Israeli apartheid and the one-state solution – eight takes

Eight takes on why Amnesty's 'apartheid' report speaks of a shifting paradigm from a two-state to a one-state reality.

A man wearng a T-shirt with the message, "Boycott Israel Apartheid" holds a Palestinian flag during a protest action on a bridge overlooking umbrellas placed along the artificial beach along the "Paris Plages" event, in Paris, France, August 13, 2015. Paris' decision to celebrate "Tel Aviv on Seine" (photo credit: REUTERS/PASCAL ROSSIGNOL)
A man wearng a T-shirt with the message, "Boycott Israel Apartheid" holds a Palestinian flag during a protest action on a bridge overlooking umbrellas placed along the artificial beach along the "Paris Plages" event, in Paris, France, August 13, 2015. Paris' decision to celebrate "Tel Aviv on Seine"
(photo credit: REUTERS/PASCAL ROSSIGNOL)

What if the one-state reality is no longer a theoretical question? What if it is already here?

Last month, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Maliki warned the UN Security Council: “Prepare yourself to attend the funeral” of the two-state solution.

It was almost as if there would be this one dramatic moment in which it met its demise, rather than dying so silently in a corner that one would not even notice when the coroner arrived.

Among the telltale signs that Israelis and Palestinians might be in the post-two-states age is the resurgence of initiatives to brand Israel as an apartheid state, such as the one Amnesty International launched this week.

Here are eight takes on why that initiative matters, and why it speaks of a shifting paradigm from a two-state to a one-state reality.

A bloodied Israeli flag hangs on the main building at the University of Cape Town on Monday at the start of Israel-Apartheid Week. (credit: SAUJS/FACEBOOK)A bloodied Israeli flag hangs on the main building at the University of Cape Town on Monday at the start of Israel-Apartheid Week. (credit: SAUJS/FACEBOOK)

1) One regime from the river to the sea

Most of those who recently accused Israel of acts of apartheid do not differentiate between sovereign and non-sovereign Israel. That includes portions of the West Bank under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, and the Gaza Strip that is controlled by Hamas.

They consider Israel as one regime that controls a single territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, effectively making it one state, while they argue that the goal is two states, with a forced Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 line. The argument itself is best made from a one-state paradigm.

Aside from Amnesty, this has included left-wing NGOs such as B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, all of whom pay lip service to a two-state reality; but the moment they make their argument that Israel is one regime controlling both Israeli and Palestinian territory, they have shifted the paradigm and changed the debate from two states to one.

2) Turns nationalist struggle into racist one

A two-state paradigm speaks of a territorial dispute between two peoples that can be resolved through negotiation.

It reduces enmity to a set of resolvable circumstances, rather than an endemic racial one upheld by institutions, state structures and legal systems that must be forcibly dissolved.

The crime of apartheid is primarily perceived to be a racial one, in which one racial group systematically oppresses the other.

According to Article 7 of the Rome Statute, the crime of apartheid is “inhuman acts... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

3) Jewish statehood criminalized as racism

Israel’s opponents have long linked the existence of an ethnic nationalist Jewish state with racism and apartheid. They have called on Israel to rescind laws that enshrine its ethnic nationalism. Historically, Israel has been in the most danger from such accusations in the absence of any peace process.

In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed its infamous resolution stating that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

It was rescinded only in 1991 when Israel made its revocation a precondition for its attendance at the Madrid Conference. In so doing, it linked the absence of racism-branding with the peace process.

It heralded the larger paradigm shift from a condemnation of racism to one of a nationalistic dispute resolvable through negotiations, such as the one that began with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

As a sign of how the dialogue can shift, former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, who had championed the racism initiative, said he “respected” Israeli democracy, when speaking at Harvard University in 1995 in the midst of the Oslo peace process. He never mentioned the word Jewish, and the Palestinians have never accepted Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. But Israel as a Jewish state could be considered a democracy, now that the goal was two states for two peoples.

4) Israel’s identity as a Jewish state under debate

The campaign by the Palestinians and NGOs to label Israel as an apartheid state has led to a slew of very public pronouncements, including by the US, defending the right of Jewish self-determination and Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.

It sounds reassuring, but each utterance should be viewed as a warning sign that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is now in danger.

Ethnic nationalism, by which group rights can be prioritized particularly with regard to citizenship and repatriation is not unique to Israel. There are 19 other such states including Armenia, Bulgaria, Japan, Malaysia, Serbia and Turkey.

The UN Partition Plan of 1947, Resolution 181, upheld the rights of both Jews and Arabs, which in this case is the Palestinians, to independent national homelands.

The two-state resolution would recognize the ethnic nationalism of both states, and thus issues of inequity that have made Israel susceptible to the apartheid charge would be answered within the broader context of that two-state system.

The Palestinians, however, rejected the plan, and the territory itself passed to Jordan, leaving only a Jewish state. Amnesty’s report, which is reflective of the larger apartheid system, dates to 1948. The message is that ethnic Jewish nationalism was racist in its inception, and 74 years later, nothing has changed. 

5) Unilateralism sets the stage for one state

It could be argued that unilateralism, which negated the need for negotiations, set the stage for a one-state reality. If one is not working toward two states, and only one state exists, then by default there is one state.

Unilateralism began after the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the Second Intifada that followed.

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority refused to hold talks unless Israel ceded to the two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines, while simultaneously expanding its arsenal of diplomatic initiatives to force the issue.

The Israeli Right, in turn, moved to apply sovereignty to all West Bank settlements, but the initiative was suspended to make way for the Abraham Accords.

The PA, the Israeli Left and international NGOs have now pushed back with an apartheid claim. In 2003, when the peace process was stalled, grassroots groups on the Left brought together Israeli and Palestinians to create an unofficial peace deal known as the Geneva Accords.

Almost 10 years later, the grassroots left-wing response is an apartheid campaign, which seeks to hold Israel guilty of the crime of apartheid for its refusal to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.

6) Palestinian statehood rejection

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was often blamed for thwarting negotiations with the Palestinians. For most of his time in office, however, he supported the idea of two states for two peoples. It was a stance that kept open the door to the possibility of negotiations.

However, during his 12-year tenure, it became increasingly acceptable for the Right, even the moderate Right, to reject the idea of Palestinian statehood.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been blunt about this refusal to accept a Palestinian state, or even talk to the Palestinian leadership.

Simultaneously, no alternative plan has been put forward.

The last substantive negotiating period ended in 2014. US President Joe Biden has pledged allegiance to the idea of two states but has not launched a peace initiative or even spoken of doing so.

The prolonged status quo, in which there is not even a horizon for a two-state resolution, creates an ad hoc appearance of one Jewish state from the river to the sea, with pockets of Palestinian autonomy, effectively opening the door for an apartheid claim.

7) Diplomatic warfare more dangerous in 2022

The array of diplomatic tools to push forward an international agenda has grown since the Zionism-is-racism resolution of 1975, and the apartheid charge can carry more weight. In recognition of this, the International Criminal Court recognizes apartheid as a crime, and is already investigating whether it would allow war-crimes suits against Israelis to be filed.

The UN Human Rights Council earlier this year created a permanent Commission of Inquiry against Israel, which is expected to examine the question of whether Israel is guilty of apartheid and/or racism. The GA could refer the matter to the International Court of Justice with a request that it render an opinion. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is already examining whether Israeli action met the definition of apartheid.

8) Opening salvo of the one-state battle

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has argued that the goal of the apartheid charge is to eliminate Israel’s Jewish ethnic identity.

Right-wingers who support a two-state resolution have long argued that it is the only way to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state.

Given the absence of a peace process and the lack of options for Palestinian self-determination, the apartheid initiative could be the opening salvo of the battleground for the nature of one future state extending from the river to the sea.