Israeli Ex-Ambassador to South Africa raises the Apartheid question

By Alon Liel

Published in the Palestine-Israel Journal

The “Deal of the Century,” which was publicly released in January 2020, changes the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even if the plan itself is never implemented. The likelihood that a future Israeli leader will be able to offer the Israeli public less than the 30% of the West Bank so generously granted to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by President Donald J. Trump appears unrealistic. Similarly, the prospect that any Palestinian leader will accept the plan seems out of the question. As a result, the plan is not likely to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state despite its use of the term. Moreover, the “Deal of the Century” could prove to be the diplomatic death blow to the two-state solution. Even if it were to be partially implemented, it will be coming 40 years after the South African model.

As someone who served as Israel’s ambassador to South Africa in the 1990s and who participated in many working visits there both before and after my tenure, I am personally familiar with the term Bantustan (a state for the natives). The apartheid regime in South Africa had planned to set up 11 such puppet states on its territory. A similar number of Bantustans had been intended for the territory which eventually became Namibia. Only four such states were actually established: Bophuthatswana, Venda, Ciskei and Transkei. 
Almost no one remembers the names of the others, all of which were gone with the wind. South Africa was the only country in the world that officially recognized the Bantustans. The important decisions about what went on in them were made solely in Pretoria.

The reason for the establishment of Bantustans was very simple: In the early 1980s, the West began to understand the magnitude of the cruelty of apartheid and quickly came to comprehend the most basic issue: Nonwhites did not have the right to vote. The slogan of the anti-apartheid fighters “One Man One Vote” was warmly embraced around the world — today it would be called “One Person One Vote.” For its part, the apartheid regime was unable to allow itself a non-white vote because demographics would have automatically translated this into a loss of political power.

Racist Ingenuity

The racist ingenuity of the apartheid regime therefore led to the invention of many non-contiguous enclaves within the territory of South Africa which gained fictitious independence and whose residents were able to vote in the elections for the puppet enclave-state “governments” but not in the South African general elections. For a while, this idea enabled South Africa to push back against the West’s accusation of a lack of voting rights and, lo and behold, it wasn’t long before pictures were circulated across the world of black residents in the Bantustans voting for “their leadership.” It took a few more years for the West to understand this cynical ploy and to begin its struggle against the Bantustans.

Thanks to the international community’s determination demonstrated at the time, at least one important historical lesson was deeply imprinted: The attempt to whitewash an oppressive and discriminatory regime through the creation of fictitious “autonomous” territories where masses of subjects lacking real political rights were concentrated didn’t succeed in South Africa — and it seemed that it would not work anywhere else on the planet.

Israel’s Shameful Role

During the years I was responsible for the South African desk at the Foreign Ministry and the years I served as ambassador to South Africa, I learned, to my shame, that no country in the world (except South Africa) contributed more to the economy of the Bantustans than Israel. Israelis built factories, residential neighborhoods, a hospital and even a football stadium and a crocodile farm in these South African puppet states. Israel allowed the largest of the Bantustans, Bophuthatswana, to establish a diplomatic 
mission in Tel Aviv, and its leader, Lucas Mangope, who was ostracized by the entire world, was a frequent guest here.

Thus, while the rest of the world was boycotting the false pretenses of the Bantustans, Israelis leapt to the apartheid regime’s aid and worked to promote them. Security cooperation with apartheid was of course the incentive for Israel’s support for these puppet states.

Currently, with the active support of the world’s leading superpower and its “Deal of the Century,” Israel is aiming to develop and cultivate a 21st century model of this same illegitimate practice.

The “Deal of the Century” Proposes a New Bantustan Map

The essence of the “Deal of the Century” horror-show that took place in the White House in January was the new Bantustan map. Trump handed yet another gift to his good pal Netanyahu and presented, ahead of the Israeli elections, and in the presence of one side only, the plan his emissaries had devised in recent years. Its details, as well as the rhetoric used in the two leaders’ speeches, made clear that this was no “deal” but rather the realization of Netanyahu’s longstanding plan to deepen Israeli control over the West Bank, without its inhabitants enjoying any real freedom or basic political rights.

Trump, however, aspires not only to hand over almost a third of the territory of the West Bank to his friend but also — and perhaps most importantly — to grant him the mantle of international consensus. Thus, as in the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Trump is signaling his ability and intention to erase the longstanding policy of the international community and replace it as the authority that grants validity to changes in the political status of 
territories where conflicts are taking place.

This is bad news not only for Palestinians and Israelis. For years the United Nations has declared, in its various frameworks, that partitioning the land into two independent states is the only just and viable solution. This solution is premised on the concept that all 14 million people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea today have the right to independence, equality and dignity, and that the path to assure “a voice for every person” entails ending more than half a century of Israeli occupation and partitioning the country on the basis of the 1967 borders. Important and prominent institutions such as the European Union and the Arab League have repeatedly expressed their support for and commitment to this model, as have previous U.S. Administrations — Republican and Democrat alike. The international community’s rhetorical commitment to the two-state solution, however, has not led it to take any real action. Thus, Netanyahu and Trump have apparently come to the conclusion that the path is clear to advancing their vision of annexation and apartheid.

Accordingly, the map attached to the “Deal of the Century” requires a double reading: On the Israeli-Palestinian level, it is an imitation of the Bantustan model, in which the various Palestinian areas are surrounded by Israeli-ruled territories and the tunnels and bridges intended to allow movement between the different segments of the “state of Palestine” are also controlled by Israel. On the political level, the plan is a declaration that the U.S. president is co-opting the authority of the international community and is signaling that it is within his sole power and authority to legitimize the creation of a new model of apartheid.

It is, however, both possible and necessary to give a resounding response to this arrogant display of power.

An additional idea included in the “Deal of the Century” proposes the relocation of a quarter of a million Israeli Arab citizens to the area of the Palestinian enclaves. This, too, is reminiscent of the cruel policy of transfer that moved tens of thousands of black South Africans from their original homes to the Bantustans scattered throughout the country.

The Voice of the International Community Must Be Heard

Just a little over three years ago, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) overwhelmingly approved Resolution 2334, which states that the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are illegal and that no border changes to the 1967 ceasefire line will be recognized, except those agreed upon by the parties themselves. Today, in response to the unilateral steps advanced by Trump and Netanyahu, and in light of the latter’s announcement of his intention to implement annexation of parts of the West Bank in the coming months, it is incumbent upon the international community to make its voice heard loud and clear. It must not give its approval, even by its silence, to the new apartheid plan and to the perverse idea of Bantustans that constitutes an integral part of it. This would be a betrayal not only of millions of people living here, but also of the legacy of the international resistance to South African apartheid, and of the precedent it set.

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