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Byrd: Apartheid in Israel

BY MATTHEW BYRD | MAY 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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With maybe the exception of the reunification of the Korean Peninsula or financial reparations for the descendants of African slaves living in the United States, it’s hard to think of a political dispute with prospects for resolution as bleak as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Further proof of this hopelessness was displayed this week when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a confidential meeting with officials from Russia, Japan, and Western Europe, stated that, if the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations collapsed (which is almost a certainty at this point), Israel could develop into an “apartheid state.”

Kerry was, almost immediately, vociferously chastised by figures across the American political spectrum, the length of which when it comes to Israel could probably be mapped on a Post-It note.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most prominent pro-Israeli lobby in the country, called the comparison “offensive.” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called Kerry’s phrasing “nonsensical,” and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called for Kerry’s resignation (at the very least he refrained from linking Kerry to Hamas, which he did with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during Hagel’s confirmation hearings —though that would’ve be immensely more entertaining than this somewhat tame expression of right-wing asininity).

Kerry eventually partially walked back the comments, stating that he wishes he could’ve “used a different word” to describe the situation. This is a shame, because it’s one of the few times that Kerry, the most milquetoastian of American liberals, actually used an accurate term to describe a foreign-policy conundrum in his tenure as secretary of State.

While far from perfect (nothing in Israeli policy has been anywhere near as pernicious as the barbarity of Afrikaner-run South Africa), the apartheid analogy certainly has its merits. Israeli military checkpoints for the movements of Palestinians in the occupied territories are eerily similar to the South African pass laws, which restricted the movements of blacks during apartheid. The maintenance of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, the forced registration of nationality for Israeli residents, and inequitable access to land and water resources all have parallels in the South Africa of Malan and Botha (whites-only areas, the Population Registration Act of 1950, etc.).

This analogy, in the rest of the world, is actually quite common, having been made by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former President of the U.N. General Assembly Miguel Brockmann, former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, Yossi Sarid, environmental minister under Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and prominent anti-apartheid activist and former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Also, while unspoken, apartheid is the only really desirable solution for the Israeli political elite and large (but not total) segments of the Israeli public. The only way to maintain Israel’s “Democratic Jewish-Majority” makeup while also making some or all of the Occupied Territories part of Israel proper (a move supported by 80 percent of the Israeli public, according to poll conducted by Ariel University and furthered by the increasing Jewish settlements in the West Bank), the only practical (while certainly not moral) means of achieving this is instituting a policy of apartheid. How else does Israel expect to preserve a Jewish-run state while also annexing territories that would otherwise make the state a Palestinian-majority one?

This is the reality Israel is hurtling towards, the reality Kerry was warning about, an Israel whose fundamental quality is a type of low-grade apartheid. And, at this point, it’s a reality that’s almost inevitable. When the U.S. political culture, as demonstrated by this embarrassing rhetorical fiasco, is so unwilling to accept the basic facts of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Israelis themselves seem more and more enthusiastic about carving up the West Bank, the peace process, and hope for an apartheid-free Israel, are, for the foreseeable future, dead.


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