Likud allies welcome making an apartheid state out of Israel and oPt
Map of the bantustans of West Bank Palestine behind the wall of separation, by APJP (Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine)
A closer look at the diplomatic playing field ahead and the South African history behind – plus blunt statements from a rising set of Israeli right-wingers – reveals a different blueprint
By Chris McGreal, Guardian
May 15th, 2014
The howls of outrage from the pro-Israel lobby are probably the best indicator that John Kerry and his chief Middle East mediator, Martin Indyk, had it right.
Organizations claiming to speak for America’s Jews – mostly too far to the right to be representative of most of them – reeled in horror after Kerry dared to say it two weeks ago: if Israel doesn’t reach a deal on an independent Palestine it risks becoming an “apartheid state”.
The second blow came a week later, when Indyk said that Binyamin Netanyahu’s government had “sabotaged” the latest negotiations with another surge in Jewish settlement construction in the occupied territories and large-scale expropriation of land that does not belong to Israel.
Israel called the envoy a hypocrite and blamed him for the failure of the latest talks. The secretary of state apologized for using the A-word, saying it was “best left out of the debate” in the US – even if it is used in Israel itself, including by two former prime ministers to sound similar warnings to Kerry’s.
But is “apartheid” really a word best left forgotten?
Kerry’s comment injected some unusually blunt and much-needed honesty to the public debate in his own country about what is really going on in Israel. Tellingly, Kerry’s carefully worded apology said he accepted that Israel does not intend to become an apartheid state, which is not at all the same thing as saying it won’t become one.
After years of traveling through the West Bank and South Africa, it’s blindingly clear to me: the ever-expanding settlements are, indeed, carving out the geography of West Bank apartheid. And if Kerry was wrong, it was only in casting his warning as a prediction rather than about a present reality.
Israel’s intent in the West Bank is an issue that has largely been off-limits in Washington. The pro-Israel lobby, with some help from Congress, has played an important role in determining the boundaries of criticism. It works tirelessly to portray Israeli governments as moderate and deeply committed to a just peace – if only the Palestinians were, too. Those who suggest otherwise are accused of “hating Israel” (or worse).
With their forthright statements, Kerry and Indyk cut some of the ground from under the weary mantra that settlements are not an obstacle to peace, that anyone who dares utter “apartheid” is an anti-semite. Kerry’s use of the A-word stung because it challenged Israel’s bedrock insistence that the occupation is solely driven by security and not an intent to discriminate or dominate.
But Israel needed challenging. For all their public professions of horror, influential members of Netanyahu’s party and its allies were happy enough to see the peace talks collapse – and to have an excuse to scorn Kerry. They see an opportunity to diminish the American role, abandon lip service to the two-state solution and, eventually, move toward the very outcome Kerry warned about.
Danny Danon, the increasingly powerful chairman of the central committee of Netanyahu’s Likud party and Israel’s deputy defence minister, called Kerry’s comment “unacceptable”. But Danon openly opposes his own prime minister’s professed support for a two-state solution – as, apparently, do a majority of Likud members who made him party chairman because he promised to stop Netanyahu from agreeing to a Palestinian state. Strange as it may seem, Israel’s prime minister isn’t trusted by much of his own party. Last week, Likud activists voted to increase Danon’s powers as party chairman.
Danny Danon, centre, pressing the flesh at a Likud meeting in Tel Aviv 2013, where he was elected president of the party’s convention. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
In an interview late last year, Danon told me that there is not going to be a Palestinian state, and that Netanyahu shouldn’t worry what the Americans think:
I think that’s why we have to do what is good for Israel and not to think about what sounds good in Washington.
Danon spoke of “managing the conflict” in the short term by maintaining the occupation, while “improving the way of living for the Palestinians”.
After that, his aim might be drawn straight out of the South African playbook: Danon says bluntly that he wants to take the bulk of West Bank land – Judea and Samaria, as it’s known in Israel – while ridding the Jewish state of responsibility for governing the mass of Palestinians.
Long-term, I am not talking about annexing the Palestinians. My goal is to annex – or ‘apply sovereignty’, as I prefer to call it – to the land in Judea and Samaria with the minimum amount of Palestinians, he told me. So, if I am doing the map, yes, I want the majority of the land with the minimum amount of Palestinians.
That was, essentially, South Africa’s 1960s blueprint for the supposedly self-governing Bantustan homelands intended to rid white South Africa of millions of black people while taking the best of their land. I saw that plan in force in South Africa so I put it to Danon that not only is his policy similar but that the end result might look much the same: a patchwork of Arab towns and cities in the West Bank surrounded by Israel. He didn’t deny it.
“As long as there is enough place to develop, then it doesn’t have to look good,” Danon said. “You want the well-being of Palestinians to be good, so I would look at the actual life of the people rather than how it will look on the map.”
Danon is not alone in this vision. Other members of Netanyahu’s coalition, such as the economic minister Naftali Bennett, are equally determined there will not be a Palestinian state. By comparison, the voices countering them, such as the justice minister and chief Israeli peace negotiator, look increasingly beleaguered.
Others on the Israeli right would rather bring the Americans around to their way of thinking. Dani Dayan is the former leader of the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, the Yesha council, and now its foreign affairs envoy. He happened to be in Washington when Kerry made his controversial remark, working to wean American politicians off the “peace process”.
Dayan tells me that Kerry is “damaging American interests” by pursuing talks that will inevitably fail and, in doing so, that he’s making the US look weak. That plays well with some Republicans.
But Dayan admits the next step is a difficult sell in Washington: he wants the US to abandon what he describes as the illusion of a two state solution. He said that what Palestinians want more than a country is a better lifestyle. So, according to the plan, Israel should keep the occupation going for another couple of decades or more, just do it better – by improving living standards with better education, job opportunities and development. Then everyone can get back to talking about a political future. In the meantime, the expansion of the settlements will have marched on.
“Of course we will keep building,” he said.
To be sure, Danny Danon is not Israel’s prime minister, and Dani Dayan represents settlers, a group that accounts for only about one in 10 of Israel’s 6m Jews. But their visions of a future for Israel – and the occupied territories that, like it or not, bear many of the hallmarks of apartheid – is gaining ground. Now it has the kind of political energy behind it that once drove the left and peace groups in Israel.
The powerful lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), led the attack on Kerry, calling his apartheid comment “offensive and inappropriate” and conjuring up a Disney-fied version of Israel as a “shining light for freedom”. With the Republicans piling on, Kerry bowed to the political reality and took a step back.
But the US secretary of state saw the future far more clearly than his critics.
Perhaps learning from South Africa, Israel security tightens an apartheid, Israeli-style, practice. Here the separation wall is extended with a new checkpoint added at Shufa’at RC – Jerusalem district. Photo by Louise Pollac, Dec. 20th 2012, WAFA
Notes and links
Chris McGreal became The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent in 2002 at the height of the second Palestinian uprising. In 2004 he won the Martha Gellhorn award, London, for reporting of Israel & Palestinian territories that “penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth”.
In 2006, McGreal returned to South Africa from where he had reported in the 1990s. He made repeated undercover trips to Zimbabwe to cover the political violence of President Robert Mugabe’s regime. He was runner up in the 2006 British Media Award by the Foreign Press Association in London for his Zimbabwe coverage. In 2009 he was appointed The Guardian’s Washington correspondent. From Wikipedia