By Bassam Dally
It is unlikely to be a coincidence that Secretary of State John Kerry chose this week, twenty years since the end of apartheid in South Africa, to issue a warning to Israel that it could become an apartheid state if it maintains its occupation of Palestinian land. His warning comes following remarks appearing to blame Israel for the collapse of the latest US-brokered peace initiative due to its failure to release the final batch of Palestinian prisoners and aggressive settlement expansion.
While Israel has vigorously rejected the comparison with apartheid South Africa, the similarities have been noted by a great many distinguished commentators. In 2006, Jimmy Carter published a comprehensive survey of Israel’s settlement activities, Separation Barrier and bypass roads in a book entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Capetown and spokesperson for South Africa’s United Democratic Front has also repeatedly denounced Israel’s regime in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a form of apartheid.
Of even greater concern are statements by former statesmen. In 2009, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert predicted that Israel would be finished if negotiations towards a two-state solution collapsed and the Palestinians resorted to “a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights”. In the following year former Israeli Prime Minister warned a conference in Herzliya that “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
His scenario is an exact description of the state of Israel and the Occupied Territories today. Indeed, as the last prospects for a two-state solution are buried under a surge in settlement construction and house demolitions throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinians are calling in increasing numbers for the establishment of a single state in which all inhabitants shall enjoy the same rights regardless of their nationality.
So can Israel afford the apartheid label given that the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions(BDS) is growing around the world.
For the time being, the Israeli government is confident that it can ride out the BDS movement. Economic growth is strong and Israel’s GDP per capita is equivalent to that of Australia. The Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories are relatively quiescent and the United States shows no signs of wanting winding back its three billion dollar aid package to Israel.
However, all indications point to a world community that is getting tired of the Israeli government’s stubborn refusal to adhere to international law and ongoing settlement construction. Its growing isolation at the UN is not lost at the Israeli government. While US support for Israel remains rock solid, support among other western countries is steadily eroding. Writing in Israel’s Haaretznewspaper, the veteran Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev noted in January that even the effusive support it receives from the Canadian and Australian governments is due to the peculiar “white, conservative and Christian” orientation of these governments, rather than any genuine shared interests or values.
Finally, while the BDS movement has yet to have a serious effect on the Israeli economy, one should not forget that it took several decades before a similar campaign began to bite in South Africa.
Meanwhile, in Palestine the daily grind of occupation goes on as Palestinians line up at checkpoints to access their schools, farmlands and places of work, farmers endeavour to defend their livestock and olive groves from attacks by Jewish settlers and Israeli patrol craft shoot at Palestinian fishermen who dare to venture more than three miles from Gaza’s polluted shoreline.
On Tuesday the Kerry Peace Initiative quietly expired, following the Oslo, Roadmap and Annapolis peace accords into the dustbin of history. As US attempts to broker a two-state solution continue to falter and the reality of Israel’s apartheid regime become harder to ignore, calls for a campaign of BDS and one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict will inevitably grow louder.