The use of the “Apartheid” label applied to Israel started in 2001 at the Durban Conference. The main theme of the Arab NGOs during that conference was to paint Israel as an Apartheid State and revive the accusation of Zionism = Racism and gain the moral upper hand after having started, a few months before, the Intifadah. The fact that the initial attack happened in South Africa, of all places, added strength to their strategy.
The Intifadah, which some people called “Arafat’s war” was not intended to “end the occupation” as much as it was a planned and concerted effort by the Palestinian leadership to derail the Peace Process. That process, initiated by the Oslo agreements in 1993, had led to the Camp David Conference of the year 2000, where the Palestinians were presented with an offer that met more than 90% of their territorial demands. Arafat was not, however, ready to sign on the dotted line stating an end to the conflict. Palestinians officials attested later that upon returning from the US, Arafat said “now we fight”…
So back to Durban. The use of the “Apartheid” label tends to describe Israel as a whole and its alleged treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The use of a word equating Israel to pre-1994 South Africa is just another way of equating Zionism and Racism, delegitimizing the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people and the legitimacy of a Jewish State. It also has (for the Palestinians) the added advantage of blurring the boundaries between pre-1967 Israel and the territories Israel came to control after that war – this undermines, in fact, the idea of a two-state solution and promotes the concept of all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan as one unified State; either “binational” or “Arab Palestinian”.
But even describing the treatment of Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces as “discriminatory” is a gross oversimplification. While it is true that in some incidents the treatment of Palestinians can be interpreted as degrading and humiliating, ignoring the context in which that treatment happens is ignoring the reality of the existing conflict. The checkpoints and barriers separating Israel from the West Bank are intended to increase the physical security of Israeli citizens, who are under constant threat of physical attack. And these measures have indeed proved their effectiveness. Many Israelis, tired of living under the constant threat of terrorist attacks, have come to believe in the idea that “If the Palestinians give up their weapons, they can have their State – if Israelis give up their weapons, they will lose theirs”
But all this doesn’t explain why the International community bought it. Why do people subscribe to this Palestinian libel? This is the result of a number of factors each of which deserves a deeper analysis – but since this is a blog, I am forced to just scratch the surface of these issues…
The first issue would be the fall of the Soviet Union. Many in the European left used to look at the Soviet Union as a model. The failure of the Soviet Union as a model left them bereft of a clear cause and model. They remained adrift until the Palestinians were able to recruit them in a new cause they described as anti-colonialist – the Europeans on the left who were looking for a new cause had found it!
Another reason would be the European need to erase the moral stain of Nazism – not only regarding what the Nazis did, but also regarding what the vast silent majority did not do to save their victims from annihilation. Branding the Jewish State, where many of the survivors of Nazi barbarism sought refuge after the war, as a racist state utilizing “Nazi like” ways does indeed provide those Europeans who wanted to shake off the memory of the Holocaust with the permission to do so.
Yet another reason is related to recent European history. As Europe transformed itself into a liberal democratic society, it rejected its colonial past. They could not, however, completely eliminate it. They needed to take action to actively reshape themselves into anti-colonialist but at the same time they needed the target to be a non-European society. This led many on the European left to take up the anti-apartheid and anti-colonial line as a standard. The major success of the European left in the post-Soviet era was indeed the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and that made that fight an icon for future generations. Painting Israel as a colonialist, racist, apartheid state does indeed push the right buttons with many Europeans.
The anti-colonial attitude also prevents them from considering the possibility that any “native, colored” people is indeed doing something wrong. The irony is that this represents a very condescending attitude reminiscent of their own racism, and it also blinds them to the fact that many of the regimes they are allying with and defending practice gender and religious intolerance.
Make no mistake: the “Apartheid” libel is not intended to push for a two State solution but, in the words of one of the leaders of the “Free Gaza” flotilla it is intended to show the world that the “Israeli experiment needs to be dismantled”. It is about the elimination of Israel – not Palestinian rights.
When we talk about Israel’s positions we are talking about a democratic society; a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious society with all its achievements and faults. We are talking about leaders who are held accountable by the people for their actions. Therefore, the Israeli people is aware of the compromises to come and most of them accept them-even when many consider them painful, difficult and dangerous.
When we talk about Palestinian society we are talking about a leadership dissociated from its own people and a people that is disempowered and gagged. While probably most regular Palestinians would like an end of the conflict as much as their Israeli counterparts, they have no say and no part in what their leadership do. And many actually have a vested interest in perpetuating the conflict because that is how they make a living.
Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting each other for over a century over the issue of their conflicting National rights. Israel (People and leaders together) has demonstrated its willingness to divide the land both people call home and compromise…the Palestinian leadership continues to advocate the destruction of Israel.
It is ironic that while the Palestinian leadership talks about Israel as an apartheid state, it was their President Mahmoud Abbas who said in Cairo that he will tolerate “no Israelis remaining in the future Palestinian State”