Posts Tagged 'apartheid'

Israel: No turning back from the apartheid state

“(By)  preclud(ing) the possibility of a two-state solution,   Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.  …  It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles — that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal.  Olmert  said Israel would turn into an apartheid state when the Arab population in Greater Israel outnumbers the Jewish population. But the relative size of the populations is not the decisive factor in such a transition. Rather, the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population–even one that is in the minority–to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship.

The Nation, January 25,  2010

Imposing Middle East Peace

Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank, a drive that continues in violation of even the limited settlement freeze to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed himself, seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project. As a result of that “achievement,” one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.

The inevitability of such a transformation has been held out not by “Israel bashers” but by the country’s own leaders. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referred to that danger, as did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who warned that Israel could not escape turning into an apartheid state if it did not relinquish “almost all the territories, if not all,” including the Arab parts of East Jerusalem.

Olmert ridiculed Israeli defense strategists who, he said, had learned nothing from past experiences and were stuck in the mindset of the 1948 war of independence. “With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless. Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles–although denied by Israel’s government–that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal (except for a few isolated and sparsely populated ones) by this or any future Israeli government unless compelled to do so by international intervention, an eventuality until now considered entirely unlikely.

It is not only the settlements’ proliferation and size that have made their dismantlement impossible. Equally decisive have been the influence of Israel’s settler-security-industrial complex, which conceived and implemented this policy; the recent disappearance of a viable pro-peace political party in Israel; and the infiltration by settlers and their supporters in the religious-national camp into key leadership positions in Israel’s security and military establishments.

Olmert was mistaken in one respect, for he said Israel would turn into an apartheid state when the Arab population in Greater Israel outnumbers the Jewish population. But the relative size of the populations is not the decisive factor in such a transition. Rather, the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population–even one that is in the minority–to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship.

When a state’s denial of the individual and national rights of a large part of its population becomes permanent, it ceases to be a democracy. When the reason for that double disenfranchisement is that population’s ethnic and religious identity, the state is practicing a form of apartheid, or racism, not much different from the one that characterized South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizens cannot hide its changed character. By definition, democracy reserved for privileged citizens–while all others are kept behind checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls commanded by the Israeli army–is not democracy but its opposite.

The Jewish settlements and their supporting infrastructure, which span the West Bank from east to west and north to south, are not a wild growth, like weeds in a garden. They have been carefully planned, financed and protected by successive Israeli governments and Israel’s military. Their purpose has been to deny the Palestinian people independence and statehood–or to put it more precisely, to retain Israeli control of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” an objective that precludes the existence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state east of Israel’s pre-1967 border.

A vivid recollection from the time I headed the American Jewish Congress is a helicopter trip over the West Bank on which I was taken by Ariel Sharon. With large, worn maps in hand, he pointed out to me strategic locations of present and future settlements on east-west and north-south axes that, Sharon assured me, would rule out a future Palestinian state.

Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, then defense minister, described Israel’s plan for the future of the territories as “the current reality.” “The plan is being implemented in actual fact,” he said. “What exists today must remain as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.” Ten years later, at a conference in Tel Aviv whose theme was finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Dayan said: “The question is not, What is the solution? but, How do we live without a solution?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would leave under Israel’s control Palestine’s international borders and airspace, as well as the entire Jordan Valley; would leave most of the settlers in place; and would fragment the contiguity of the territory remaining for such a state. His conditions would also deny Palestinians even those parts of East Jerusalem that Israel unilaterally annexed to the city immediately following the 1967 war–land that had never been part of Jerusalem before the war. In other words, Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would meet Dayan’s goal of leaving Israel’s de facto occupation in place.

From Dayan’s prescription for the permanence of the status quo to Netanyahu’s prescription for a two-state solution, Israel has lived “without a solution,” not because of uncertainty or neglect but as a matter of deliberate policy, clandestinely driving settlement expansion to the point of irreversibility while pretending to search for “a Palestinian partner for peace.”

Sooner or later the White House, Congress and the American public–not to speak of a Jewish establishment that is largely out of touch with the younger Jewish generation’s changing perceptions of Israel’s behavior–will have to face the fact that America’s “special relationship” with Israel is sustaining a colonial enterprise.

President Barack Obama’s capitulation to Netanyahu on the settlement freeze was widely seen as the collapse of the latest hope for achievement of a two-state agreement. It thoroughly discredited the notion that Palestinian moderation is the path to statehood, and therefore also discredited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, moderation’s leading Palestinian advocate, who announced his intention not to run in the coming presidential elections.

Netanyahu’s “limited” freeze was described by the Obama administration as “unprecedented,” even though the exceptions to it–3,000 housing units whose foundations had supposedly already been laid, public buildings and unlimited construction in East Jerusalem–brought total construction to where it would have been without a freeze. Indeed, Netanyahu assured the settler leadership and his cabinet that construction will resume after the ten-month freeze–according to minister Benny Begin, at a rate “faster and more than before”–even if Abbas agrees to return to talks. In fact, the Israeli press has reported that the freeze notwithstanding, new construction in the settlements is “booming.” None of this has elicited the Obama administration’s public rebuke, much less the kinds of sanctions imposed on Palestinians when they violate agreements.

But what is widely believed to have been the final blow to a two-state solution may in fact turn out to be the necessary condition for its eventual achievement. That condition is abandonment of the utterly wrongheaded idea that a Palestinian state can arise without forceful outside intervention. The international community has shown signs of exasperation with Israel’s deceptions and stonewalling, and also with Washington’s failure to demonstrate that there are consequences not only for Palestinian violations of agreements but for Israeli ones as well. The last thing many in the international community want is a resumption of predictably meaningless negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas. Instead, they are focusing on forceful third-party intervention, a concept that is no longer taboo.

Ironically, it is Netanyahu who now insists on the resumption of peace talks. For him, a prolonged breakdown of talks risks exposing the irreversibility of the settlements, and therefore the loss of Israel’s democratic character, and legitimizing outside intervention as the only alternative to an unstable and dangerous status quo. While the Obama administration may be reluctant to support such initiatives, it may no longer wish to block them.

These are not fanciful fears. Israeli chiefs of military intelligence, the Shin Bet and other defense officials told Netanyahu’s security cabinet on December 9 that the stalled peace process has led to a dangerous vacuum “into which a number of different states are putting their own initiatives, none of which are in Israel’s favor.” They stressed that “the fact that the US has also reached a dead-end in its efforts only worsens the problem.”

If these fears are realized and the international community abandons a moribund peace process in favor of determined third-party initiatives, a two-state outcome may yet be possible. A recent proposal by the Swedish presidency of the European Union is perhaps the first indication of the international community’s determination to react more meaningfully to Netanyahu’s intransigence. The proposal, adopted by the EU’s foreign ministers on December 8, reaffirmed an earlier declaration of the European Council that the EU would not recognize unilateral Israeli changes in the pre-1967 borders. The resolution also opposes Israeli measures to deny a prospective Palestinian state any presence in Jerusalem. The statement’s endorsement of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year institution-building initiative suggests a future willingness to act favorably on a Palestinian declaration of statehood following the initiative’s projected completion. In her first pronouncement on the Israel-Palestine conflict as the EU’s new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton declared, “We cannot and nor, I doubt, can the region tolerate another round of fruitless negotiations.”

An imposed solution has risks, but these do not begin to compare with the risks of the conflict’s unchecked continuation. Furthermore, since the adversaries are not being asked to accept anything they have not already committed themselves to in formal accords, the international community is not imposing its own ideas but insisting the parties live up to existing obligations. That kind of intervention, or “imposition,” is hardly unprecedented; it is the daily fare of international diplomacy. It defines America’s relations with allies and unfriendly countries alike.

It would not take extraordinary audacity for Obama to reaffirm the official position of every previous US administration–including that of George W. Bush–that no matter how desirable or necessary certain changes in the pre-1967 status may seem, they cannot be made unilaterally. Even Bush, celebrated in Israel as “the best American president Israel ever had,” stated categorically that this inviolable principle applies even to the settlement blocs that Israel insists it will annex. Speaking of these blocs at a May 2005 press conference, Bush affirmed that “changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to,” a qualification largely ignored by Israeli governments (and by Bush himself). The next year Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even more explicit. She stated that “the president did say that at the time of final status, it will be necessary to take into account new realities on the ground that have changed since 1967, but under no circumstances…should anyone try and do that in a pre-emptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status.”

Of course, Obama should leave no doubt that it is inconceivable for the United States not to be fully responsive to Israel’s genuine security needs, no matter how displeased it may be with a particular Israeli government’s policies. But he must also leave no doubt that it is equally inconceivable he would abandon America’s core values or compromise its strategic interests to keep Netanyahu’s government in power, particularly when support for this government means supporting a regime that would permanently disenfranchise and dispossess the Palestinian people.

In short, Middle East peacemaking efforts will continue to fail, and the possibility of a two-state solution will disappear, if US policy continues to ignore developments on the ground in the occupied territories and within Israel, which now can be reversed only through outside intervention. President Obama is uniquely positioned to help Israel reclaim Jewish and democratic ideals on which the state was founded–if he does not continue “politics as usual.” But was it not his promise to reject just such a politics that swept Obama into the presidency and captured the amazement and respect of the entire world?

About Henry Siegman

Henry Siegman, director of the U.S./Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

shortlink to posting: http://wp.me/p3xLR-lq

Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank, a drive that continues in violation of even the limited settlement freeze to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed himself, seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project. As a result of that “achievement,” one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.

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The inevitability of such a transformation has been held out not by “Israel bashers” but by the country’s own leaders. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referred to that danger, as did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who warned that Israel could not escape turning into an apartheid state if it did not relinquish “almost all the territories, if not all,” including the Arab parts of East Jerusalem.Olmert ridiculed Israeli defense strategists who, he said, had learned nothing from past experiences and were stuck in the mindset of the 1948 war of independence. “With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless. Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles–although denied by Israel’s government–that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal (except for a few isolated and sparsely populated ones) by this or any future Israeli government unless compelled to do so by international intervention, an eventuality until now considered entirely unlikely.

It is not only the settlements’ proliferation and size that have made their dismantlement impossible. Equally decisive have been the influence of Israel’s settler-security-industrial complex, which conceived and implemented this policy; the recent disappearance of a viable pro-peace political party in Israel; and the infiltration by settlers and their supporters in the religious-national camp into key leadership positions in Israel’s security and military establishments.

Olmert was mistaken in one respect, for he said Israel would turn into an apartheid state when the Arab population in Greater Israel outnumbers the Jewish population. But the relative size of the populations is not the decisive factor in such a transition. Rather, the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population–even one that is in the minority–to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship.

When a state’s denial of the individual and national rights of a large part of its population becomes permanent, it ceases to be a democracy. When the reason for that double disenfranchisement is that population’s ethnic and religious identity, the state is practicing a form of apartheid, or racism, not much different from the one that characterized South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizens cannot hide its changed character. By definition, democracy reserved for privileged citizens–while all others are kept behind checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls commanded by the Israeli army–is not democracy but its opposite.

The Jewish settlements and their supporting infrastructure, which span the West Bank from east to west and north to south, are not a wild growth, like weeds in a garden. They have been carefully planned, financed and protected by successive Israeli governments and Israel’s military. Their purpose has been to deny the Palestinian people independence and statehood–or to put it more precisely, to retain Israeli control of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” an objective that precludes the existence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state east of Israel’s pre-1967 border.

A vivid recollection from the time I headed the American Jewish Congress is a helicopter trip over the West Bank on which I was taken by Ariel Sharon. With large, worn maps in hand, he pointed out to me strategic locations of present and future settlements on east-west and north-south axes that, Sharon assured me, would rule out a future Palestinian state.

Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, then defense minister, described Israel’s plan for the future of the territories as “the current reality.” “The plan is being implemented in actual fact,” he said. “What exists today must remain as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.” Ten years later, at a conference in Tel Aviv whose theme was finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Dayan said: “The question is not, What is the solution? but, How do we live without a solution?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would leave under Israel’s control Palestine’s international borders and airspace, as well as the entire Jordan Valley; would leave most of the settlers in place; and would fragment the contiguity of the territory remaining for such a state. His conditions would also deny Palestinians even those parts of East Jerusalem that Israel unilaterally annexed to the city immediately following the 1967 war–land that had never been part of Jerusalem before the war. In other words, Netanyahu’s conditions for Palestinian statehood would meet Dayan’s goal of leaving Israel’s de facto occupation in place.

From Dayan’s prescription for the permanence of the status quo to Netanyahu’s prescription for a two-state solution, Israel has lived “without a solution,” not because of uncertainty or neglect but as a matter of deliberate policy, clandestinely driving settlement expansion to the point of irreversibility while pretending to search for “a Palestinian partner for peace.”

Sooner or later the White House, Congress and the American public–not to speak of a Jewish establishment that is largely out of touch with the younger Jewish generation’s changing perceptions of Israel’s behavior–will have to face the fact that America’s “special relationship” with Israel is sustaining a colonial enterprise.

President Barack Obama’s capitulation to Netanyahu on the settlement freeze was widely seen as the collapse of the latest hope for achievement of a two-state agreement. It thoroughly discredited the notion that Palestinian moderation is the path to statehood, and therefore also discredited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, moderation’s leading Palestinian advocate, who announced his intention not to run in the coming presidential elections.

Netanyahu’s “limited” freeze was described by the Obama administration as “unprecedented,” even though the exceptions to it–3,000 housing units whose foundations had supposedly already been laid, public buildings and unlimited construction in East Jerusalem–brought total construction to where it would have been without a freeze. Indeed, Netanyahu assured the settler leadership and his cabinet that construction will resume after the ten-month freeze–according to minister Benny Begin, at a rate “faster and more than before”–even if Abbas agrees to return to talks. In fact, the Israeli press has reported that the freeze notwithstanding, new construction in the settlements is “booming.” None of this has elicited the Obama administration’s public rebuke, much less the kinds of sanctions imposed on Palestinians when they violate agreements.

But what is widely believed to have been the final blow to a two-state solution may in fact turn out to be the necessary condition for its eventual achievement. That condition is abandonment of the utterly wrongheaded idea that a Palestinian state can arise without forceful outside intervention. The international community has shown signs of exasperation with Israel’s deceptions and stonewalling, and also with Washington’s failure to demonstrate that there are consequences not only for Palestinian violations of agreements but for Israeli ones as well. The last thing many in the international community want is a resumption of predictably meaningless negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas. Instead, they are focusing on forceful third-party intervention, a concept that is no longer taboo.

Ironically, it is Netanyahu who now insists on the resumption of peace talks. For him, a prolonged breakdown of talks risks exposing the irreversibility of the settlements, and therefore the loss of Israel’s democratic character, and legitimizing outside intervention as the only alternative to an unstable and dangerous status quo. While the Obama administration may be reluctant to support such initiatives, it may no longer wish to block them.

These are not fanciful fears. Israeli chiefs of military intelligence, the Shin Bet and other defense officials told Netanyahu’s security cabinet on December 9 that the stalled peace process has led to a dangerous vacuum “into which a number of different states are putting their own initiatives, none of which are in Israel’s favor.” They stressed that “the fact that the US has also reached a dead-end in its efforts only worsens the problem.”

If these fears are realized and the international community abandons a moribund peace process in favor of determined third-party initiatives, a two-state outcome may yet be possible. A recent proposal by the Swedish presidency of the European Union is perhaps the first indication of the international community’s determination to react more meaningfully to Netanyahu’s intransigence. The proposal, adopted by the EU’s foreign ministers on December 8, reaffirmed an earlier declaration of the European Council that the EU would not recognize unilateral Israeli changes in the pre-1967 borders. The resolution also opposes Israeli measures to deny a prospective Palestinian state any presence in Jerusalem. The statement’s endorsement of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year institution-building initiative suggests a future willingness to act favorably on a Palestinian declaration of statehood following the initiative’s projected completion. In her first pronouncement on the Israel-Palestine conflict as the EU’s new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton declared, “We cannot and nor, I doubt, can the region tolerate another round of fruitless negotiations.”

An imposed solution has risks, but these do not begin to compare with the risks of the conflict’s unchecked continuation. Furthermore, since the adversaries are not being asked to accept anything they have not already committed themselves to in formal accords, the international community is not imposing its own ideas but insisting the parties live up to existing obligations. That kind of intervention, or “imposition,” is hardly unprecedented; it is the daily fare of international diplomacy. It defines America’s relations with allies and unfriendly countries alike.

It would not take extraordinary audacity for Obama to reaffirm the official position of every previous US administration–including that of George W. Bush–that no matter how desirable or necessary certain changes in the pre-1967 status may seem, they cannot be made unilaterally. Even Bush, celebrated in Israel as “the best American president Israel ever had,” stated categorically that this inviolable principle applies even to the settlement blocs that Israel insists it will annex. Speaking of these blocs at a May 2005 press conference, Bush affirmed that “changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to,” a qualification largely ignored by Israeli governments (and by Bush himself). The next year Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even more explicit. She stated that “the president did say that at the time of final status, it will be necessary to take into account new realities on the ground that have changed since 1967, but under no circumstances…should anyone try and do that in a pre-emptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status.”

Of course, Obama should leave no doubt that it is inconceivable for the United States not to be fully responsive to Israel’s genuine security needs, no matter how displeased it may be with a particular Israeli government’s policies. But he must also leave no doubt that it is equally inconceivable he would abandon America’s core values or compromise its strategic interests to keep Netanyahu’s government in power, particularly when support for this government means supporting a regime that would permanently disenfranchise and dispossess the Palestinian people.

In short, Middle East peacemaking efforts will continue to fail, and the possibility of a two-state solution will disappear, if US policy continues to ignore developments on the ground in the occupied territories and within Israel, which now can be reversed only through outside intervention. President Obama is uniquely positioned to help Israel reclaim Jewish and democratic ideals on which the state was founded–if he does not continue “politics as usual.” But was it not his promise to reject just such a politics that swept Obama into the presidency and captured the amazement and respect of the entire world?

About Henry Siegman

Henry Siegman, director of the U.S./Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

Israeli Jews and the one-state solution

The Electronic Intifada, November 10, 2009

Israeli Jews and the one-state solution

Anyone who rejects the two-state solution, won’t bring a one-state solution. They will instead bring one war, not one state. A bloody war with no end. — Israeli President Shimon Peres, 7 November 2009.

One of the most commonly voiced objections to a one-state solution for Palestine/Israel stems from the accurate observation that the vast majority of Israeli Jews reject it, and fear being “swamped” by a Palestinian majority. Across the political spectrum, Israeli Jews insist on maintaining a separate Jewish-majority state.

But with the total collapse of the Obama Administration’s peace efforts, and relentless Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank, the reality is dawning rapidly that the two-state solution is no more than a slogan that has no chance of being implemented or altering the reality of a de facto binational state in Palestine/Israel.

This places an obligation on all who care about the future of Palestine/Israel to seriously consider the democratic alternatives. I have long argued that the systems in post-apartheid South Africa (a unitary democratic state), and Northern Ireland (consociational democracy) — offer hopeful, real-life models.

But does solid Israeli Jewish opposition to a one-state solution mean that a peaceful one-state outcome is so unlikely that Palestinians should not pursue it, and should instead focus only on “pragmatic” solutions that would be less fiercely resisted by Israeli Jews?

The experience in South Africa suggests otherwise. In 1994, white-minority rule — apartheid — came to a peaceful, negotiated end, and was replaced (after a transitional period of power-sharing) with a unitary democratic state with a one person, one vote system. Before this happened, how likely did this outcome look? Was there any significant constituency of whites prepared to contemplate it, and what if the African National Congress (ANC) had only advanced political solutions that whites told pollsters they would accept?

Until close to the end of apartheid, the vast majority of whites, including many of the system’s liberal critics, completely rejected a one person, one vote system, predicting that any attempt to impose it would lead to a bloodbath. As late as 1989, F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid president, described a one person, one vote system as the “death knell” for South Africa.

A 1988 study by political scientist Pierre Hugo documented the widespread fears among South African whites that a transition to majority rule would entail not only a loss of political power and socioeconomic status, but engendered “physical dread” and fear of “violence, total collapse, expulsion and flight.” Successive surveys showed that four out of five whites thought that majority rule would threaten their “physical safety.” Such fears were frequently heightened by common racist tropes of inherently savage and violent Africans, but the departure of more than a million white colons from Algeria and the airlifting of 300,000 whites from Angola during decolonization set terrifying precedents (“Towards darkness and death: racial demonology in South Africa,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 26(4), 1988).

Throughout the 1980s, polls showed that even as whites increasingly understood that apartheid could not last, only a small minority ever supported majority rule and a one person, one vote system. In a March 1986 survey, for example, 47 percent of whites said they would favor some form of “mixed-race” government, but 83 percent said they would opt for continued white domination of the government if they had the choice (Peter Goodspeed, “Afrikaners cling to their all-white dream,” The Toronto Star, 5 October 1986).

A 1990 nationwide survey of Afrikaner whites (native speakers of Afrikaans, as opposed to English, and who traditionally formed the backbone of the apartheid state), found just 2.2 percent were willing to accept a “universal franchise with majority rule” (Kate Manzo and Pat McGowan, “Afrikaner fears and the politics of despair: Understanding change in South Africa,” International Studies Quarterly, 36, 1992).

Perhaps an enlightened white elite was able to lead the white masses to higher ground? This was not the case either. A 1988 academic survey of more than 400 white politicians, business and media leaders, top civil servants, academics and clergy found that just 4.8 percent were prepared to accept a unitary state with a universal voting franchise and two-thirds considered such an outcome “unacceptable.” According to Manzo and McGowan, white elites reflected the sentiments and biases of the rest of the society and overwhelmingly considered whites inherently more civilized and culturally superior to black Africans. Just more than half of prominent whites were prepared to accept “a federal state in which power is shared between white and non-white groups and areas so that no one group dominates.”

During the 1980s, the white electorate in South Africa moved to the right, as Israel’s Jewish electorate is doing today. Support seeped from the National Party, which had established formal apartheid in 1948, to the even more extreme Conservative Party. Yet, “on the issue of majority rule,” Hugo observed, “supporters of the National Party and the Conservative Party, as well as most white voters to the ‘left’ of these organizations, ha[d] little quarrel with each other.”

The vast majority of whites, wracked with existential fears, were simply unable to contemplate relinquishing effective control, or at least a veto, over political decision-making in South Africa.

Yet, the African National Congress insisted firmly on a one person, one vote system with no white veto. As the township protests and strikes and international pressure mounted, The Economist observed in an extensive 1986 survey of South Africa published on 1 February of that year, that many “enlightened” whites “still fondly argue that a dramatic improvement in the quality of black life may take the revolutionary sting out of the black townships — and persuade ‘responsible’ blacks, led by the emergent black middle class, to accept some power-sharing formula.”

Schemes to stabilize the apartheid system abounded, and bear a strong resemblance to the current Israeli government’s vision of “economic peace” in which a collaborationist Palestinian Authority leadership would manage a still-subjugated Palestinian population anesthetized by consumer goods and shopping malls.

Because of the staunch opposition of whites to a unitary democratic state, the ANC heard no shortage of advice from western liberals that it should seek a “realistic” political accommodation with the apartheid regime, and that no amount of pressure could force whites to succumb to the ANC’s political demands. The ANC was warned that insistence on majority rule would force Afrikaners into the “laager” — they would retreat into a militarized garrison state and siege economy, preferring death before surrender.

Even the late Helen Suzman, one of apartheid’s fiercest liberal critics, predicted in 1987, as quoted by Hugo, “The Zimbabwe conflict took 15 years … and cost 20,000 lives and I can assure you that the South African transfer of power will take a good deal more than that, both in time and I am afraid lives.”

But as The Economist observed, the view that whites would prefer “collective suicide” was something of a caricature. The vast majority of Afrikaners were “no longer bible-thumping boers.” They were “part of a spoilt, affluent suburban society, whose economic pain threshold may prove to be rather low.”

The Economist concluded that if whites would only come so far voluntarily, then it was perfectly reasonable for the anti-apartheid movement to bring them the rest of the way through “coercion” in the form of sanctions and other forms of pressure. “The quicker the white tribe submits,” the magazine wrote, “the better its chance of a bearable future in a black-ruled South Africa.”

Ultimately, as we now know, the combination of internal resistance and international isolation did force whites to abandon political apartheid and accept majority rule. However, it is important to note that the combined strength of the anti-apartheid movement never seriously threatened the physical integrity of the white regime.

Even after the massive township uprisings of 1985-86, the South African regime was secure. “So far there is no real physical threat to white power,” The Economist noted, “so far there is little threat to white lives. … The white state is mighty, and well-equipped. It has the capacity to repress the township revolts far more bloodily. The blacks have virtually no urban or rural guerrilla capacity, practically no guns, few safe havens within South Africa or without.”

This balance never changed, and a similar equation could be written today about the relative power of a massively-armed — and much more ruthless — Israeli state, and lightly armed Palestinian resistance factions.

What did change for South Africa, and what all the weapons in the world were not able to prevent, was the complete loss of legitimacy of the apartheid regime and its practices. Once this legitimacy was gone, whites lost the will to maintain a system that relied on repression and violence and rendered them international pariahs; they negotiated a way out and lived to tell the tale. It all happened much more quickly and with considerably less violence than even the most optimistic predictions of the time. But this outcome could not have been predicted based on what whites said they were willing to accept, and it would not have occurred had the ANC been guided by opinion polls rather than the democratic principles of the Freedom Charter.

Zionism — as many Israelis openly worry — is suffering a similar, terminal loss of legitimacy as Israel is ever more isolated as a result of its actions. Israel’s self-image as a liberal “Jewish and democratic state” is proving impossible to maintain against the reality of a militarized, ultra-nationalist Jewish sectarian settler-colony that must carry out frequent and escalating massacres of “enemy” civilians (Lebanon and Gaza 2006, Gaza 2009) in a losing effort to check the resistance of the region’s indigenous people. Zionism cannot bomb, kidnap, assassinate, expel, demolish, settle and lie its way to legitimacy and acceptance.

Already difficult to disguise, the loss of legitimacy becomes impossible to conceal once Palestinians are a demographic majority ruled by a Jewish minority. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” is in effect an acknowledgement of failure: without Palestinian consent, something which is unlikely ever to be granted, the Zionist project of a Jewish ethnocracy in Palestine has grim long-term prospects.

Similarly, South African whites typically attempted to justify their opposition to democracy, not in terms of a desire to preserve their privilege and power, but using liberal arguments about protecting distinctive cultural differences. Hendrik Verwoerd Jr., the son of assassinated Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, apartheid’s founder, expressed the problem in these terms in 1986, as reported by The Toronto Star, stating that, “These two people, the Afrikaner and the black, are not capable of becoming one nation. Our differences are unique, cultural and deep. The only way a man can be happy, can live in peace, is really when he is among his own people, when he shares cultural values.”

The younger Verwoerd was on the far-right of South African politics, leading a quixotic effort to carve out a whites-only homeland in the heart of South Africa. But his reasoning sounds remarkably similar to liberal Zionist defenses of the “two-state solution” today. The Economist clarified the use of such language at the time, stating that “One of the weirder products of apartheid is the crippling of language in a maw of hypocrisy, euphemism and sociologese. You talk about the Afrikaner ‘right to self-determination’ — meaning power over everybody else.”

Zionism’s claim for “Jewish self-determination” amidst an intermixed population, is in effect a demand to preserve and legitimize a status quo in which Israeli Jews exercise power in perpetuity. But there’s little reason to expect that Israeli Jews would abandon this quest voluntarily any more than South African whites did. As in South Africa, coercion is necessary — and the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is one of the most powerful, nonviolent, legitimate and proven tools of coercion that Palestinians possess. Israel’s vulnerabilities may be different from those of apartheid South Africa, but Israel is not invulnerable to pressure.

Coercion is not enough, however; as I have long argued, and sought to do, Palestinians must also put forward a positive vision. Neither can Palestinians advocating a one-state solution simply disregard the views of Israeli Jews. We must recognize that the opposition of Israeli Jews to any solution that threatens their power and privilege stems from at least two sources. One is irrational, racist fears of black and brown hordes (in this case, Arab Muslims) stoked by decades of colonial, racist demonization. The other source — certainly heightened by the former — are normal human concerns about personal and family dislocation, loss of socioeconomic status and community security: change is scary.

But change will come. Without indulging Israeli racism or preserving undue privilege, the legitimate concerns of ordinary Israeli Jews can be addressed directly in any negotiated transition to ensure that the shift to democracy is orderly, and essential redistributive policies are carried out fairly. Inevitably, decolonization will cause some pain as Israeli Jews lose power and privilege, but there are few reasons to believe it cannot be a well-managed process, or that the vast majority of Israeli Jews, like white South Africans, would not be prepared to make the adjustment for the sake of a normality and legitimacy they cannot have any other way.

This is where the wealth of research and real-life experience about the successes, failures, difficulties and opportunities of managing such transitions at the level of national and local politics, neighborhoods, schools and universities, workplaces, state institutions and policing, emerging from South Africa and Northern Ireland, will be of enormous value.

Every situation has unique features, and although there are patterns in history, it never repeats itself exactly. But what we can conclude from studying the pasts and presents of others is that Palestinians and Israelis are no less capable of writing themselves a post-colonial future that gives everyone a chance at a life worth living in a single, democratic state.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

Jewish Voice for Peace comments:

Ali Abunimah is a prominent defender of a single democratic state in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In this article he makes the now quite common – though also controversial – comparison with Apartheid South Africa. Usually the question this comparison raises is whether Israeli treatment of Palestinians is really analogous to or as bad as the Apartheid regime’s treatment of its black majority, and the comparison is often used to support the use of tactics of resistance like BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) modeled on the anti-Apartheid campaigns of the 1980s.  But Abunimah instead hones narrowly in on the hostility of the white minority in South Africa to a multi-racial democratic state, a hostility that persisted until surprisingly shortly before change was initiated. It is this that he compares, in a wealth of detail, with Jewish Israeli fears of a single state solution. If change could occur in South Africa in spite of such widespread rejection in the white community, why, Abuminah argues, should change not occur in Israel despite the fears of the Jewish community? It won’t happen, he recognizes without outside pressure (and he supports BDS); but current Jewish Israeli rejection need not make it impossible.

This is surely true, but ‘not necessarily impossible’ is very far from showing that a one-state solution ought to be the aspiration of activist movements, Palestinian, Jewish or otherwise. As his banner quotation from Shimon Peres – a barely veiled threat – makes clear, it remains quite possible that a one-state ‘solution’ will involve no diminution of violence towards or oppression of Palestinians. One state is, after all, what there is now. What might make it important to explore a one state possibility is the fact, clearly motivating Abunimah, that two viable states are now impossible. Certainly he is correct to say that there is presently no political will in the Israeli or US administrations to move in the direction of a viable Palestinian state and reasonable opinions can differ on whether the current ‘facts on the ground’ make it impossible to eke out such a state. But it is also surely true that activist pressure can be brought to bear both on that political
will and even on the facts on the ground and this pressure has a natural point of application in the official commitment of Israel, the US, the PA (and even Hamas) to two states. If change is possible, as Abunimah argues, on the one state solution, then it is certainly possible for two states. But if two states can be achieved, then this removes a big chunk of the motivation for directing one’s energies to one state. Indeed, aiming for two viable states in the medium term is not inconsistent with seeking to build consensus, along the lines Abunimah suggests, for single state in the long term.

The question is by no means an obvious one to resolve, but it is important to consider where activist energies are most likely to have an effect, and avoid directions that absorb energy with little hope of result. Indeed some commentators have suggested that the one state solution has become increasingly acceptable in the mainstream US  media precisely because it is so unlikely to come about that it represents – from the point of view of the status quo – a harmless safety valve through which to discharge otherwise potentially dangerous activist pressure.

Alistair Welchman

Protest: Police stand by while thugs attack shackdwellers in Durban, South Africa

Protest: Police stand by while thugs attack shackdwellers in Durban,  South Africa.

The poorest and most marginalized people in South Africa, the large number of homeless shackdwellers, have been been attacked again outside of Durban, South Africa, while police stood by and did nothing. This is the latest of many government-inspired and police-inspired attacks on South African shackdwellers, whose crime is demanding a decent life.  Please sign the open letter of protest to South African President Jacob Zuma.

One leaders kitchen after the attacks

One leader's kitchen after the attacks

The most recent attack on residents of the informal Kennedy Road settlement occurred on September 27.  A group of about 40 men heavily armed with guns, bush knives and even a sword attacked a meeting of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) in the Kennedy Road community hall. There was no warning and the attack was a complete surprise.  The men who attacked were shouting: ‘The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu,” reminiscent of racist slogans of the Apartheid era.  Some people were killed, many were very seriously injured.  It was later discovered that they had destroyed 15 houses belonging to people on or connected to the KRDC.  The police were called but they did not come.  When the attack happened one officer from Crime Intelligence was there in plain clothes.  The following morning, the police arrived and made eight arrests, only members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC).  None of the perpetrators has been arrested. This is not the first time that this movement has been attacked.   Read more of this report. Other reports say that later, senior ANC leaders and police were present and did nothing to prevent the same gang from demolishing and burning homes of the Kennedy Road leadership.  Read more of this report. (More background information is below.)       

Please sign the open letter of protest to South African President Jacob Zuma. It reads:

We the undersigned are scholars, activists, supporters and veterans of the struggle for a free South Africa from around the world. We celebrated the end of apartheid with you, and have worked with you for the building of a genuinely democratic South Africa.

It is for this reason that we write to you with grave concern following recent events at the Kennedy Road Shack Settlement in Durban. Reports from the informal settlement of seven thousand people indicate that horrors reminiscent of Apartheid’s darkest years are currently being perpetrated – armed thugs have killed members of the freely elected local development committee and destroyed their houses, with slogans dripping with the language of ethnic cleansing, such as “The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu”.

With these words of hate, members of the development committee have been hunted and, in at least one case, killed. What appalls us most about these attacks is that they appear to be happening with the support of local police and politicians. At the time of writing, reports indicate that local ANC branch executives and members of the Sydenham police force are in attendance, and doing nothing to halt the ongoing violence in the settlement. Further, it appears that members of the development committee, some of whom had been absent from the settlement during the attacks, have been targeted and arrested by the Sydenham police force.

Some of the signatories to this letter have personally experienced illegal political harassment by the Sydenham police in the past, and have witnessed their ruthless political intolerance towards the Abahlali baseMjondlo Shackdwellers Movement, of which the Kennedy Road Development Committee is a part. Many more of us have had the great pleasure of meeting leaders from the shackdwellers’ movement. All of us have been deeply impressed by the deep democratic and progressive commitments of the residents of Kennedy Road.

Under such circumstances, it is entirely inappropriate to rely on the Sydenham police to enforce the rule of law, and we appeal to your office to demand:

*an end to the violence in the shacks
*an end to arbitrary detention of innocent people
*an independent and transparent enquiry into the relationship between the Sydenham police and the continued violence
*an independent and transparent enquiry into the relationship between the violence and senior members of the local ANC branch present at the scene
*the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for these horrific attacks
*full restitution to those harmed in the violence
*and an undertaking that these tragic events be not used as a pretext for further hardship enforced on South Africa’s poorest citizens.

We have witnessed the great promise of South African democracy, and we hope that you will bring the full force of your office to protect it in this dark hour. As once before, the world is watching South Africa, to see how  democracy can triumph over fear.

Sincerely

Raj Patel, a long-time advocate and author of Stuffed and Starved writes:

TESTIMONY

Dear Members of the International Media

Like many of you, we fought and protested against the injustices of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and celebrated the fall of that monstrous government in 1994. As South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup, we write to you in grief and horror at the return of some of the most horrific tactics of that era, directed at South Africa’s poorest citizens.

We have worked for years with shack dweller communities living in South Africa, communities of people too poor to live in townships, who have waited patiently for the South African government to bring the dividends of housing, water, education, healthcare, employment and food to them. They have waited in vain – with levels of human development that are now lower than in 1994, South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the country with the widest gap between rich and poor, and now is the most unequal society in the world.

In response, some communities have organized to protest against their government, using the freedoms enshrined in one of the most open and supportive constitutions to be found in any modern democracy. For this, they have been punished.

On Sunday night, at one of the hubs for this civil society organizing, men from outside the settlement armed with knives, machetes and even a sword, descended on a shack community in Durban called “Kennedy Road”, a road named after the US president, and adjacent to a large municipal dump. These men chanted slogans of racial hatred – demanding that the Kennedy Road shack settlement be for Zulus only. This ethnic chauvinism is anathema to the shack settlements – in the xenophobia that swept South Africa earlier this year, the Kennedy Road shack settlement was free of these sorts of attacks.

The police were called, and when they finally arrived, they looked on as the attacks continued for several more hours. After the bloodbath, they moved in and arrested the community leaders.

On Monday morning a huge police presence descended on the settlement as the local ANC councillor and the provincial minister for Safety and Security arrived. They announced that the local organizers had been driven out of the settlement. After the politicians left so did the police. The settlement was left in the hands of groups of armed men.

The future for the poorest residents of South Africa is grim. Faced with an ethnic hatred engineered by the ANC, they have tried to produce a genuinely democratic politics. And they have been killed, arrested and made homeless.

International support is crucial in order to prevent further violence, and to ensure justice for the shack dwellers. In just 24 hours, hundreds of people from around the world have signed a petition to the South African President, Jacob Zuma, insisting that he take action (at the time of writing over 600 people had signed the petition) . We hope that you’ll be able to support this effort to bring international scrutiny to the South African government, to hold it to the great promise offered by the end of Apartheid, by signing the petition below, and by sharing this news with your colleagues. If you’d like to know more, contact details are below, and we’d also be happy to answer any questions.

Sincerely,

Nigel C. Gibson
Director,
Honors Program
Emerson College
PHONE: 617 824 8769

Raj Patel
Visiting Scholar
Center for African Studies
UC Berkeley
CELL: 510 717 0953

Cc: Jacob Zuma, President South Africa; Sepp Blatter, President FIFA.

MEDIA CONTACTS IN SOUTH AFRICA (if you are calling from outside South
Africa, the international dialing code is +27, and the first 0 is
dropped).

The following members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee may be
available for comment if they have not been arrested:

Mzwakhe Mdlalose: 072 132 8458
Anton Zamisa: 079 380 1759
Bheki Simelane: 078 598 9491
Nokutula Manyawo: 083 949 1379

Mnikelo Ndabankulu, the elected media liason person for Abahlali
baseMjondolo, 097450653. If you can’t get Mnikelo you can also try:

Louisa Motha 0781760088
Shamita Naidoo 0743157962
Mashumi Figlan 0725274600
Philani Zungu 0729629312
S’bu Zikode 0835470474

Other local contacts who might be useful:

Kerry Chance at kerrychance@gmail.com may have video footage
Richard Pithouse at indianocean77@gmail.com

SOURCES:

http://www.busrep.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=5181018
http://hdrstats.undp.org/indicators/147.html

For some back ground on the shack dwellers’ organization see the
Abahlali.org website and also:

Michael Vines, “Shantytown Dwellers in South Africa Protest Sluggish
Pace of Change,”
New York Times, December 25, 2005.

The View from the Shacks” The Economist, April 8, 2006

For statements about the attacks see:

“Democracy Under Attack: A Statement by Bishop Rubin,” available at
http://abahlali.org/node/5783

“The ANC Has Invaded Kennedy Road,” by S’bu Zikode (President of
Abahlali baseMjondolo) whose house was destroyed in the attack on the
shack settlement, available at
http://abahlali.org/node/5784

Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) Emergency Press Release,
Sunday 27 September 2009 available at
http://abahlali.org/node/5770

BACKGROUND

After decades of valiant resistance, the racist South African Apartheid regime was overthrown.  Tragically, the new government left banks and international finance in control of the country, where, in John Pilger’s words,

“The US, the British and the World Bank made it clear that South Africa would be “welcomed into the global economy” on condition that its new government pursued orthodox, “neo-liberal” policies that favoured big business, foreign investors, deregulation, privatisation and, at best, offered a “trickle down” to the majority who were to be shut out of the economy.”

As a result,  living conditions for most working-class blacks are actually worse,  in terms of employment, opportunities for youth, access to electricity and water, and, most particularly, housing.   As Raj Patel points out, South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the country with the widest gap between rich and poor, and now is the most unequal society in the world.  Decent, affordable housing for all had been one of the highest hopes for the new government, but instead, vast shanty-towns have developed around major cities.   In terms of services like employment, water, sanitation, and electricity, these shanty-towns are completely neglected by the African National Congress government.  Instead, the ANC considers the shanty-town inhabitants a threat and has been trying to displace them for years.  The shanty-town inhabitants have organized themselves into a new movement, The South African Shackdwellers’ Movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo).   As its website explained in mid-2006:

The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement began in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. Although it is overwhelmingly located in and around the large port city of Durban it is, in terms of the numbers of people mobilised, the largest organisation of the militant poor in post-apartheid South Africa. …(It)  grew quickly and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements. In the last year and a half the movement has suffered more than a hundred arrests, regular police assault and ongoing death threats and other forms of intimidation from local party goons. It has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers in subaltern and elite publics and occupied and marched on the offices of local councillors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets. …  The movement’s key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City’ but it has also successfully politicised and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as bottom up popular democracy. (Introduction to Abahlali baseMjondolo) (You can see photos and videos of their actions here.)

Read “From the South African Shackdwellers: We are the Third Force”

Also read “Struggle Is a School: The Rise of a Shack Dwellers’ Movement in Durban, South Africa”


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