KASRILS: ‘Netanyahu on a road to nowhere’ June 22, 2009

by Ronnie Kasrils

The Star, South Africa

18 June 2009

Ronnie Kasrils

Is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really offering Palestinians anything to work with? What is heard is the strident voice of a “Dr No”. No freeze on settlement construction. No to Jerusalem as a shared capital. No right of return of the refugees. No end to the siege of Gaza or occupation of the West Bank. No acceptance even of the two-state solution. No sovereign borders or air space in a nebulous territory he can hardly bring himself to name.

What he has announced, Palestinian representatives say, is a series of conditions and qualifications that render a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state impossible. This is “no” to peace, “no” to justice, “no” to security for Palestinians and Jewish people.

It is a “no” to Barack Obama – if the US president is in fact serious about brokering a just solution.

Netanyahu’s utterances are reminiscent of apartheid, when the dispossessed majority were warned to stay in their place and offered nothing but Bantustans.

He insists that the Palestinians must accept Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This is integral to the Zionist myth claiming that only the Jews have rights to that land and ignoring the 20 percent Muslims living in Israel – never mind the rights of millions of Palestinians under military occupation or in refugee camps.

To accept the results of such dispossession and apartheid laws would have been tantamount to all South Africans agreeing with banishment to the Bantustans.

It is instructive to refer to a statement of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd’s that “the Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state” (Rand Daily Mail, November 23, 1961).

Both apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel qualify as colonial, settler states created on the basis of the dispossession of the land of an indigenous people. To ignore this is to refuse to recognise the root cause of the conflict and to claim that everything must revolve around the rights of the Jewish people in Israel.

Both Israel and apartheid South Africa implemented a policy based on racial ethnicity; the claim of Jewish people in Israel and whites in South Africa to exclusive citizenship; a monopoly of rights in law regarding the ownership of land, property and business; superior access to education, health, social and cultural amenities, pensions and municipal services; a monopoly of membership of military and security forces; and privileged development along their own racial supremacist lines.

That the Palestinian minority in Israel is allowed to vote hardly redresses the in-justice in all other matters of basic human rights. Palestinians allowed to stand for election to the Knesset do so on condition that they don’t question Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

Verwoerd would have known of Israel’s dispossession of indigenous Palestinians in 1948 and with it the destruction of their villages, the massacres and the ethnic cleansing in the very month and year his own party came to power in South Africa.

While he did not live to see the division of Palestinian territory after the 1967 Six Day War, and the subsequent enclosure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he would have admired the machinations that ghettoised the Palestinians. This was the Verwoerdian grand plan and the reason former US president Jimmy Carter could so readily identify the occupied Palestinian territories as being akin to apartheid.

The Bantustans consisted of 13 percent of South Africa, uncannily comparable to the ever-shrinking pieces of ground Israel consigns to the Palestinians. More than one-third of the occupied territories comprise the illegal settlement blocks and security grid system with their Jewish-only roads. The effect is that the 22 percent of pre-1967 West Bank territory has become a mere 12 percent of historic pre-1948 Palestine. It is this sham with impossible qualifications that Netanyahu proposes for the Palestinians.

When former deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad and I visited Yasser Arafat in his demolished headquarters in Ramallah in 2004, he pointed around him and said “See: this is nothing but a Bantustan.” No, we responded, pointing out that no Bantustan had been fenced in, let alone bombed by warplanes and pulverised by tanks. Pretoria pumped in funds, constructed impressive administration buildings, even allowed for Bantustan armies and airlines to impress the world that it was serious about “separate development”.

What encouraged apartheid’s rulers was the way the Western powers permitted Israel to use its military with impunity to expand its territory and hold back the tide of Arab nationalism. After the Six Day War, Verwoerd’s successor, John Vorster, notoriously said: “The Israelis have beaten the Arabs before lunchtime. We will eat the African states for breakfast.”

But it was not only the racial doctrine of Israel that excited apartheid’s leaders, it was the use of the biblical narrative as the ideological rationale to justify its vision.

The Voortrekkers had used Bible and gun, as colonisers had elsewhere, to carve out their exclusive bastion in South Afri-ca’s hinterland. Like the biblical Israelites, they claimed to be “God’s chosen people”, with a mission to tame and civilise the wilderness, disregarding the productivity of people who had tilled the soil, built the world’s earliest towns and traded for millennia. Racist history taught that the white man arrived in South Africa as the “Bantu tribes” were wandering across the Limpopo – and that they were pioneer settlers in a land devoid of people.

Such a colonial mentality had echoes in Palestine, which Zionists claimed was “a land without people” waiting to be settled by “a people without a land”.

It is on this basis that Zionists such as Netanyahu, and the illegitimate settlers in the West Bank – those his speech was designed to encourage – make their claims for an exclusive Jewish state.

In its conduct and methods of repression, Israel came to resemble apartheid South Africa at its zenith – even surpassing its brutality, house demolitions, removal of communities, targeted assassinations, massacres, imprisonment and torture of its opponents and the aggression against neighbouring states.
We South Africans can identify the pathological cause, fuelling the hate, of Israel’s political-military elite, giving rise to more extreme racist postures. Neither is it difficult for anyone acquainted with colonial history to understand how deliberately cultivated racism inculcates a justification for atrocities against defenceless civilians, as recently witnessed in the brutality unleashed on the population in Gaza.
South Africans visiting the occupied territories can’t but agree with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s observation that things happen in Israel that never happened in apartheid South Africa. (The Guardian, May 28.) It is also instructive to recall the words of an Israeli cabinet minister, Aharon Cizling, in 1948, after the savagery of the Deir Yassin massacre of 240 villagers: “Now we too have behaved like Nazis and my whole being is shaken.” (Tom Segev – The First Israelis.)

Veteran British MP Gerald Kaufman, a long-time friend of Israel, remarked that an Israeli Defence Force spokeswoman had talked like a Nazi when she coldly dismissed the deaths of defenceless civilians in Gaza. He is not alone in fearing the rise of fascists like Avigdor Lieberman to powerful positions in Israel; the threat of the expulsion of the 1948 Palestinians; the enactment of laws threatening imprisonment for anyone denying that Israel is a Jewish state; a bill prohibiting anyone from advocating a bi-national state and another seeking to imprison for three years anyone mourning the 1948 nakba. These have been described by Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery as “a factory of racist laws with a distinct fascist odour”.

Dare we believe that an America led by Obama will make a difference? Some have raised the hope that the stalled “Road Map” might spring back to life and with it the chimera of a two-state solution. That is not likely with Netanyahu’s latest stance.

Obama calls only for a freeze in settlement construction – and precious little else. Can 12 percent or a few percent more in horse-trading and all the preconditions for negotiations set by Netanyahu provide for a viable Palestinian state? Acceptance by the Palestinians is as likely as it would have been for black South Africans to accept the Bantustans.

The words of Nelson Mandela in 1997 are salutary: “The UN took a strong stand against apartheid and over the years an international consensus was built which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

One would hope Obama would share such a view. Just as a united, national movement of a determined people, reinforced by international solidarity actions invoking boycott, divestment and sanctions won freedom for all South Afri-cans, so too can this be the case for Jewish people and Arabs in the Holy Land.

Whether a unitary state or a two-state solution ultimately results, those two peoples will have to find a way to peacefully co-exist. That must, however, be on the basis of justice, fairness and equity – not the racist diktat of the likes of Netanyahu.

Kasrils is a former government minister.

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