Between Apartheid and Peace: Can Israel Learn from International Experience?

By Yiftachel, Oren | Tikkun, January/February 2001 | Go to article overview

Between Apartheid and Peace: Can Israel Learn from International Experience?


Yiftachel, Oren, Tikkun


Between Apartheid and Peace: Can Israel Learn from International Experience?

Professor Oren Yiftachel is chair of the department of geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel.

The Al-Aqsa Intifada has revealed once more that Israel's continuing occupation of Palestinian territories is dragging the state into intensifying waves of local and regional violence and growing levels of international tension and isolation.

The intifada has also opened our eyes to the distorted mirage of peace created by the Oslo process. Lulled by that mirage, the Israeli public grew blind to the way Oslo facilitated a massive growth of Jewish settlements (their population has doubled since 1993!), and fed the widespread Jewish illusion that Palestinians would be willing to accept less than full sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza. The power of the Oslo mirage has been so great that, even now that its false façade has been exposed, many liberals can still express "shock" and "bitter disappointment" at the outburst of popular Palestinian resistance. Instead of decrying the end of a reconciliation process that in fact was going nowhere, we must move to raise new models for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and towards a post-Oslo peace.

Debating in a Bubble

The uprising in the territories has thrown Israeli society into a state of uncertainty and, at times, even panic. After the initial surprise and anger, born of the illusion that Jewish and Palestinian elites could stitch together a deal contrary to natural justice and based on the imposition of a Pax Americana, many calls and proposals for a "total Israeli-Palestinian separation" began to surface from different corners of the Israeli political map. This tenor was most prominent around Prime Minister Barak, whose election slogan last year already proclaimed, "we are here, and they are there," and who has recently hinted at the specter of "unilateral separation," in which Israel will retreat from the densest areas of Palestinian population, create a de facto international border, and annex most Israeli settlements. The various options for separation, including Barak's, have been panic reactions to a crisis, and not part of a reasoned debate or honest re-examination of the situation. As is common to Israeli debates, the discussion has taken place mainly within a Jewish bubble, without anyone listening to, let alone seriously considering, Palestinian ideas, needs, or concerns. Barak himself declared, "we have no partner." Israel's ethnocratic need to reach unity with the West Bank Jewish settlers has assumed a far higher urgency among leaders and the public alike than the necessity to engage with the Palestinian nation from which, after all, separation is to be achieved.

This attitude was vividly reflected by the large banners decorating the stage at the main public ceremony commemorating the fifth anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, at Rabin Square on November 4 this year. The banners told the audience loud and clear: "Together We Remember," and "Together We Continue." This vague sense of "togetherness" is of course aimed at the Jewish public, including the settlers and the circles from which Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, emerged. No attention, no mention, no reference, was made in these banners to the Palestinians, the occupation, or the settlements, for which Rabin was assassinated.

Further, the Jewish debate is being staged without attention to the rich international experience of partitions and separation, from which Israelis and Palestinians can learn many potent lessons. Israeli Jews are as convinced as ever that their situation is unique--historically, politically, and even morally--from the many examples of ethnocratic states. But this blinkered approach is doomed to lead the state into the very same problems, grief, and circles of violence experienced by colonial states reluctant to relinquish that which is not theirs. …

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