The recent statement by John Kerry regarding the danger of Israel slipping into being an apartheid state was roundly condemned by many Jewish groups and elected officials. But Kerry was right. The apartheid analogy is not a smear but an accurate description of the situation that has been developing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) since the start of the Oslo agreements in 1993. I personally remember the way in which the division of the West Bank into separate areas under the (originally temporary) terms of the Oslo Accords of 1993 reminded me more of the South African bantustans than of what we were to expect of a just and viable two state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Apartheid analogy refers only to the OPT since 1993 and not to Jewish/Arab relations within the boundaries of pre-1967 Israel. Like Kerry, I view with dismay a "peace process" that seeks to abolish an outright, illegal foreign military occupation only to replace with a South African style apartheid. Stalling the peace talks to avoid dealing with the "terrorist" Hamas is hypocritical at best; apartheid is a form of terrorism too! If there is a just solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, Hamas can be persuaded to accept Israel's reality even if it rejects Israel's legitimacy. The time to save the two state solution is running out. Israeli inaction can only result in the long term, implementation by default of the one state solution simply by means of demographics and the practical realities of every day life for both Jews and Arabs alike.
On Friday, April 25, US Secretary of State John Kerry risked US Jewish Community ire by speaking the truth in a closed door high level diplomatic meeting by saying that Israel runs the risk of becoming an apartheid state if a two state solution isn't implemented soon by restarting the peace process. The actual John Kerry quote from the Daily Beast was this; "A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state...” Kerry is absolutely correct and it is a positive step that he broke a taboo on using the term "apartheid" with respect to Israeli relations with the Palestinians.
Kerry's remark referred to an aspect of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord, the first accord between the Israelis and the Palestinians which was called the "Declaration of Principles" which divided the West Bank into three distinct areas, A, B and C. A, which covers the smallest area of the WB and contains the largest number of Arab residents is completely under the political and military control of the Palestine National Authority (PNA). The trouble is that Area A is a cluster of discontiguous patches of land, each very small, that are ringed by over 600 Israeli checkpoints. Ditto for area B except that the PNA has political autonomy there though it is thoroughly under Israeli military control. Area C is under the political and military control of Israel and is the place where all the settlers reside. Area C takes up about three fifths of the WB area and contains less than five percent of the total Palestinian population of the WB. This division was supposed to be part of a temporary transition phase to full independence ending in 1998, but with the election to power of Benjamin Netanyahu in mid-1996, it became a permanent feature of the Oslo Accords. In addition, according to a well respected Israeli human rights organization called B'tselem, an Israeli high court in December 2011, made a new ruling, "...enabling the state and private Israeli enterprises to loot quarries in the West Bank." B'tselem goes on to point out that not only does this decision violate international law but it also contradicts the pattern of high court ruling over the past three decades.
This is in no way a viable state. When the more than 700 km separation wall, which snakes its way around the WB cutting numerous Palestinian farmers off from their land which ends up on the Israeli side of the wall, we have a cluster of bantustans which serve as a series of heavily guarded labor reserves. This is in effect the apartheid that Kerry believes can only be prevented, or reversed at this point, by creating a genuinely independent Palestinian state with Israel removing the settlements, settlers and settler/IDF only roads which crisscross the entire WB. The wall was an illegal land grab and a massive human rights violation under the fourth Geneva Accords (1948) and other international conventions. Apartheid has been in the making over the past two decades of "peace making" and it is precisely what former US president Jimmy Carter discussed in his excellent book Peace not Apartheid.
A March 2013 report by the online Jewish Daily Forward noted that since the Oslo agreement, Palestinians have been systematically removed from area C; their numbers were gradually reduced from over 350,000 to around 50,000 currently. This process of ethnic cleansing is illegal under fourth Geneva (1949) which forbids supplanting the indigenous population with a foreign one under conditions of military occupation by a foreign power.
About 16 industrial zones have been established in the West Bank, mostly in area C, with over 1,000 factories employing over 21,000 workers about 14,000 of whom are Palestinians in various manufacturing enterprises. Residents of the WB, must obtain special permits to work inside Israel. According to an early 2013 report by Ha'aretz, 25% unemployment rates for Palestinian workers in the WB and Gaza Strip force them to seek special work permits allowing them to find jobs in Israel. In mid-2013, of the 103,000 Palestinian workers who worked in Israel and in WB settlements, only half had Israeli issued work permits allowing them to work. The WB (and Gaza to an even greater extent) have become cheap labor reserves whose sovereignty isn't even respected by Israel. The permits are used to control who comes in and out of Israel from the WB and Gaza to work and are in no way to be interpreted as a legal document which tacitly acknowledges sovereign independence of the between the WB. Area C is therefore, simply a cluster of bantustans allowing Israeli to meet its labor requirements; the permits merely serve as the equivalent as pass books controlling the movement of Palestinians.
On Wednesday, April 23, the Israeli government, headed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, suspended peace talks over a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. Israel's original recognition of the PLO, which began the Madrid Conference in October 1991 culminating in the a series of bilateral negotiations that came to be known as the Olso Accords due to the intermediation of the Norwegian Government, did not include Hamas which, ironically, was formed in 1987 out of the village leagues; a small cluster of seven rural organizations armed and funded by Israel in the 1970s and '80s to enforce a kind of semi-autonomy on the West Bank as a counter weight to the influence of the PLO. The formation of an umbrella organization of a league of Arab villages in the occupied territories was similar to the South African attempts at the creation of legally autonomous Bantustans in the early 1960s. The Village Leagues would give its residents some political autonomy while leaving general sovereignty and military control over these areas in the hands of Israel. Eventually, these West Bank and Gazan villages served as cheap labor reserves for the Israel's urban economy. Ironically, many of the villages, often headed by radical Muslim clerics, later abandoned the Israeli project and formed Hamas which played a major role in the first Intifada. Ray Hanania explains;
Hamas is considered one of Israel’s greatest threats, but the Islamic terrorist organization found its beginnings in the misguided Israeli effort to encourage the rise of a religious alternative that would undermine the popularity of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Yasir Arafat. The strategy resulted in the birth of Hamas which rose from these Islamic roots. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was a member of the government when the policy was developed in the late 1970s. Although Sharon and his Likud (formerly Herut Party) government colleagues could not anticipate that the Islamic leaders they backed would eventually evolve into Hamas and suicde bombings, the two have benefited from each other’s extremism over the years. The Likud strategy to promote an Islamic alternative evolved in response to Arafat’s transformation from a revolutionary leader to the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people.In January of 2006, Hamas and other religious parties, got the majority of votes in a legislative election and formed a bloc taking over the Palestine Legislative Council leaving Fatah and Mahmood Abbas politically outmaneuvered. By the summer of 2007, Hamas had violently assumed control of Gaza and formed a government independent of the PA in the Fatah controlled West Bank. The Palestine Authority (PA) government officials in Gaza were killed or expelled leaving two separate Palestinian governments. The Hamas seizure of power in the Gaza Strip was illegal and not recognized by the majority of foreign governments who continued to see the PA as the sole legitimate rulers of Palestine. Over the next seven years war and an invasion of Gaza by the IDF leaving nearly 1,500 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, lead to efforts to restart the peace process between an extreme right wing Israeli government headed by the Likud and "Bibi" Netanyahu on the one hand and a renewed PA which now included members of the Hamas which is regarded by many including the US, the EU, Israel and many others as a terrorist organization.
Netanyahu, who has been PM since 2009 when Operation Cast Lead, which ripped apart the Gaza Strip by the IDF in response to months of rocket attacks by Hamas, ended as the US presidential administration changed, committed himself to intensifying settlement of the West Bank. According to the Daily Beast;
Since his election as prime minister in 2009, Netanyahu has presided over the most rapid period of West Bank settlement growth in Israel’s history. In the West Bank, the Jewish population has expanded by 18 percent—doubling the growth rate of Israel proper—and Israeli government spending in these areas has skyrocketed by 38 percent under Netanyahu’s leadership. Moreover, the Netanyahu government has incentivized settler activity by providing generous housing subsidies as well as legalizing “outposts” that many deem illegal according to international law.In March 2013, Netanyahu indicated that he would be ready to accept a two state solution in order to prevent a binational state from defacto emerging in Israel. Thus, his acceptance of such a solution should be interpreted by the Israeli populace as an effort to "maintain the Jewish character of the State of Israel" which is a goal repeated by every Israeli PM since Oslo in support of two states. Thus, support for the two state solution is, far from being a radical concession to the Palestinians, a patriotic act in the eyes of most of its Israeli supporters. At worst, it is seen as an effort to consolidate and entrench Israeli efforts at "ethnic cleansing" by concentrating nearly half of all the population of "British Mandatory Palestine" (Israel within the pre-1967 boundaries plus the West Bank and Gaza Strip) into a scant 25% of the territory.
Supporters of a one state, binational solution, such as Ali Abunimeh of the Electronic Intifada, regard this solution as in effect Apartheid. The "independent" Palestinian state would end up as a cheap labor reserve for Israel's urban economy and whose foreign relations would be totally controlled from without by Israel. The one state argument goes that it would be impossible to take a highly integrated area and artificially separate them creating two state in expectation that a just and lasting peace would result. As the saying goes, "you can't unscramble an omelette."
Scholar and human rights activist, James Zogby believes that Netanyahu is only feigning disappointment in his rejection of the reconciliation agreement; in reality, it apparently gives Israel the out they've been looking for regarding the peace talks. Zogby explained this three years ago when Netanyahu balked over the continued efforts of the PNA and Hamas to reach a reconciliation agreement allowing new PNA elections and any consequent Fatah/Hamas power sharing arrangement that could emerge in the process. The Likud and the Israeli far right have always shunned the peace process as futile arguing that only force can secure Arab complicity with (Greater) Israel's existence. The "we don't negotiate with terrorists" refrain is often used as an excuse to avoid participation in face to face talks with the Palestinians.
"In reality, the Netanyahu government has shown no interest in moving toward peace -- unless on terms they dictate and the Palestinians accept. While feigning disappointment at this Palestinian move, Netanyahu must privately be delighted. The pressure he was feeling to deliver some "concessions" to the Palestinians in his upcoming speech to the U.S. Congress has now been relieved. He can now revert to old form, expressing a vague desire for peace while warning that there is now clear evidence that there is no Palestinian partner with whom he can work."Given Netanyahu and the Likud's history in their relations with the Palestinians and their attitudes toward peace, Zogby's impressions are altogether reasonable! It can be said that Netanyahu isn't much of a "peace partner" either.
The rise of Hamas since late 2005, when then PM Ariel Sharon fulfilled a promise to militarily disengage from Gaza, had to do with a lack of progress in the peace process as well as the failure of an increasingly corrupt, repressive and arrogant PA to deliver on its promises. Ten years after the PA won elections in 1996, very little had been done to improve the lives of average Palestinians. Poverty and unemployment continued unabated while corrupt PA officials treated generous donor aid as their personal salaries. Yet Hamas was scarcely better. Continued violence, constant shakedowns of the Gazan populace and repressive rule made Hamas far less popular over time than they were in early 2006 when they swept the election that year. Only a renewed peace effort and the promise of elections for a unified Palestine can provide a long term solution. This is exactly the reason that the reconciliation agreement should be supported and recognized. Bridging the Fatah/Hamas rift is essential to restoring the peace process. Such a recognition by the US and Israel would be a good start on the road to reestablishing the peace process. Like the PLO before it (and many Arab leaders), Hamas can be persuaded to recognize the reality of Israel even if it can never recognize the legitimacy of Israel. This is all that is needed for peace.
Kerry's comments were apt. The entire world recognizes the apartheid nature of the Israeli West Bank and Gaza over which a hobbled PNA presides. Peace hinges on a complete Israeli withdrawl from the WB in accord with UN Security Council resolution 242 (1968) which mandates the return of all territory conquered by Israel in 1967 based upon the resolution's principle of the "inadmissibility of territory acquired by force." Israel must completely withdraw taking with it settlers, dismantling settlements and Jewish only roads and other infrastructure and by tearing down the illegal apartheid wall! Only then will we have peace and not apartheid!