What kind of society?

Page last updated 1 August 2022

There are various ways of interpreting developments in Israeli society. Liberal and left Zionists tend to see Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, building a new society under enormous pressure and trying, in adverse circumstances, to maintain both its Jewish and its democratic character, with (inevitable) shortcomings. Radical critiques generally see it as a settler-colonial society of some kind and tend to look at Israel in comparative perspective. Matzpen (the Israeli Socialist Organisation) was an early proponent of this view, as Moshé Machover one of its founders, explains below. There are discussions as to whether it is more of a settler society (displacing the original inhabitants) or a settler-colonial one (wanting to exploit the original inhabitants). Refinements of this approach include Oren Yiftachels’s analysis of Israel as an ethnocratic society.

In recent years a number of comparisons have been made between developments in Israel and/or the occupied territories and apartheid (obviously not to the exclusion of the settler-society label as well). Uri Davis was one of the earliest users of the analogy in his book Israel: An Apartheid State (1987), but it only really came into widespread use after the start of the second intifada, particularly after the South African Jewish declaration Not in My Name, drew uncomfortable parallels. Other South Africans like Archibishop Tutu and John Dugard concurred, while Benjamin Pogrund rejected the analogy entirely (see below). Some critics countenance its use to describe the situation in the occupied territories but reject it out of hand with regard to green-line Israel (Pogrund again). Others find the situation in Israel, particularly after recent developments and pressure to make the Palestinians acknowledge Israel “as a Jewish state” as tending more and more towards an apartheid one. The term has now come into much wider use in the broader Palestine solidarity movement, particularly since the publication of Ben White’s book, Israeli Apartheid: a Beginner’s Guide (Pluto Press, 2008). For further discussion and links, see Is Israel an apartheid society?

Some (including many within Israel) who use the term are concerned simply with the discriminatory implications of trying to maintain ‘a Jewish state’; others make direct comparisons with the apartheid regime in South Africa, often with strategic implications. This topic is looked at further in Key Debates section, where the issue of whether the term is used to delegitimise Israel, with possible antisemitic overtones, is addressed.


A: Jewish and democratic?
B: What kind of settler society?
C: Apartheid?


A: Jewish and Democratic?

1. Can Israel be both Jewish and democratic?
Ruth Gavison, Moment Magazine, (Dec 2000, Number 6, Volume 25)

Gavison is a pre-eminent Israeli scholar who has written frequently on this topic, in defence of the notion that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic (see her webpage). In this relatively short article from 2000 all the essential arguments are laid out.


2. A Jewish Demographic State
Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom, 12 Oct 2002

“In reality, this is not a ‘Jewish democratic state’ but a ‘Jewish demographic state’. Demography overcomes democracy in all fields of action. An Arab citizen feels at every turn, since childhood, that he has no part in the state, that he is, at most, a tolerated resident.”


3a. ‘Why depict Israel as a chamber of horrors like no other in the world?’
Benjamin Pogrund, Guardian, 8 Feb 2006

In a critique of two Chris McGreal articles (see below), Pogrund argues that Israel is “not a perfect society. It struggles to find itself as a Jewish state (with no consensus about what that means), and it struggles to evolve as a democratic society with full rights for minorities. It deserves criticism for its flaws and mistakes. It also merits sympathy and support in facing unfounded attack.”

3b. Israel has many injustices. But it is not an apartheid state
Benjamin Pogrund, Guardian, 22 May 2015

A more recent restatement, in response to a more widely used depiction of Israel as an apartheid state.


4. Israel can be both Jewish and democratic. Here’s how
Alexander Yakobson, Ha’aretz,  29 May 2014

A strong statement, drawing on European examples, of the argument that states can express the national, cultural or religious identity of the majority while at the same time guaranteeing civil rights and equality for all their citizens.


5. Are Israeli Jews beginning to accept the right of return?

Eléonore Bronstein and Eitan Bronstein Aparicio , in +972, 18 April 2018

A number of new surveys shows that at least a fifth of Israel’s Jewish citizens are open to the idea of Palestinian refugees returning to their homes. So how do we reconcile this with the violence being meted out to Palestinians on the Gaza border?


6. Israel at Seventy: Is the Right Winning the Culture War?

Bernard Avishai, New Yorker, 18 April 2018

Naftali Bennett and his like are indoctrinating the young into their national religious image.

7. The Israeli Government needs more Arab MKs

Naomi Chazan writes in Times of Israel, 4 June 2018

“Conventional wisdom in Israel has consistently maintained that the Arab community in the country, while privy to the fundamental civil right to vote and be elected, is not, as a collective, considered a worthy partner in any ruling coalition in the country. Dating back to the formative years of the state, successive prime ministers and contenders for high office have dismissed the possibility of incorporating Arab parties or their representatives into the government, relegating them in perpetuity to the opposition, and hence to extended political marginalization. They have thus given a hand to the systemic exclusion of Arab society in the country from the corridors of power, thereby contributing to the entrenchment of inequality based on national origin, in direct contravention of the letter and spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”…

Naomi Chazan is a former Meretz Mk and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University.  She is co-director of WIPS, the Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.


8. Israel’s Suicidal Passion for Tribal Nationalism

Zeev Sternhell writes in Haaretz  Nov 16, 2018

The fate of the Jews has been tied to the fate of liberal values, and yet the levels of racist tribal nationalism reached here are incomparable,

9. Israeli Soldiers in 1956 Kafr Qasem Massacre Believed They Were Doing the Right Thing

Newly declassified transcripts of the trial that followed the murder of 53 people in Kafr Qasem reveal an inconvenient truth


B: What kind of settler society?

1. Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution
Moshé Machover, Barry Amiel & Colin Melburn Trust Annual Lecture, 26 Nov 2006

Israel is seen as a colonial settler state but exceptional in at least three ways: it was historically the last colonisation project to get off the ground and is still ongoing; the settlers were not nationals of a European Power who sent them on their colonising mission and protected them; the conflict crystallised as a national one, unlike the usual relation between settlers and indigenous people which assumes the form of a quasi-class struggle. Plus an argument that any genuine resolution of the conflict will only become possible in the longer term, given a change in the regional balance of power.


2. Zionism, Anti-Semitism and  the Struggle against Racism
Nira Yuval-Davis, SOAS lecture, JfJfP 7 Dec 2006

An attempt to identify the common features of all settler-society states and then the specific features of the Israeli Zionist project and of the racism within it.

e.g. “One of the important specificities of the Zionist settler project is that as a result of various [factors] the size of the settler population and that of the indigenous population has been for many years now roughly the same. This means that no one side would be prepared to concede defeat easily and that the conflict, other things being equal, would tend to be much longer and bloodier.”


3. The Other Shift: Settler Colonialism, Israel, and the Occupation
Lorenzo Veracini, Journal of Palestinian Studies , Vol 42/2, 2012/13

The essay highlights the distinction between colonial and settler-colonial formations, between attempts to permanently dominate indigenous constituencies while ruling them from a metropolitan centre (as, for example, Britain’s rule in India and Nigeria) and efforts to erase indigenous peoples for the purpose of replacing them with another socio-political body (as, for example, in the United States, Canada, Australia, and so on).


4. ‘Ethnocracy’: The Politics of Judaizing Israel/Palestine
Oren Yiftachel, Constellations, 1998

Ethnocratic regimes are neither authoritarian nor democratic; but rather are states that maintain a relatively open government, while facilitating a non-democratic seizure of the country and polity by one ethnic group. Despite exhibiting several democratic features, they lack a democratic structure, tending to breach key democratic tenets, such as equal citizenship, the existence of a territorial political community (demos), universal suffrage, and protection against the tyranny of the majority.

This paper traces the making of the Israeli ethnocracy, focussing on the major Zionist project of Judaizing Israel/Palestine…


5. Yes, Zionism is Settler Colonialism
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Shalom Rav, 2 April 2016

Rosen argues that Jewish attachment to the land of Israel was traditionally  expressed as an inherently religious connection and that Zionism as a modern political movement, arising in the 19th century, was an explicit rejection of this Jewish tradition. Cultural Zionism, which wished to see Palestine as the centre of a Jewish cultural renaissance lost out to those who wanted to create a sovereign Jewish state in historic Palestine. And the ony way to do that was by getting rid of (most of) the indigenous population i.e. by means of settler colonialism.


6. Archaelogy should be objetcive, not a tool of Israeli mythology

Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO working to defend cultural heritage as a public asset

Emek Shaveh is an Israeli NGO working to defend cultural heritage rights and to protect ancient sites as public assets that belong to members of all communities, faiths and peoples. We object to the fact that the ruins of the past have become a political tool in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and work to challenge those who use archaeological sites to dispossess disenfranchised communities. We view heritage site as resources for building bridges and strengthening bonds between peoples and cultures and believe that archaeological sites cannot constitute proof of precedence or ownership by any one nation, ethnic group or religion over a given place.


7. How Israeli Right-wing Thinkers Envision the Annexation of the West Bank

Carolina Landsmann, Haaretz, Aug 18, 2018 

The entire article is published below.

In a preplanned coincidence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was absent from a vote of the Likud Central Committee on December 31. “On the jubilee anniversary of the liberation of the territories of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], including our eternal capital Jerusalem, the Likud Central Committee calls on the [party’s] elected representatives to act to enable free construction and to apply the laws and sovereignty of the State of Israel to all the areas of liberated settlement in Judea and Samaria.” That’s the text of the resolution that the central committee passed unanimously.

Netanyahu is a calculating man. He won’t go down in the history of the Jewish people – that is, in the minutes of Likud Central Committee’s meetings – as an enemy of hityashvut – the word for settlement in general, as opposed to hitnahalut, the word for settlement in the West Bank. He prefers to block proposals rather than oppose them.

And sure enough, two months after the central committee’s resolution, Netanyahu blocked a Knesset bill calling for Israeli sovereignty to be applied to the settlements. That bill was sponsored by MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), the heads of the Knesset Caucus for Eretz Israel. Netanyahu has prevented the advancement of a series of bills aimed at implementing Israeli sovereignty in the territories, among them one that would annex the city of Ma’aleh Adumim, southeast of Jerusalem, and one that would make Jerusalem responsible for the settlements around it.

Once and for all: How many settlers need to be evacuated from the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state

The only bills on Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank that the government decided to support are a law putting Ariel University under the aegis of the Council for Higher Education and a law placing chicken farmers in West Bank settlements under the supervision of the Egg and Poultry Board. Dramatic laws, certainly, but not what the advocates of annexation covet.

Israel has yet to take a step toward fulfilling the goal for which Yehudit Katzover and Nadia Matar established the group Women in Green. What is that goal? In a word: sovereignty.

Settlement is reversible, sovereignty isn’t,” they say. They want sovereignty so they can stop fighting for every tree they plant and the Palestinians uproot – or vice versa – but mainly to prevent an “expulsion” à la the 2005 Gaza pullout. Sovereignty, in their perception, will make it clear to every Palestinian boy and girl born into the occupation that “the Land of Israel is ours,” meaning not theirs.

The problem, Matar says, is that the Palestinians harbor the hope that one day, “they will succeed in taking Judea and Samaria and establishing a state for themselves, and afterward Tel Aviv and all the rest.” She adds: “Israel is cultivating that hope. For 51 years, a question mark has hung over this territory because Israel hasn’t decided what it wants. But if Israel doesn’t say it’s hers, others say ‘We will take it’ or that we’re occupiers.

That’s how the world understands it. We have to put a stop to it. The application of sovereignty will make the picture clear to Palestinian young people: ‘My friend, you’re invited to live here in the State of Israel, but you won’t have a state here. There will be a bit of a crisis at first, but when all this becomes clear to them, it’ll be good.’”

Katzover and Matar aren’t alone. The “sovereignty dialogue” is gaining pace in Israel, so now is the time to examine what the proponents of sovereignty mean when they talk about it. Katzover and Matar told me who they think the major players are, so I set out to discover what they’re anguishing over and which issues bother them – legally, economically and morally – and what they argue about among themselves.

Naftali Bennett: ‘Autonomy on steroids’

The education minister and the leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Naftali Bennett, suggests annexing Area C of the West Bank (which was divided into three areas of rule in the 1995 Oslo II Accord) to Israel, granting citizenship to the Palestinians living there and introducing autonomous Palestinian rule in Areas A and B. But Areas A and B are in fact made up of numerous enclaves within Area C. If we see the West Bank as a sunny-side up egg made of 165 individual yolks (the Palestinian enclaves), what Bennett suggests is to remove all the white that surrounds the yolks, and just making that part of Israel.

Do you have ambitions beyond Area C?

No. Not one Jew lives in Areas A and B, and there isn’t a single Jewish settlement there. They have autonomy there, they administer most of the components of life for themselves. Overall, anyone who goes through there won’t see any patrols by the Israeli army. There were 50,000 to 70,000 Arabs in Area C a few years ago, compared with 400,000 Jews. I suppose that there are now about 80,000 to 90,000 Arabs and half a million Jews. The demographics aren’t working against us. The birthrate of the Jewish mother has overtaken the birthrate of the Arab mother.”

I asked Bennett to address the fact that Areas A and B are inside Area C. “Of course,” he replied, “the picture is mottled.” He also commented on the view that the Palestinian population in Area C is in reality far larger than his plan estimates – some say 300,000, far above the 50,000 who would be granted citizenship under Bennett’s original plan.

We need to freeze the situation,” he said. “I can decide to execute a freeze according to either 1993 or 2013. At some point, there has to be a situation freeze, otherwise everyone will want to become an Israeli citizen and will move to Area C.”

In other words, Israel can decide on a “situation freeze” according to the year that suits it, in order to set the quota of Palestinians on whom it will confer citizenship.

The plan itself – Bennett’s sovereignty plan – calls for the application of Israeli law and administrative jurisdiction to Area C; in other words, to apply sovereignty and annex the areas. “It requires a government decision, not a law,” he said. Following that, he would offer the Palestinian residents of Area C three options: citizenship (Bennett doesn’t rule out that this will be accompanied by a mandatory declaration of loyalty to the state), residency (which many will choose, he believes, as is the case in East Jerusalem), or continued residency/citizenship in a Palestinian “or other” authority.

What country would the Palestinians in areas A and B be citizens of?

There is already autonomy. There is no sovereign contiguity but there is transportation contiguity. There needn’t be a connection between sovereignty and movement. It’s no problem for a Palestinian to get into a car and drive from Jenin to Ramallah. Along the way he passes through parts of Area C, but there are no fences and don’t have to be.”

No checkpoints between A, B and C?

Right. Nothing. It’s all open. The vision of freedom of movement.”

How would that autonomy be administered?

Self-rule, elections, like they have today, water, sewage, electricity, infrastructure and so on. Two significant things won’t happen. Overall security responsibility remains with us. Second, they don’t have the right to stream in millions of descendants of the Palestinian refugees who now live in Lebanon or Syria in refugee camps. So it will be less than a state. Autonomy on steroids, something beefed up.”

Construction in the West Bank settlement of Eli. Oren Nahshon

You wouldn’t knock down the separation fence?

That’s something that has to be examined with time, in two parameters: security and whether it’s acceptable to the Israeli public. It will take time. And then there’s a “Marshall Plan” for Judea and Samaria. If I were prime minister, I’d do it immediately.

1. Freedom of movement between Binyamin and Gush Etzion – between Ramallah and Bethlehem. I begin by building that road.

2. I triple the number of lanes for security checks, so that an Arab who lives in Nablus and works in Rosh Ha’ayin won’t wait three hours at the checkpoints, but five minutes. There will be dignity and respect for every person at the checkpoints.

3. An open tourist region. In terms of tourism, the Land of Israel is one unit, so a ship will dock at Haifa and from there the tourists will travel to Nazareth, Nablus, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and a stamp of transit for an integrated tourist region can be organized for them to get the ball rolling.

4. A land port in Jenin. A dock, or more than one, can be allocated to the Palestinians in Haifa. Apart from the security responsibility, the customs responsibility will be theirs. We won’t levy anything, there will be a passage from Haifa to Jenin, and the offloading will take place in Jenin.

5. I establish joint industrial zones for Arabs and Jews, as exist now, but 10 times as many in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian people – all told – are of a high level. Israel faces serious personnel problems in countless areas, from agriculture and construction to high-tech, and we can create a very good opportunity. Palestinians working in Israeli businesses is a very significant layer of the realistic Palestinian economy.

6. Upgrading of infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. It’s unbelievable that the chief road artery in Judea and Samaria looks like a neglected alley. How does it serve the Israeli interest if settlers or Palestinians wait in line for an hour to enter at Hizma [near Jerusalem]? It’s intolerable for everyone.

7. We’re proud of our agricultural technology. We talk about the Israeli [dairy] cow, which yields three or four times as much [as their peers globally], and we go to India or China to apply it. Why not in the Palestinian Authority, our neighbors?

Those steps give a real spurt to the quality of life in Judea and Samaria – a life of dignity, [though] not full realization of the desire for a state. It’s less than a state, but it seems to me to be as good as it gets.

I don’t rule out functional autonomy within Jordan. If Jordan decides on it and the Palestinians want to be citizens of Jordan who live in the Palestinian Authority or in Area C, that’s also possible. If they want to live in Moti Kedar’s cantons [see below], that’s also possible. They will decide. But in the end, there is one status in the territories of Israel, namely the citizens of Israel.There won’t be one territory with two statuses. Accordingly, there is no apartheid here.”

If you’ve forgone the vision of Greater Israel and of ‘the promise,’ why not go one step further and forgo Area C as well?

Theoretically, if there were no demographic problem and if there were no Palestinians, the whole of the western Land of Israel [the land west of the Jordan River] would be ours. But there is a problem, and I want to strengthen the Israeli, not the Palestinian, interest.”


Caroline Glick: The full method 

Columnist Caroline Glick and the late Knesset Member Uri Elitzur are considered the pioneers of the idea of applying Israeli sovereignty to all the territories and granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians. In her 2014 book “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East,” Glick presents her blueprint. She would apply Israeli law to the West Bank, which would be integrated into Israel along with its Palestinian inhabitants. The plan doesn’t encompass the Gaza Strip because, she argues, by withdrawing from it in 2005 Israel voided its claim to territory or sovereignty there. “Gaza is an independent state,” she said.

According to Glick, in an email to Haaretz, “The Palestinians in Judea and Samaria are already dictating no small amount of Israeli policy, through their free access to the state authorities, including the Supreme Court, and through the security threat they constitute to the state. In my view, it’s an optical illusion to treat the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria as an entity from which it’s possible to disengage. Accordingly, in my opinion, it’s preferable for the Palestinians to receive Israeli residency.

As for the question of citizenship for the Palestinian inhabitants of Judea and Samaria, there are two mistaken assumptions about this issue. First, there’s an assumption that all the Palestinians would be interested in acquiring citizenship, whereas past experience in Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights shows that there is no reason to assume this. Second, there’s an assumption that as a whole the Palestinians will meet the criteria for citizenship. Again, there’s no reason to assume this.

At the same time, the assumption that every change in the historical status of Judea and Samaria has to be implemented over time and gradually is correct. Therefore, as I see it, the Likud Central Committee and Habayit Hayehudi are right to say that Israel should apply Israeli law to Area C as a first step. The Palestinian inhabitants of the region will receive the status of permanent residents, like the status conferred on the residents of East Jerusalem and of the Golan Heights in 1967 and 1981.

In the wake of that move, and in accordance with developments on the ground over a period of at least a decade, it would be possible to extend the area in Judea and Samaria to which Israeli law will be applied and to treat the inhabitants of those areas as permanent residents in the first stage. As is the case in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, every application for citizenship would be examined separately.”

Martin Sherman: The transfer method

Martin Sherman, the founder and CEO of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, is probably the most extreme of all the annexationists. He advocates applying Israeli sovereignty to the whole West Bank and is also the only one who wants to annex the Gaza Strip as well. He says there is no other way to ensure Israel’s security militarily.

Bennett’s plan sounds logical, until you look at the map, and then you see corridors everywhere, so sovereignty is meaningless,” he says. “Even if there is only a 30 percent Palestinian minority, it’s still a recipe for Lebanonization. They’re a very hostile group.”

According to Sherman, Israel needs to act vigorously to reduce the Arab presence. How? War is the most effective way, Sherman says (because “‘kinetic means’ are more acceptable,” as he told the Ribonut correspondent). But if there’s no war – and Sherman claims he’s not calling to start one – “a series of incentives is needed so they’ll leave. Positive incentives – money for families that leave and negative ones: to declare them an enemy and start to gradually reduce the provision of services and goods to the Palestinians” in both the West Bank and Gaza.

In Sherman’s view, Israel has no moral, legal or practical obligation to maintain the socioeconomic life of an enemy that’s committed to its extinction. On the contrary, its moral obligation is to bring about its collapse in order to prevent attempts to liquidate Israel and kill its citizens. Together with declaring the Palestinians a collective enemy, Israel should revoke its recognition of the PA and work to dismantle it.

Anyone who wants to leave should take an emigration package and look for somewhere else to live,” Sherman says. “Let them go to Indonesia, or India, for example. Transfer isn’t a dirty word.”

Mordechai Kedar: The emirates method

To understand the emirates plan of Middle East affairs expert Mordechai Kedar (of Bar-Ilan University and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies), you must hear his take on the entire region. “In the Middle East, the strongest group is the family, and then the extended family, the clan, the tribe. Most of the modern states in the Middle East – Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco – were created by colonialists, and the state was forced on the groups that lived in its territory,” he says.

The idea of the modern state wasn’t welcomed by the majority of citizens, and it didn’t supplant traditional loyalties. So there’s no ‘Syrian people,’ no ‘Iraqi people’ and no ‘Libyan people.’

The Palestinian story is much the same. We tried to build a people on the basis of the idea of a Palestinian state, to remove the primary reference group and create a national consciousness that wouldn’t be challenged by competing forms of consciousness: the tribe, the ethnic, religious or communal group. That attempt isn’t working. Accordingly, we need to act according to the successful model of the Gulf emirates, which are based on local families.”

Here, then, are the stages of Kedar’s plan, in his words:

1. Recognizing the Gaza Strip as a state, because it possesses all of a state’s attributes. Hamas has ruled in Gaza for 11 years, and its government takes the right attitude toward the local families.

2. Application of Israeli sovereignty to all of Judea and Samaria.

3. Dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority.

4. Establishment of seven emirates – city-states – in the West Bank: in Arab Hebron and in Jericho, Ramallah, Qalqilyah, Tul Karm, Nablus and Jenin. They would be independent emirates based on the local families. The emirates’ inhabitants will be their citizens – citizens of the Emirate of Hebron, citizens of the Emirate of Nablus and so on.

5. The rural areas will remain under Israeli sovereignty.

6. Israel should offer Israeli citizenship to the residents of the rural villages, who make up about 10 percent of the Arab population in the West Bank and don’t pose a demographic threat. They will live in Israel like the Arabs of the Galilee and the Little Triangle Area in central Israel, which is roughly bounded by the Arab towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taibeh and Tira.

7. Border crossings will be established between all the emirates and Israel. The security arrangements will be in Israel’s hands.”

Zeev Elkin: The salami method

The plan of Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud), is that there is no plan. He believes that the territories belong to the Jewish people. “We have a historical-national right to Judea and Samaria that’s stronger than our right to Tel Aviv. Our whole return to this place is based on the fact that it belongs to us. If we forgo that principle, in the next stage, we can be sent to Uganda,” Elkin told the journal Ribonut (which, sure enough, means “sovereignty”), published by Women in Green.

Still, he tells me in our meeting, he thinks the annexation of the West Bank should be gradual. The Israelis should learn the “salami method” from the Palestinians. “Every place on which there’s an Israeli consensus or a parliamentary majority, and international understanding that it’s ours – there’s no reason why we shouldn’t already take those regions now,” he says.

As Elkin puts it, “Application of sovereignty to part of the territory must not be construed as the forgoing of the other territory. That’s how the salami method works.”

The gradual working plan, then: application of sovereignty to territories about which there is broad agreement, without fear that this will be perceived as relinquishing the remaining territory. These would include Ma’aleh Adumim, Greater Jerusalem, the settlement blocs, the settlement “areas” (as in the Likud Central Committee resolution, these go beyond settlements to encompass areas of jurisdiction that include open areas around the settlements, but less than Area C) – every part of the territory about which a broad consensus can be mustered, while noting in advance that this is not the end.

Unlike others on the right, Elkin admits that he’s disturbed by the binational-state issue. In his view, granting citizenship and equal rights to Palestinians is a dangerous solution. On the other hand, it’s equally clear to him that it’s impossible to annex the West Bank without giving the people rights and full citizenship, including the right to vote in Knesset elections. In other words, in any territory that’s annexed, the inhabitants receive full rights (subject to security reservations, of course).

Alan Baker: The legal aspect

The international legal expert Alan Baker, a former ambassador to Canada, was surprised when I told him I’d come at the recommendation of Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover. After all, he says annexation isn’t legal. Apparently it was more important for Women in Green to have a jurist explain that, according to international law, there is actually no occupation.

According to Baker, a member of the committee chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy (who died in 2014) to examine the legal status of the West Bank settlements, the territories in question are not occupied.

That’s the position under international law and the international conventions,” Baker said, at his office at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, which he heads within the framework of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The territory was taken from Jordan, which was not a legitimate, internationally recognized sovereign power there. That’s because Jordan annexed the area in 1951, two years after the end of Israel’s War of Independence.

These are not lands that belong to a sovereign state, because they are lands that were under dispute,” he said. “It doesn’t fit the legal definition of ‘occupation.’”

Israel, Baker says, does have historical and legal rights to the area based on international documents: the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Declaration, the writ of the Mandate that was given to Britain by the League of Nations, and the UN Charter. The latter is the legal instrument for international recognition of the Jewish people’s rights to the territories, as Article 80 stipulates that all the agreements concluded previously by the League of Nations and all the commitments that were given (San Remo and the British Mandate) remain in force.

Then why not annex?

Because it’s impossible to annex a disputed territory unilaterally. We’ve already applied personal law to the settlers. They’re subject to the Israeli criminal code and they pay income tax. We can’t go beyond this unless it becomes ours as part of an agreement. We undertook in Oslo that they [the Palestinians] would not become a state and try to be admitted to the UN, and that we would not annex. The whole fate of the territories is subject to negotiations. That’s what we signed.”

Amatzia Samkai: The economic aspect

The economist Amatzia Samkai focuses on the financial consequences of annexation. At the request of Orit Strock, a former Habayit Hayehudi MK and member of the Caucus for Eretz Israel in the Knesset, Samkai headed a team that examined the economic ramifications of applying Israeli sovereignty to Area C and its Palestinian residents. In our meeting, he presented the conclusions of the first part of the study, which examined the cost of integrating the Palestinians and absorbing its population.

Samkai’s study is based on the controversial estimate that 150,000 Palestinians live in Area C. Based on that, the researchers calculated the cost of National Insurance and health payments, outlays for education and welfare, as well as the cost of expanding the government ministries to be consistent with the needs of the added population. Extra revenue would come from income tax, value-added tax, property tax, National Insurance payments, health tax and business taxes from 150,000 new Israeli citizens.

Overall, Samkai estimates that an annual investment of around 2 billion shekels ($542 million) would be required, which is “less than one half of 1 percent of the state budget, which exceeds 450 billion shekels.” He also believes that application of Israeli sovereignty to Area C would create new economic opportunities because of the addition of personnel to labor-intensive industries and additional real estate for construction and agriculture.

In his study, Samkai rejects the attempt to compare the application of sovereignty to Area C to the same effort undertaken years ago in East Jerusalem. He acknowledges that it’s a natural comparison but believes it’s impossible, “because of a deficiency of data and, more so, because of the difference in the characters [of the two population groups], and given the ability to carry out a more decisive separation from the economy of the Palestinian Authority,” according to the study.

Note that this part of the study doesn’t take into account the expected profits from the new real estate freed up in the center of the country and the influence of the Israelization on prices of existing property, or on security expenditures. This is a critical point because at present, construction, development and infrastructure in Area C are very limited. Once the area becomes Israeli in every respect, the sky’s the limit. Two new cities could be built east of Rosh Ha’ayin. You don’t have to be an economist to grasp the dramatic effect this could have on housing prices. Samkai plans to address the significance of this in the next parts of the study.

Yoram Ettinger: The demographic aspect

Yoram Ettinger isn’t a professional demographer, and the majority of those who are dismiss his arguments outright. But he has studied the subject for 14 years, and has one message that he constantly reiterates: the “demographic demon” is a bluff. “In contrast to the angry prophets of demographics in the Israeli academic, governmental and political establishment – who have been warning about an Arab population time bomb since the struggle for the state’s establishment – the documented demographic trend points to an unprecedented Jewish demographic tailwind,” Ettinger says.

The population issue is considered the Achilles’ heel of the annexationists. If territories where millions of Palestinians live are annexed, there’s a risk of Israel losing its Jewish majority, and then the only way to preserve the state’s identity would be by undemocratic means, meaning apartheid. That’s why the annexation advocates pounced eagerly on Ettinger’s data. He’s the demographic messiah, who promises that annexation is possible without risking the loss of a Jewish majority. Every annexationist today draws on Ettinger’s demographic good tidings.

According to Ettinger, demographers who rely on the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics claim there are 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 1.9 million in Gaza. But his numbers tell a different story: 1.8 to 1.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 1.5 million in the Strip. All told: 3.3 million Palestinians, not 4.9 million.

The reason for the gap, he says, is that the Palestinian statistics bureau includes some 400,000 residents of the West Bank who have lived abroad for more than a year, more than 300,000 Jerusalem Arabs, and 100,000 Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza who married Israeli Arabs, received an Israeli ID card and are counted as both residents of Israel and the PA. In addition, the PA denies the negative migration balance that has been increasing since 2000, and on September 7, 2007, the World Bank, according to Ettinger, documented a 32 percent inflation in the number of births.

According to Ettinger, if we consider the entire population of Israel and the West Bank combined, there is a Jewish majority of 66 percent. If Gaza is included, it’s 57 percent.

It’s important to note, according to Ettinger, that Jewish fertility is trending upward, while Arab fertility (in both Israel and the territories) has been decreasing for the past 20 years. In the meantime, the negative migration balance of the Arabs in the West Bank is continuing (since 1950!) at about 20,000 a year in the recent period, while the number of Israeli emigrants has fallen from 14,200 in 1990 to 8,200 in 2015.

Ettinger recalls that in 1944, Prof. Roberto Bachi, the founder of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and a renowned expert in the field, published a demographic forecast in order to persuade David Ben-Gurion that 600,000 Jews did not constitute a critical mass sufficient to establish a state. Ben-Gurion wasn’t deterred, even though the Jewish majority within what became the partition borders was only 55 percent, and there was a Jewish minority of 39 percent in Judea and Samaria and within what we know today as the Green Line. “Ben-Gurion’s response was that a leader doesn’t accept demography, a leader determines demography, and he was right,” Ettinger says.


8. Israel’s new far-right government: Unprecedented challenges and opportunities5 March 2023, BDS Palestine National Committee (BDS)

Supporting the recent pogrom by fascist Jewish-Israeli militias against Palestinians in Huwara near Nablus in the occupied Palestinian territory and overtly inciting state terrorism, senior Israeli government minister, Bezalel Smotrich, a self-declared “fascist,” said, “I think Huwara needs to be erased. The state should be the one to do that.” Israel’s new far-right government is the most racist, fundamentalist, sexist, corrupt, authoritarian and homophobic ever—without masks. It constitutes simultaneously an escalation in Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial and apartheid policies and a potentially far-reaching judicial, social and cultural “reforms” affecting Jewish Israeli society.

This provides advocates of Palestinian rights worldwide, particularly in the BDS movement, an even more urgent responsibility and an opportunity that is unprecedented in 74 years.


9. Could Israel Carry Out Another Nakba?, Jewish Currents, 19 April, 2023

Peter Beinart writes that expulsionist sentiment is common in Israeli society and politics. To ignore the warning signs is to abdicate responsibility.


C: Apartheid

The literature on this topic is now enormous. A selection of articles are given here, in four more-or-less arbitrary categories: historical (but still extremely relevant), more recent contributions; some more substantial analyses and debates; and finally, without comment, a further selection of noteworthy articles on the topic, generally posted on the JfJfP website when they appeared.


Apartheid I: Early contributions to the debate

1. Apartheid in the Holy Land
Desmond Tutu, Guardian, 29 Apr, 2002


2. The situation in the oPt, including East Jerusalem
John Dugard, Special Rapporteur, UN Commission on Human Rights, United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Cape Town, 29 and 30 June 2004

An early comparison of the situation under occupation and in South Africa, by a South African Professor of international law.


3. Israel=Apartheid?
Susie Jacobs, Engage, 20 May 2005

Susie Jacobs, a sociology lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, argues in this scholarly, rigorous and informed piece, that any comparison must be systematic and in context, not used as an easy ‘way out’ of thinking about the real difficulties and uncertainties that exist in the current situation in Israel and Palestine.


4. In February 2006 Chris McGreal of The Guardian set the cat among the pigeons with two extremely interesting pieces on South Africa, apartheid and Israel.

(a) Worlds apart, Guardian, 6 Feb 2006
“Israelis have always been horrified at the idea of parallels between their country, a democracy risen from the ashes of genocide, and the racist system that ruled the old South Africa. Yet even within Israel itself, accusations persist that the web of controls affecting every aspect of Palestinian life bears a disturbing resemblance to apartheid.”
(b) Brothers in arms – Israel’s secret pact with Pretoria, Guardian,  7 Feb 2006
“During the second world war the future South African prime minister John Vorster was interned as a Nazi sympathiser. Three decades later he was being feted in Jerusalem…”

For a series of often highly emotional responses see Benjamin Pogrund’s Why depict Israel as a chamber of horrors like no other in the world? Wednesday, 8 Feb 2006; plus Letters, Tuesday, 7 Feb 2006 and Reactions from other experts and from readers  8 Feb 2006.

See also Israel’s collaboration with South African apartheid where Benjamin Pogrund reviews Polakow-Suransky’s  book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa (May 2010)

5. Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (2006)
Accusations of antisemitism fell thick and fast around former-President Jimmy Carter, mainly but not exclusively by any means, because of the provocative title of his book, published late in 2006. There are also number of interesting – and sympathetic – discussions of the book, often from unlikely sources including:

a) Henry Siegman, Hurricane Carter The Nation, posted online 4 Jan 2007 (22 Jan 2007 issue). Siegman is a former executive head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America.
b) Yossi Beilin The Case for Carter The Jewish Daily Forward, 16 Jan 2007
“[W]hat Carter says in his book about the Israeli occupation and our treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories … is entirely harmonious with the kind of criticism that Israelis themselves voice about their own country.
c) Tony Karom Israel and Apartheid: In Defense of Jimmy Carter, 22 Dec 2006
“The point being that Jimmy Carter had to write this book precisely because Palestinian life and history is not accorded equal value in American discourse, far from it. And his use of the word apartheid is not only morally valid; it is essential, because it shakes the moral stupor that allows many liberals to rationalize away the daily, grinding horror being inflicted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
d) Kenneth W. Stein, My Problem with Jimmy Carter’s Book Middle East Forum, Spring 2007, Vol XIV/2
Stein was one of the people who resigned from the Carter Foundation over the book. This is his critique (called “mostly disingenuous” by Jeffrey Stein of Jewish Voice for Peace). Judge for yourself.
e) Norman Finkelstein Carter’s Real Sin is Cutting to the Heart of the Problem: The Ludicrous Attacks on Jimmy Carter’s Book Counterpunch, 28 Dec 2006. A swashbuckling tour of Carter’s critics.


Apartheid II: More recent contributions

1. “Introduction” to Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide
Ben White, on JfJfP website, with permission of Pluto Press, 2009

“It is important to realise […] that to compare the situation in Palestine/Israel to apartheid South Africa is not to try and force a ‘one size fits all’ political analysis where there are clear differences, as well as similarities. Rather, any such comparison is useful in so far as it helps sheds light – in Israel’s case – on a political system that is based on structural racism, separation and dominance… even leaving aside the specific comparison with South Africa, Israel’s past and present policies towards the indigenous Palestinians fully meet the aforementioned definition of apartheid laid out in international law…”


2. We say apartheid, you say hafrada
Jeff Halper/ICAHD submission to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Nov 2011

The Cape Town sitting of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that “Israel subjects Palestinians to an institutionalised regime of domination”. Jeff Halper provided the tribunal with a sober account of the buildings pulled down and put up by the Israeli state, enacting its official policy of hafrada, or separation or apartheid.


3. Call it ‘occupation’ – it annihilates more than apartheid did
Thomas Mitchell and Ran Greenstein, +972,  5 & 8 May 2014

Greenstein and Mitchell take up the debate on whether ‘apartheid’ is the correct name for Israel’s form of rule over non-Jews. In Israel, the separation is less absolute than it was in S.Africa; in the oPt the Palestinians are wholly alien, never to have their national political identity put into effect. Even colonialism – in which the ruled were thought to be in training for nationhood – is too kind a word. And occupation, as has been ruled, is assumed to be temporary…


4. New Basic Law makes apartheid the foundation of Israel
Composite posting, JfJfP 2 Dec 2014

The bill declaring Israel to be the nation-state of ALL Jews betrays Israel’s founding principles and prepares for one state in which non-Jews would be constitutionally subjects not citizens – two of the views expressed in this compendium of articles.


5. Apartheid of a special type?
Ran Greenstein, The Johannesburg Salon, JfJfP 13 Feb 2011

A nuanced analysis of the Israel/Palestine reality which Greenstein characterises as “apartheid of a special type” – a unique system that combines democratic norms, military occupation, and exclusion/inclusion of extra-territorial populations. On the baisis of this, he argues that one approach to challenging this system would be to foster a bi-nationalism that would accommodate members of both national groups as equals, and facilitate negotiation underpinned by the discourse and values of democracy, justice, equality and human rights, rather than those of diplomacy and statehood.


6. Time to call it what it is: Israeli apartheid
Bradley Burston, Ha’aretz, 17 Aug 2015

An anguished Bradley Burston, who immigrated from LA to Israel in 1976, argues that he has finally had to recognise that the mesh of laws which the Israeli state has amassed to restrict every possible form of independent Palestinian life can only be called apartheid.


7. The Two Apartheids
Fawwaz Traboulsi & Assaf Kfoury, Jacobin, 27 May 2015

Explores the similarities and differences between South African apartheid and the Israeli system, and looks for lessons from the struggle against South African apartheid. “A major gap in these comparisons [usually] made between the South African case and the Palestinian case is their neglect of what it will take to change conditions in the neighboring Arab ‘front-line states’ and make them provide the necessary means to buttress the long effort to contain and ultimately reverse the Zionist project.”


Apartheid III: Some longer analyses

1. Apartheid and Occupation under International Law
John Dugard, Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture, 29 Mar 2009

“While international law tolerates military occupation, it does not approve it, specifically one that has continued for over 40 years as in the case of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Furthermore, during that time, Israel has introduced two other elements—colonialism and apartheid. Although there are many similarities between apartheid as it was applied in South Africa and Israel’s policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the systems are not identical. There are features of the Israeli regime in the occupied territory that were unknown to South Africans. This year’s Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture was delivered by Professor John Dugard.”


2. How to combat apartheid Israeli-style
Ran Greenstein, +972, JfJfP 6 Oct 2013

For some time, South Africans resented the use of their word, apartheid (Afrikaans for separation), as a description of any other system. The oppression and exploitation of black Africans by a white minority seemed exceptional in its brutal, lethal, total oppression. In two articles, Ran Greenstein, Israeli Jewish South African, looks at what makes the Israeli and S. African systems of ethnic segregation different – and alike.


3. Israel and apartheid revisited – part 1andpart 2
Ran Greenstein, Israel Occupation Archive, JfJfP 29 Aug 2010

In this long, two-part analysis Ran Greenstein casts a refreshing eye over the whole debate, arguing that “The notion of apartheid may be applicable in different ways to different components of the system. While Israel clearly is different from South African historical apartheid, in crucial respects it has affinities with apartheid in its generic sense.”


4. A racism outside of language: Israel’s apartheid
Saree Makdisi, Pambazuka News, JfJfP 11 Mar 2010

Palestinian writer Saree Makdisi freely acknowledges the differences between Israel and South Africa but finds many analogies. He shows in detail how the High Court ruling in the 1970s that “There is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish people” feeds through into widespread discrimination against Palestinians within Israel who are notionally equal citizens. Palestinians are stripped of their national identity which is not only degrading in itself, but has material consequences in terms of housing and land rights for instance, which are attendant on national identity not mere citizenship. He finds in Israel a racism expressed in practice, not in language, and denied by Israel’s supporters: “where does it say ‘Jews only’?”


5. Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)

Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice Emeritus at Princeton University. From 2008 through 2014, he served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

Virginia Tilley, Professor of Political Science at Southern Illinois University. From 2006 to 2011, she served as Chief Research Specialist in the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa and from 2007 to 2010 led the Council’s Middle East Project, which undertook a two-year study of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories

This report concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Aware of the seriousness of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

The analysis in this report rests on the same body of international human rights law and principles that reject anti-Semitism and other racially discriminatory ideologies, including: the Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). The report relies for its definition of apartheid primarily on article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973, hereinafter the Apartheid Convention).”


6. Open Letter to UN

 Ambassador Nikki Haley on Our Report on Apartheid in Israel

Instead of responding to it with constructive criticism, you launched defamatory attacks on all involved

By Richard Falk nd Virginia Tilley

Dear Madam Ambassador:

We were deeply disappointed by your response to our report, Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, and particularly your dismissal of it as “anti-Israeli propaganda” within hours of its release. The UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) invited us to undertake a fully researched scholarly study. Its principal purpose was to ascertain whether Israeli policies and practices imposed on the Palestinian people fall within the scope of the international-law definition of apartheid. We did our best to conduct the study with the care and rigor that is morally incumbent in such an important undertaking, and of course we welcome constructive criticism of the report’s method or analysis (which we also sought from several eminent scholars before its release). So far we have not received any information identifying the flaws you have found in the report or how it may have failed to comply with scholarly standards of rigor.”


Apartheid IV: yet more…

(all except the last reposted on JfJfP website)

Falk’s final report, on the terms ‘hafrada’/apartheid, UN Human Rights Council, Jan 13, 2014
Israel, boycott, apartheid – the argument, Ha’aretz debate, Nov 2013
Enforcing Jewish separateness Eva Illouz on how it’s done, Ha’aretz, 23 Nov 2013
How will Israel govern its majority of non-Jews in Israel and oPt?, Jewish Forward on the numbers, Sep 2013
‘We have created this monster, a dual legal system’, interview with lawyer Michael Sfard, +972, 28 Jul 2013
Apartheid through the minds and bodies of children, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Jun 2013
Thanks be to Superland for showing us what we are, Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz, 4 Jun 2013
Annexation or Apartheid: (some) Israelis search for a word for their reality, Oren Yiftachel, 28 Feb 2013
Top analyst from CIA compares apartheid in Israel and South Africa, Paul R. Pillar, The National Interest, 17 Dec 2012
Defiance of law, case for one state, proof of apartheid: responses to Levy, composite posting JfJfP 11 Jul 2012
Russell Tribunal to consider whether Israel an apartheid state, MEMO, 1 Nov 2011
Degrees of separation: judging apartheid, Lev Luis Grinberg deplores Richard Goldstone’s attack on the “apartheid slander”, Tikkun, 17 Nov 2011
Israeli apartheid given a firm legal foundation, +972 and Open Democracy, JfJfP 27 Mar 2011
Are Israel and apartheid South Africa really different?Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz, 4 Dec 2010
SA academic study finds that Israel is practicing apartheid and colonialism in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC), JfJfP 31 May 2009
Citizenship and political integration: can we draw lessons from the rise and demise of apartheid?, Ran Greenstein, Nov 2006, originally in Hebrew


Contents of this section


a) What kind of society?

Jewish and democratic?

b) Divisions among Israeli citizens

Ashkenazi and Mizrachi
The Russians
The Falashas

Palestinian citizens of Israel

c) The Israeli Supreme Court – champion of rights?

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