The ceaseless expansion of Israeli settlements all over the West Bank, along with exclusive settler roads and fences, divides Palestinian areas into disconnected cantons that superficially resemble the former black Bantustans in South Africa. So even if Israel’s situation differs from South Africa’s and lacks the racial laws that defined that country’s apartheid system, some parallels can’t be avoided. One group dominates and controls another, which lacks political rights.
As then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned in 2007, the collapse of the two-state solution means Israel likely will “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.” Indeed, many younger Palestinians want to turn away from failed talks about two states to a campaign for full citizenship inside one state.
A one-state solution is a nonstarter: The Middle East is a communal region, in which Israel Jews and Palestinians both want their own country, and would resist sharing control. But a one-man, one-vote campaign could resonate with Europeans and in developing countries, and accelerate the global “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” (BDS) movement that calls for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.
Kerry’s critics clearly were worried that the use of the A-word would advance the BDS campaign. But dumping on Kerry won’t resolve the problem, nor will playing the blame game of whose fault it is that peace talks ended. Rather, those who care about Israel’s future should take a hard look at the facts on the ground.
Nothing has furthered comparisons of the Palestinian situation to South Africa more than the Israeli government’s promotion of Jewish settlement on the West Bank. The current settlement grid was originally advocated by the late Israeli leader Ariel Sharon as a means to ensure long-term control of the territory. Settlers live by different laws, have full Israeli national rights, and move freely around the West Bank, while Palestinians are heavily restricted.