With annexation plan looming, Israel grapples with reality of apartheid | Middle East Eye

With annexation plan looming, Israel grapples with reality of apartheid | Middle East Eye

25 Giugno 2020 0 Di marco zinno

On 15 June 1967, five days after the end of the Middle East war, the Israeli cabinet met for the second time since the ceasefire was announced.

Menachem Begin, the historical leader of the nationalistic Herut party – which would later become Likud – had joined the government only a few days before the war, having previously been treated as a pariah by the successive Zionist “social democrat” ruling parties in the first 19 years of Israel’s existence.

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Begin was enthusiastic about Israel’s territorial gains during the war, as it was now occupying the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. He was adamant about maintaining Israeli control over lands west of the Jordan River.

“Regarding Western Eretz Israel (the land of Israel), we should not give back one millimetre,” he said.

As for the “Arabs” – referring to Palestinians – living in these areas, Begin had a suggestion. For the first seven years they would be “residents, not citizens”, and after this period of time, “we could humanely ask each one of them if he wishes to be a loyal citizen or to go to another country. Supposing that the majority would stay, that should not frighten us”.

Fifty-three years later, this plan never came to pass, as millions of Palestinians continue to live under the rule of a military occupation.

But the impending annexation of parts of the West Bank on 1 July has disrupted the status quo and become a catalyst for debate in the Israeli political class that would have been unthinkable even a few months ago: whether Israel is an apartheid state.

Decades of right-wing policy

Ten years after what Begin referred to as the “liberation of Eretz Israel” in that 1967 cabinet meeting, he was elected prime minister. Yet neither he nor his Likud party over the span of the last 43 years ever tried to implement his vision to grant citizenship to Palestinians in the occupied territories, which would have – at least in theory – turned the whole of historic Palestine into a single, democratic state.

Instead, successive prime ministers from Likud – along with their allies from the nationalist and religious right – pushed forward and encouraged settlement expansion in the occupied territories in violation of international law, helping the settler population expand to more than 400,000 in 2018.

Yet all failed to present a political vision or programme for how they envisioned the final status of areas occupied since 1967. The settlements had above all a preventive role: to spread out across the West Bank, disconnecting Palestinian cities and villages from each other, in order to impede the “danger” of an independent and contiguous Palestinian state.

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While successive centre-left leaders such as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and even Ehud Olmert tried – or at least pretended – to look for a negotiated solution to the “Palestinian problem” as they would call it, the right-wing bloc was busy creating facts on the ground in order to make sure any such solution would fail.

After being reelected in 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu perfected this right-wing strategy.

On the one hand, he ignored the Palestinian leadership and brought the peace process – however flawed it may have been – to a total standstill.

On the other hand, he continued to encourage settlement building, while refraining from presenting an end-game vision or political proposition to end the conflict – with the exception of his famous 2009 Bar Ilan speech, where he expressed support for conditional recognition of a Palestinian state, a move he later regretted.

This strategy has often been called “status quo”, but in effect it has been de facto annexation, without the legal burden involved in a de jure annexation.

With Palestinians struggling for over half a century under a military system stripping them of most of their rights, while Israeli settlers benefit from full rights guaranteed by the state of Israel, pro-Palestinian figures have long argued that the occupation has been a de facto apartheid system.

With Israel seeking to effectively enshrine annexation into law, the comparisons with South Africa’s now-defunct racialised segregationist regime are now becoming harder to dismiss or ignore.

The far-right outbids itself

But why have Netanyahu and his allies among the settlers – with the acquiescence of the Blue and White party of Benny Gantz, with whom Netanyahu has formed a coalition government – decided to give up their policy of de facto annexation for a de jure one?

Many settlers feel that the battle to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state has been won in their favour, and that it is therefore time to move to the next stage.

Currently on trial over corruption charges, Netanyahu needs settlers’ support in order to stay in power – even if it means throwing aside his previous prudent approach.

Sorgente: With annexation plan looming, Israel grapples with reality of apartheid | Middle East Eye

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