserve its Jewish identity while surrounded by those who refuse to recognize its legitimacy, Israel would have to resort to repression, leading, yes, to the reality of apartheid….a distinctly un-Jewish value. Add to denial of voting rights, the provision of a second-class education, travel restrictions, deprivation of land, and you have a picture of why the apartheid term may not be unreasonable as applied to the West Bank occupation. Inflammatory, to be sure, but not unreasonable.
John Kerry isn’t the first highly placed individual to utter the apartheid warning. I highly recommend Ari Shavit’s book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. In it, leading Israeli peace movement intellectuals acknowledge that their efforts, (even the “too little, too late” Oslo Accords,) had promising rhetoric but failed in action. The peace movement was doubtlessly naïve in underestimating Israelis’ very real fears of the dangers posed by the 2.5 million dispossessed Palestinians around them, people who ultimately want to drive Israel into the sea. One after another “peacenik” despaired the movement’s inability to convince fellow Israelis that “an occupying Israel is doomed.”
Peace leader Avishai Margalit: “We didn’t stop colonization. We never managed to forge a coalition wide enough and strong enough to stop the settlers. Now it’s too late. It’s almost irreversible. I don’t see a power within Israel fierce enough to stop the state founded by my parents from becoming an apartheid state.” This is heart-breaking. And he’s not alone in reaching that conclusion.
Stout Israel defender Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, writing in the Huffington Post, charges those who fling about the “A” word with misguidedly “focusing only on the imperfections of the Middle East’s sole democracy.” He draws a compelling difference between Israel’s West Bank policies and real apartheid. The latter, he says, is manifest in Saudi Arabia, Hamas, Iran, Pakistan, and other Muslim nations, with iron-clad policies of discrimination based on religion, gender, sexual orientation. None of that draconian discriminatory policy is true in the state of Israel.
Maybe so, but failing to reach a two-state solution and continuing to be an occupation force in post-1967 borders means that even apartheid-lite would be the only way to survive as a Jewish state, and that policy would violate not only the basic precepts of democracy but the tenets of Judaism.
There’s nothing that will anger most ardent Zionists more than citing the plight of Palestinians displaced by Israel with the UN partition plan in 1947, the declaration of statehood in 1948, Israeli acquisition of the West Bank and Gaza after Israel was attacked in 1967, and the unrelenting expansion of the settlement movement driven by Israel’s far right. They seem not to want to hear it.
Famous Israeli writer Amos Oz has said that “both morals and realism dictated only one solution, the two-state solution.” But it is, as he suggests, pretty tricky to try to construct a tripartite agreement among the government of Israel, the PLO and the settlers. Kerry isn’t the first well-meaning, consummately skilled diplomat to try. His frustration is totally understandable. It would be nice to think that Kerry’s choice of language in lamenting the breakdown of the latest round of talks is a wake-up call. More likely, the wounds on both sides make any definition of success more difficult than ever, if not impossible. And I fear we’re poised for a new round of escalation on both sides.
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