On Sunday night, Israel’s Labor Party unanimously approved their leader’s diplomatic plan.
Labor’s premier Isaac Herzog laid out his vision a few weeks earlier at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, telling the audience that he “wish[es] to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible.” Herzog continued by explaining that “we’ll erect a big wall between us. That is the kind of co-existence that is possible right now […] Ariel Sharon […] didn’t finish the job. We want to finish it, to complete the barrier that separates us.”
Examining Labor’s new plan more closely, what becomes bitterly clear is that “We are here, they are there” does not signify the withdrawal of Israeli power from Palestinian territories, but rather a devious way of entrenching the colonial enterprise even further.
Herzog’s underlying assumption is that under current conditions a two-state solution is impossible. He is, however, adamantly against a one-state solution, whereby Jews and Palestinians live together as equals. His objective is to formulate a plan that guarantees the continued existence of a Jewish state, with about five million Palestinians living within its territory.
On the one hand, then, Israel should not take steps that would undermine the two-state solution, because sustaining the two-state chimera is crucial for preventing the alternative: a democratic state between the Jordan Valley and Mediterranean where Palestinians, like Jews, enjoy full citizenship. On the other hand, Herzog realises that the two-state solution is no longer an option. He therefore lays out the blueprint of a plan that is in effect an apartheid regime.
The specifics informing the plan, which the Labor Party approved, are not really new, but the fact that they have been outlined in writing is another crucial step in the consolidation and legitimisation of apartheid rule.
The plan unabashedly promotes Palestinian Bantustans. Herzog notes that Palestinians will gain more autonomy to run their daily lives in areas A and B, which comprise only about 40 percent of the West Bank. “Palestinians will have total freedom in civil but not military matters,” he said. “They’ll be able to build new cities and expand existing ones, to develop agriculture, industry, employment.”
In order to ensure the consolidation of the division of the West Bank into archipelagos, the plan emphasises the importance of completing the separation barrier around settlement blocs in the West Bank, because the blocs, according to Herzog, will always remain under Israeli sovereignty and “will be part of the permanent solution”.
In order to get rid of Palestinians who are residents of Israel and have an Israeli identity card, Herzog endorses cutting off Palestinian villages from Jerusalem. As he put it: “Issawiya is not and won’t be part of Israel’s eternal capital. Neither is the refugee camp in Shuafat. We’ll separate from them. We’ll build a wall. Terrorists won’t have access to Jews. Those who want to work and make a living rather than stabbing people – we’ll leave those for the consideration of the defence establishment.”
Finally, the Israeli military, according to Herzog, should continue to control the entire West Bank.
With respect to Gaza, Hamas, in Herzog’s words, “will have no immunity and for every attack they’ll pay a heavy price. This won’t mean dummy bombings of empty areas.”
Herzog thus criticised Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for being too soft on the Palestinians – the Likud government, he maintains, is not really bombing Palestinians in Gaza, but only empty spaces.
He went on to announce that if he gains power, he will employ an “iron fist”, including shutting down Palestinians’ radio and TV stations and ensuring that they won’t have internet or mobile phone services.
Looking closely at Labor’s plan, the logic behind it becomes crystal-clear: since it is difficult to envision a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future, Israel should no longer be ashamed for adopting a Bantustanian approach.
It is crucial to remember that the Bantustans in South Africa were classified as “self-governing” and that the Africans living within these territories did not have South African citizenship and thus did not enjoy the most basic political rights.
Moreover, because no viable economy could be developed in the Bantustans, these areas were kept afloat by massive subsidies provided by the South African government.
Similarly, the Palestinians are currently being kept afloat by the European Union, United States and a few other countries. By concentrating large parts of the African population in Bantustans, the white supremacist apartheid regime did manage to sustain itself for many years. This, in a word, is Herzog’s vision as well.
The Labor Party, which is the only viable alternative to the current Likud government and which is considered by many, both in Israel and among international leaders, to be a progressive substitute, has, in other words, unanimously supported a plan that would have been applauded by apartheid South Africa.
Given this reality, it does not seem likely that a just solution to the Palestinian plight will come from within Israel. Indeed, at this historical juncture, international pressure is perhaps the only hope and is desperately needed.
Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation, as well as The Human Right to Dominate (co-authored with Nicola Perugini).