In February 2010, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that failure to make peace with the Palestinians would cause Israel either to lose its Jewish majority or to become an “apartheid state.”
He meant that without a two-state solution, Israel would face two impossible choices: Either give citizenship to millions of Palestinians, who would soon become a majority in Israel, or continue to control the lives of millions of Arabs who lack basic rights.
Barak’s remarks caused no political hysteria in Israel because they reflected painful reality; other Israeli politicians and pundits have said the same before and after.
Yet, when Secretary of State John Kerry dared to utter the A-word (apartheid) last week, Israeli and American Jewish leaders slammed him. Like Barak, he warned of the threat Israel faces once the two-state option vanishes: “A unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens,” he said, or “destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”
The criticism Kerry faced was so harsh he felt compelled to issue a humiliating apology, even as his nine-month effort to broker a peace deal came to a failed closure. Instead of maligning Kerry, the critics should have taken his (and Barak’s) warning to heart.
Within its 1967 boundaries, Israel is a vibrant democracy, and Arab citizens of Israel have the vote. But on the West Bank, around 2.5 million Palestinians live under a totally different system. They can’t vote for a national government (their Palestinian Authority has minimal powers), while their physical movements are controlled by Israeli military checkpoints.
Most West Bank land, along with water usage, imports, and exports, is controlled by Israel. (In Gaza, with 1.5 million people, Israel still controls the air, sea, and almost all land exits -- including the movement of goods and people.)