Those who want the occupation to end should make every effort to push their governments to express the illegitimacy of Israeli policy and demand the establishment of a Palestinian state.
By Yuval Halperin
Following the establishment of Israel in 1948, more than 100 new states were created around the world. In fact most of the sovereign states now in existence have been established in recent decades, most of them on the ruins of global empires on the basis of the principle of self-determination for all people.
Israel is virtually the only country to continue maintaining colonial rule in the form of a military government over 4.7 million people who define themselves as a nation and who strive for national independence. This is one of the last cases in which colonial rule is perceived to be legitimate by the government that maintains it, as well as by the public that supports the government and is influenced by it. In order defend continuous military rule, we hear the same arguments that were once deployed during the heyday of colonialism, but which now sound as obsolete as arguments in favor of slavery or denying women the vote. For example: “there is no Palestinian people,” and “nations have been expending militarily at the expense of others,” etc.
Security-based arguments are also offered, but these lose validity when considering that the government of Israel is based on a coalition of political parties that view perpetual occupation as not only justified, but also as being a principled nationalist and ideological duty.
Netanyahu’s verbal support for the two-state solution is no more than a thinly-veiled deception. Not only has Netanyahu never received the approval of his cabinet for this position, but in practice Netanyahu is strongly opposed to the policy he claims to support.
Worse yet, however, is the international community’s support for the occupation.
True, statements against the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are often made — but such statements are effectively nullified by the widespread international adoption of Netanyahu’s false slogan: “Peace will be achieved only through negotiations without preconditions.”
The practical outcome of this reality is that an occupation-supporting Israeli government can maintain an endless series of futile negotiations, thus perpetuating the occupation. In effect, the occupied people’s right to self-determination is dependent on the good — or bad — will of the occupier.
Peace will indeed be achieved via negotiations, but there is an important prerequisite to negotiations: they must be between two equal parties. Therefore, if one of the parties is a sovereign state, the other must be a sovereign state, too.
For the negotiations to be meaningful and successful, their starting point must be an international ultimatum — one that demands that an independent and sovereign Palestinian state be accepted as a fundamental right of the Palestinian people, rather than an issue to be debated during negotiations. Yet there still remains much to be decided in negotiations: the modalities and duration of ending the occupation, along with the security arrangements to be implemented afterward.
Moreover, the prospect of peace is damaged by the ridiculous and kitschy actions in “support of Israel” we are seeing around the world. From the outside, it is impossible to separate the name “Israel” from the policy of Israel’s government. The act of flying the Israeli flag in large European cities following violent attacks inside Israel does not prevent further attacks, nor does it prevent wars to come. On the contrary, such acts give a boost to the current Israeli policy and thus work against the true interests of Palestinians and Israelis alike. The same goes for those who issue a automatic condemnation of any manifestation of public and economic protest against the occupation, whether in the form of demonstrations or of consumer boycotts (targeting all Israeli products or only those coming from the settlements).
The responsibility for the continuation of the occupation does not fall on Donald Trump, but on Barack Obama. It was Obama who over eight years ago expressed verbal support for a Palestinian state, yet opposed it in practice after taking up Netanyahu’s slogan of “negotiations without preconditions.” This led the president to veto nearly every UN Security Council resolution that condemned the occupation, as well as granting the Netanyahu government the largest military aid package ever offered by any U.S. administration, without so much as conditioning the money on Netanyahu changing his policies.
As opposed to what British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed following John Kerry’s final policy speech, it is not possible to separate Israeli politics from the make up of Israel’s government. The government is composed of parties that oppose the two-state solution, and the government’s actual policies designed to foil that solution prove that Netanyahu’s verbal support for two states is no more than lip service.
Because Israel maintains policies of a kind that the international community considers illegitimate, there is no reason that Israel should be treated any differently from South Africa during its apartheid regime.
Israel does have more than a million Arab-Palestinian citizens, although though they are far from equal citizens. Palestinian citizens suffer from structural discrimination in various spheres such as land allocation, zoning plans, and creation of new communities (since 1948, not a single new Arab community has been created in the territory of sovereign Israel, although quite a few villages have been destroyed).
In the territories captured and held since 1967, Israel operates a full-fledged military apartheid regime. The Israeli army controls the territory, while Palestinian residents have no Israeli citizenship and are subject to the rule of a military government. The Palestinian Authority, which was originally designed to be no more than an “embryo” for an independent state, does not have any real power; Israeli government officials regard it in much the same way as South African officials once treated the Bantustans. On the other hand, Israeli settlers in these territories do have Israeli citizenship and full civil rights.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy in terms of its internal political arrangements, but so was South Africa during apartheid — for its white citizens alone. The same goes for countries that maintained democracy in their metropolitan centers while ruling over huge colonial empires. Since colonialism is now considered illegitimate, its perpetuation should not be tolerated. The argument that “there are worse regimes” than Israel should be rejected as a poor excuse. The international community can and must help bring about the realization of the right to self-determination everywhere.
By virtue of that right, democracy must not be imposed on any country “from the outside.” Such attempts do not bring democracy; on the contrary — they often lead to tyranny. Just as countries with different and opposing regimes took part in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, so too should a heterogeneous international front oppose the Israeli occupation, which denies the existence of a Palestinian state. Such a global coalition should include both NGOs and governments, democratic or otherwise.
Nowadays, there exists a Palestinian national movement of which the great majority supports an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories to be evacuated. Even representatives of relatively extremist movements among the Palestinians say they will honor an agreement on such a basis, as is enshrined in the Arab Peace Initiative. The dispute between Palestinian factions today is primarily regarding the extent of peace to be offered to Israel and over cooperation with Israel following the establishment of a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, the occupying state is ruled by a government that regards perpetual occupation not as security measure or a safeguard against feared future hostility, but as an ideological and religious aim and duty in and of itself.
Those who love the people of Israel and are concerned for their future, yet are opposed to the occupation and to apartheid policies against the Palestinian people, must not support the continuation of normal relations between their country and Israel. In fact, such people should make every effort to push their governments to express the illegitimacy of Israeli policy. The demand should be raised for all states to recognize the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders.
Yuval Halperin is an editor and an activist involved in workers and peace groups. This article was translated from Hebrew by Adam Keller.