Opinionista Oscar van Heerden 19 May 2021

Israel must take the lead, broker a ceasefire, and pave the way to a united, secular state

A two-state solution for Israel was stillborn in Oslo. What we need to strongly consider now is a one-state solution.

Oscar van Heerden

Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Palestinian lives are cheap. Just because you fail to constitute a government or better yet, none of the opposition parties want to partner with you to form a government, and out of fear of having to stand trial for corruption, Benjamin Netanyahu concocted a plan to divert attention away from him and his party and thus pick a fight with the mortal enemy, the Palestinians. And who is now addressing the Israelis on almost all the news networks and who’s getting his approval ratings back up? The beleaguered prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

And what better timing than in the holiest month on the Islamic calendar Ramadan, and at one of the holiest sites as well. Teargas, rubber bullets and batons soon got replaced with guns, live ammunition, missiles and mortars. And yet again, we see Palestinians being slaughtered for political point-scoring.

One must also remind everyone that this conflict was in part because of a stupid decision taken by former US President Donald Trump to move the US embassy to disputed Jerusalem and as such gave credence to the envisaged eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In other words, let’s complete the project and take total control of the disputed city. Let’s rid it of all the last vestiges of Palestinians, and make it truly a completely Jewish city.

I’m not going to attempt to give context or recite the history of these peoples, I think that often these are used to confuse and misdirect what in reality the current status in the Middle East is.

What I do however want to concentrate on are two very important issues in this conflict. One, that a two-state solution is no longer a viable option to finding a lasting solution to this conflict; and two, to provide an explanation as to why Israeli Jews don’t care about what they do to the Palestinians.

On the first matter, it is rather apparent now and has been for some years that the Oslo peace deal was never going to see the light of day. Israel was never an honest broker in those negotiations and we see it with the continuous settlement expansions since that accord, and the intensification of military occupation and every attempt being made to ensure that Palestine doesn’t become a viable state. Blocking the fact that they must have an airport, ensuring that all routes to the sea are patrolled and monitored, making sure that Palestinians must enter and exit through checkpoints throughout the territories, and so much more.

And before some of you ask whether I have visited the region — and this is a popular refrain from certain quarters as if I will be discovering the opposite of what I’m writing about — I have not and the argument about the lived experience is a crap one. You know why, because it did not take Palestinians, Irish, Americans or Jews from other parts of the world to have been to South Africa to support the anti-apartheid Struggle. They participated in solidarity because they simply knew it was a wrong and inhumane system and had to be crushed. The very same applies here in the case of Israel. Living by the sword will not be your redemption, on the contrary, it will be your eventual downfall, just like the apartheid SA state.

It is for this reason that a two-state solution was stillborn in Oslo. What we need to strongly consider now is a one-state solution. Yes, Israel will have to cease being a Jewish state and you know what, the heavens won’t fall. Just like the heavens did not fall when SA took a bold decision to become one nation, united in its diversity. It will evidently be a difficult transition and yes, many laws and rights would have to be guaranteed and the constitution of the new country will have to ensure minority rights among other rights and responsibilities, but hey, we could do it, so why can’t you?

As for the second matter, here I would like to defer to one of Israel’s sons of the soil. Gideon Levy, a journalist by profession, was born in Tel Aviv, served in the Israeli Defence Force and at some point was an adviser to Shimon Peres, then-leader of the Israeli opposition in the late 1970s and early 1980s. So he has been around the block, as they say.

In a speech delivered to the Israeli lobby in the US in April 2015, he states that Jews such as himself — and there are millions — understanding and having an appreciation for the plight of the Palestinians, have come to the inescapable conclusion that thinking there will be an internal solution found in Israel for this conflict will never happen. Why you might ask? Well, according to Levy, the ordinary Israeli is too brainwashed. In fact, he states that “because the Israeli society is by far today too brainwashed; life in Israel is by far too good. And Israel, let’s face it, is a society that lives in denial, totally disconnected from reality. Would it be a private person, I would recommend either medications or hospitalisation because people who lose connection with reality might be very dangerous either to themselves or to society.

When J Street was established, we said, ‘Yay, here it comes.’ And it didn’t come. When Obama was elected, I had tears in my eyes. I said, ‘Here it comes.’ And it didn’t come. And when I see conferences like this here today, again, it gives me some hope that change might happen, because change will have to take place here. In Israel it’s a lost case — forget about it.

Israel, living by the sword — one must ask, does it work? Has it ever worked? It ultimately did not in SA.

Levy goes further: “When J Street was established, we said, ‘Yay, here it comes.’ And it didn’t come. When Obama was elected, I had tears in my eyes. I said, ‘Here it comes.’ And it didn’t come. And when I see conferences like this here today, again, it gives me some hope that change might happen, because change will have to take place here. In Israel it’s a lost case — forget about it.”

According to Levy, “Israeli society has surrounded itself with shields, with walls, not only physical walls but also mental walls. But this is the nub of the argument for me.” Levy then says, “I’ll just give the three principles which enable us Israelis to live so easily with this brutal reality.

“a) Most of the Israelis, if not all of them, deeply believe that we are the chosen people. And if we are the chosen people, we have the right to do whatever we want.

“b) There were more brutal occupations in history. There were even longer occupations in history, even though the Israeli occupation gets to quite a nice record. But there was never in history an occupation in which the occupier presented himself as the victim — not only the victim but the only victim around. This also enables any Israeli to live in peace because we are the victims.

“And here, I get to the third set of values that enable us Israelis to live in peace with the occupation. This is maybe the most crucial one and the worst one. We say victimisation, we say chosen people. When I say victimisation, it goes without saying, we have to mention the Holocaust and the unforgettable Mrs Golda Meir that the American Jewry had exported to Israel. She said once — this unforgettable woman — that after the Holocaust the Jews have the right to do whatever they want. But the third set of values is the most dangerous one.

“c) This is the systematic de-humanisation of the Palestinians, which enables us Israelis to live in peace with everything because if they are not human beings like us, then there is not really a question of human rights. And if you scratch under the skin of almost every Israeli, you will find it there. Almost no one will treat the Palestinians as equal human beings like us.”

Levy indicates that “I once wrote that we treat the Palestinians like animals. I got so many protest letters from animal rights organisations — rightly so. But by the end of the day, how many Israelis did ever try for a moment to put themselves in the place of the Palestinians, for a moment, for one day?”

He then makes two examples, and I must confess the second example was gut-wrenching for me.

“Many years ago, I interviewed then-candidate for prime minister Ehud Barak. I asked him a question which I try to ask on any occasion, ‘Mr Barak, what would have happened if you would have been born Palestinian?’ And Barak gave me then the only honest answer he could give me. He said, ‘I would have joined a terror organisation.’ What else would he have done? Would he become a poet? He doesn’t know how to write poems. Would he become a pianist? He’s quite a bad pianist, and I doubt if he would have become a collaborator because he is a fighter. And it became a scandal, because how can you dare to put Ehud Barak to think what would have happened if he would have become a Palestinian?

“And the second incident briefly, during the Second Intifada, the city of Jenin, the most closed city in the West Bank, real total siege. I go out from Jenin. I come to the checkpoint. A Palestinian ambulance is parking there with the red lights. I stand after him, no cars can get out of Jenin in those days; no cars can get in. And I wait. The soldiers start playing backgammon in the tent. Usually, I know myself, it’s better that I don’t get into confrontations with the soldiers, because it always ends up very badly. So, I stayed in the car. But after 40 minutes, I couldn’t take it.

“I went out from the car. I went first to the Palestinian ambulance driver. I asked him, what’s going on? He told me that’s the routine, they let me wait one hour until they come and check the ambulance. And I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the soldiers. It became a confrontation but the question that I asked them which really brought them to direct their weapons toward me was one: what would happen if your father was lying in this ambulance? This freaked them out. They lost control. How can I dare to compare between their father and the Palestinian in the ambulance? This set of beliefs, that they are not human beings like us, enable us Israelis to live in so much peace with those crimes, ongoing crimes for so many years, without losing any kind of humanity, values I heard today.”

Israel is the bigger power here, just like the National Party was the bigger power in SA, they must be the one to propose a ceasefire, they must take the lead and make that inevitable difficult decision, to end the conflict and become a secular state in which all can live together in harmony, united in its diversity. This can be done.

Because the continuous slaughter of a people, the systematic killing of children and the ongoing oppression and repression of Palestinians will result in everyone in the world coming to the simple conclusion that, Israel and the US will in the end be seen as enemies of humanity.

This is the urgency of the moment! DM

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All Comments 9

  • That is a bold suggestion with some merit. The idea of the 2 state solution seems to become more unlikely each year. Very few would have dreamed of such a possibility in 1960s or 70s South Africa. Hamas has a role to play here too. Warfare such as this is not about strength, but hearts & minds. Both sides are fuelling escalation and that has to change.

  • “Benjamin Netanyahu concocted a plan to divert attention away from him and his party and thus pick a fight with the mortal enemy, the Palestinians.” Really Oscar? How gossamer thin is your anti-semitic stance, how palpably ludicrous is your assumption on the cause of the latest conflict.

      • This article is not a criticism of Israel. “make it truly a completely Jewish city” “why Israeli Jews don’t care about what they do to the Palestinians” “Palestinians, Irish, Americans or Jews” “Israel will have to cease being a Jewish state”. Please Meirion – this is about “Jews”. And I’m no bigot.

  • While I don’t know if this solution will work, the simple fact that the US supports this with billions of dollars is a huge issue. It is Apartheid, just along religious beliefs.

    Also, sadly I have a Jewish friend who left SA for Israel, and he is now indoctrinated into this way of thinking.

    • Apartheid? If someone said to me their sole ambition and purpose in life was to obliterate me and my country from the face of this earth, I imagine I might take a slightly jaundiced view of that person.

  • What a heart-breaking article. Perhaps because it rings so true. When and how do we learn we are all the same? As a white South African I’m ashamed of what was done in my name. As a nominal Jew, I feel much the same shame.

  • It’s good to see analysis, even if it assumes the actors actually care. Netanyahu needs right-wing support so he’s resurrecting apartheid. China +US make the UNSC impotent. Arab leaders are killing each other for bigger allowances. In SA, everyone is too busy trying find a vaccine roll-out tender.

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