Because of the continued failure to reach a political settlement as a result of the position taken by Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing colonial government, Palestinian-Israeli tension has risen. The pragmatist and opportunist Netanyahu does not consider himself bound by any previous agreements. Given this government's trend towards a system of apartheid that deprives the Palestinians of their rights to liberty and independence, the extreme right-wing voice of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is widely heard at a time when international voices strongly express the fact that security is impossible as long as a political settlement of the Palestinian problem is not achieved. As an alternative to the two-state solution, Lieberman proposes the institutionalisation of an apartheid system by accelerating the annexation of the West Bank with colonies, gateways, by-pass roads and a gigantic separation barrier.
At a time when the Israeli government refuses to commit to the negotiation process, the ‘Erekat Covenant' — after Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator — was produced and distributed among the western diplomatic corps delineating a speculated future for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). That document warns that, in case negotiations are not resumed, the PNA will face an embarrassing situation that may lead to the Oslo Accords being thrown out, the two-state solution abandoned and the commencement of a struggle for a binational state. Three options have been proposed in the event that negotiations are not resumed: (A) Warning Israel that security coordination will end. This would mean the dismissal of the Palestinian police that were trained with American assistance to counteract the increasing strength of Hamas and other organisations; (B) Continuation of the political impasse would likely lead to the dismantling the PNA, which would in turn give rise to security and political turmoil in the West Bank, forcing Israel to officially impose military rule in the Occupied Territories; (C) Commencing a struggle for a one-state solution encompassing the whole of Palestine. Talking to Haaretz, Dr Erekat made it clear that the third possibility is not the alternative of choice, but that of necessity if Israel refuses to resume negotiations based on the understandings reached by the PNA, the Olmert government and the Bush administration.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak recently warned against maintaining the status quo. "As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic," he said. "If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."
It must be mentioned here that three years ago former US president Jimmy Carter faced a fierce Zionist campaign when he compared Israeli policy with South African apartheid. The Israeli version of apartheid not only amounts to racial discrimination, but even denial of citizenship for a whole community. The former human-rights rapporteur in the Occupied Territories, John Dogard, also faced criticism when he said, "Israel commits three violations against the international community: colonialism, occupation and apartheid".
Even Tzipi Livni, the previous Israeli foreign minister and current opposition leader, has lately warned that "if we don't make a specific decision on establishing a democratic Jewish state by reaching a settlement with the Palestinians, we shall turn into an Arab state. If we don't reach any solution with the Palestinians, we both shall fall into one state from the river to the sea, with everyone having the right of voting. In other words, we have to become an Arab state, which is what we don't accept".
Yossi Beilin approaches the same subject differently, saying a binational state is not an option. He says that Palestinians would constitute the majority in a democratic state, so that if everyone had an equal vote Jews would find themselves marginalised in the ‘ghettoes', struggling for their rights as a minority. To prevent this from happening, he believes the Israeli government would take the only possible action open to it if it is not ready to take the ‘risk' of making peace: namely, unilateral withdrawal. He says this is the inevitable option for both the left and the right.
The enforcement of apartheid in the Occupied Territories has become the norm and the situation continues to worsen. As Israel has destroyed the basis for a two-state solution, finding a solution based on one state for two peoples is the new reality — even if that means perpetuating the Israeli version of apartheid. This is what has repeatedly been said by Ehud Olmert, the previous Israeli prime minister, and Barak, as well as western leaders and politicians.
In its March edition, an article in Foreign Policy magazine said that while the present situation may be unbearable for the Palestinians, for Israelis the status quo is preferable. Telling Israelis about the dangers posed by apartheid and the demographic time bomb is like advising Americans that their health-care system needs to change. Israelis may not speak out, but don't hold your breath for change.
Professor As'ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.