Israel Apartheid Week kicked off this year in Europe on February 25 and runs through March 17 in South Africa. Events include mock checkpoints, replicas of the security barrier, the screening of documentary films critical of Israel and meetings with the “victims” of the “occupation.”
Organizers are united by their belief that the situation in the West Bank is comparable to the systematic racial segregation and discrimination that South Africa’s white minority instituted against the black majority.
However, as noted by Gideon Shimoni – the former head of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry, who was born and raised in Johannesburg – the term “apartheid” has become “a code word that is not being used to analyze a sociopolitical phenomenon, but rather as a rhetorical weapon... to demonize and excoriate the State of Israel, a political entity that defines itself as Jewish and democratic.”
Here is why Shimoni’s observation is correct: • Israel has never said it intends to keep the West Bank forever.
Opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Israelis support reaching a compromise with the Palestinians that would end the century-old conflict between the peoples. Politicians are keenly aware of this.
In his June 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu supported a two-state solution.
Addressing a joint session of the US Congress in 2011, Netanyahu stressed Israel’s willingness to take significant risks for peace and concede land resonating with historical significance for Jews. He went on to say that “some [Israeli] settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders,” and that “with creativity and with goodwill, a solution [for Jerusalem] can be found.”
Israel has more than once offered the Palestinians comprehensive peace plans, which they have rejected.
In 2008, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a peace offer based on an Israeli return to the pre-1967 lines in 93 percent of the West Bank and proposed a 5.5% land swap inside the Green Line to compensate for settlement blocs that would remain in the West Bank.
He also offered to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians and place the Holy Basin under the rule of five different states that would ensure access to all the faiths, as is the situation now. Abbas never responded to Olmert’s offer.
In 2000, then-prime minister Ehud Barak offered PLO chairman Yasser Arafat a similar peace offer, that was also rejected.
• The present legal and political situation for Palestinians is not comparable to apartheid. The majority of Palestinians in the West Bank reside in areas administered by the PA, where Palestinian law applies. Palestinians living under direct Israeli control or those arrested for security offenses fall under Israeli military law, based on British and Jordanian precedents.
All Palestinians are endowed with the right to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Palestinian elections were supposed to take place in January 2010, but have been delayed due to the inability of the Fatah leadership in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza to end their internal disputes.
Palestinians are also to blame for delaying a two-state solution.
Besides repeatedly rejecting Israeli peace proposals, Palestinians voted in 2006 for Hamas, a terrorist organization that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction and that has transformed the Gaza Strip into an Islamic terrorist state. Both Hamas and the PA regularly engage in incitement against Israel.
The Palestinian Authority’s recently adopted tactic of demanding a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations is self-defeating, since the best way to stop Jewish settlements in land designated for a Palestinian state is through direct negotiations on borders.
The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis should ultimately be solved via the creation of two states – a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living side by side in mutual recognition, security and peace. Equating the present situation with South Africa’s former apartheid regime lacks intellectual honesty and does nothing to advance the cause of peace.