In his address to the U.S. Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in effect told the world that Israel plans to confine the Palestinian population to demilitarized Bantustans with limited self rule. He also said no to a shared Jerusalem, and no to right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The mind-boggling reaction was an endless series of standing ovations and general approval from the Israeli public and political establishment. Meanwhile, Israeli sources announced the inauguration of a Jewish-only colony, Har Hazeetim in Silwan, an Arab village south of Jerusalem, with the participation of Israeli ministers, parliament members and heads of political parties.
The Palestinian Authority, as expected, responded to Netanyahu with a whimper. President Mahmoud Abbas met with his Cabinet to discuss what to do, and apparently has yet to come out with any new ideas to compel the Israeli government to rethink its position. Many are predicting that Abbas may indeed be the last president of the Palestinian Authority. The entity is on its death bed.
Palestinian activists understood Netanyahu’s speech as confirmation of the two-state solution’s demise. For years, Palestinians have warned that Israel was moving forward with the apartheid model put into place by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Sharon, who was found by the Israeli Kahan Commission Inquiry “to bear personal responsibility” for allowing the massacres of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla, began the project of building the notorious apartheid wall in the West Bank in 2002. The route of the wall gave Palestinians a hint of what was to come — the entrenchment of an apartheid system. In 2004, he began plans to disengage from Gaza. The wall and disengagement plan aimed to create the demographic balance needed for Israel to realize its dream of annexing Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Former Palestinian independent MP Hanan Ashrawi told AFP news in 2004 that “Sharon’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a smokescreen, because he is consolidating settlement activity in the West Bank and completely modifying the demographic and cultural make-up of Jerusalem. The Gaza Strip was a demographic and security burden for Israel. By withdrawing from it unilaterally, Sharon is turning it into a large prison.”
Today, we clearly see the outcome of the plan Sharon put in motion. Netanyahu can reap the benefit of ridding Israel of 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip while confining the Palestinians in the West Bank to Bantustans surrounded by walls, checkpoints, roads for settlers and non-West Bank Palestinians, and security zones that altogether annex more than 50 percent of the West Bank. Netanyahu’s offer to the Palestinians, which includes land swaps in a demilitarized state, only means that Palestinians will have fragmented bits of land divided up by the Israeli matrix system of apartheid.
The primary responsibility of Palestinians today is to form a strong, nonviolent, unified resistance movement that can truly challenge Israel’s oppressive policies and ultimately bring down its system of apartheid. The nonviolent resistance movement must learn from its past mistakes and continue to adopt tactics that are both strategic and morally acceptable. This movement can only be strengthened by the presence of strong global solidarity through the boycott, divestment and sanctions model.
The U.S. Congress has clearly abdicated a responsible role with its cheerleading for apartheid and occupation policies. When the American government was slow to react to apartheid, South African anti-apartheid groups took the lead in taking their case to the American people and people around the world. We must do the same to explain that apartheid walks hand in hand with the Israeli occupation