NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, Truthdig, DECEMBER 28, 2006
As Jimmy Carter’s new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid climbs the bestseller list, the reaction of Israel’s apologists scales new peaks of lunacy. I will examine a pair of typical examples and then look at the latest weapon to silence Carter.
No aspect of Carter’s book has evoked more outrage than its identification of Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with apartheid. Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post called it “foolish and unfair,” the Boston Globe editorialized that it was “irresponsibly provocative,” while the New York Times reported that Jewish groups condemned it as “dangerous and anti-Semitic.” (1)
In fact the comparison is a commonplace among informed commentators.
From its initial encounter with Palestine the Zionist movement confronted a seemingly intractable dilemma: How to create a Jewish state in a territory that was overwhelmingly non-Jewish? Israeli historian Benny Morris observes that Zionists could choose from only two options: “the way of South Africa”–i.e., “the establishment of an apartheid state, with a settler minority lording it over a large, exploited native majority”–or “the way of transfer”–i.e., “you could create a homogeneous Jewish state or at least a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority by moving or transferring all or most of the Arabs out.” (2)
During the British Mandate period (1917-1947) Zionist settlers labored on both fronts, laying the foundations of an apartheid-like regime in Palestine while exploring the prospect of expelling the indigenous population. Norman Bentwich, a Jewish officer in the Mandatory government who later taught at the Hebrew University, recalled in his memoir that, “One of the causes of resentment between Arabs and Jews was the determined policy of the Jewish public bodies to employ only Jewish workers.This policy of ‘economic apartheid’ was bound to strengthen the resistance of Arabs to Jewish immigration.” (3)
Ultimately, however, the Zionist movement resolved the dilemma in 1948 by way of transfer: under the cover of war with neighboring Arab states, Zionist armies proceeded to “ethnically cleanse” (Morris) the bulk of the indigenous population, creating a state that didn’t need to rely on anachronistic structures of Western supremacy. (4)
After Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 the same demographic dilemma resurfaced and alongside it the same pair of options. Once again Zionists simultaneously laid the foundations for apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory while never quite abandoning hope that an expulsion could be carried off in the event of war. (5)
After four decades of Israeli occupation, the infrastructure and superstructure of apartheid have been put in place. Outside the never-never land of mainstream American Jewry and U.S. media this reality is barely disputed. Indeed, already more than a decade ago while the world was celebrating the Oslo Accords, seasoned Israeli analyst and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti observed, “It goes without saying that ‘cooperation’ based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization.” (6)
If it’s “foolish and unfair,” “irresponsibly provocative” and “dangerous and anti-Semitic” to make the apartheid comparison, then the roster of commentators who have gone awry is rather puzzling. For example, a major 2002 study of Israeli settlement practices by the respected Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem concluded: “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa.” A more recent B’Tselem publication on the road system Israel has established in the West Bank again concluded that it “bears striking similarities to the racist Apartheid regime,” and even “entails a greater degree of arbitrariness than was the case with the regime that existed in South Africa.” (7)
Those sharing Carter’s iniquitous belief also include the editorial board of Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, which observed in September 2006 that “the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation,” as well as former Israeli Knesset member Shulamit Aloni, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel, South African Archbishop and Nobel Laureate for Peace Desmond Tutu and “father” of human rights law in South Africa John Dugard. (8)
Indeed, the list apparently also includes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Pointing to his “fixation with Bantustans,” Israeli researcher Gershom Gorenberg concluded that it is “no accident” that Sharon’s plan for the West Bank “bears a striking resemblance to the ‘grand apartheid’ promoted by the old South African regime.” Sharon himself reportedly stated that “the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict.” (9)
The denial of Carter’s critics recalls the glory days of the Daily Worker. Kinsley asserts that “no one has yet thought to accuse Israel of creating a phony country in finally acquiescing to the creation of a Palestinian state.” In the real world what he claims “no one has yet thought” couldn’t be more commonplace. The Economist typically reports that Palestinians have been asked to choose between “a Swiss-cheese state, comprising most of the West Bank but riddled with settlements, in which travel is severely hampered,” and Israel “pulling out from up to 40 percent or 50 percent of the West Bank’s territory unilaterally, while keeping most of its settlements.” (10)
The shrill reaction to Carter’s mention of apartheid is probably due not only to the term’s emotive resonances but its legal-political implications as well. According to Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions as well as the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “practices of apartheid” constitute war crimes. Small wonder, then, that despite–or, rather, because of–its aptness, Carter is being bullied into repudiating the term. (11)
Partial or full withdrawal?
In order to discredit Carter the media keep citing the inflammatory rhetoric of his former collaborator at the Carter Center, Kenneth Stein. On inspection, however, Stein’s claims prove to be devoid of content. Consider the main one of Carter’s “egregious and inexcusable errors” that Stein enumerates. (12)
According to Stein, Carter erroneously infers on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242 that Israel “must” withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. It is true that whereas media pundits often allege that the extent of Israel’s withdrawal is subject to negotiations, Carter forthrightly asserts that Israel’s “borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories.” (13)
In fact and to his credit Carter is right on the mark.