If left unchallenged, Israel's expansionist policies will make Jewish, Muslim, and Christian populations inseparable throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. At present, in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, there live 650,000 Jewish settlers among a population of 2.5 million Muslim and Christian Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip there are 1.5 million Palestinians and within Israel Proper there live 1.2 million Christian and Muslim Palestinians among 5 million Jewish Israelis. The existing demographics, which do not account for 6.5 million Palestinian refugees, demonstrate the approximate parity between the land's Jewish and non-Jewish populations.
Absent Palestinian sovereignty, Israel is imposing Jewish minority rule over the Palestinian population, thereby making an analogy to Apartheid South Africa undeniably apt.
Bibi's predecessors realized this well. During his tenure, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert commented that failure to create a Palestinian state would force Israel to "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished." Additionally, former Prime Minister and current Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, commented after leaving the prime minister’s post: “If, and as long as between the Jordan and the sea, there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic... If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don't, it is an apartheid state.”
Israel considers the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza as valuable in resources. It has access to lucrative natural gas reserves along Gaza's coast and in the West Bank it wants to cement its control of East Jerusalem and maintain access to a key source of water, the Western Aquifer. In fact, the 277 new settler homes that Israel approved on August 15 will expand Ariel, the largest West Bank settlement, lying over the territory’s largest water aquifer. Relinquishing control over the territories would effectively sever Israel's access to both. But Israel does not want to annex the West Bank and Gaza because it seeks to obscure an increasingly apartheid-like demographic reality.
Israel prefers to engage in bilateral negotiations with a compliant Palestinian counterpart while expanding its settlement enterprise, continuing the forced population transfer of indigenous Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and effectively changing the facts on the ground. In bilateral negotiations, Palestinians must contend with shifting realities and the American demand for a rights-stripping “pragmatism.”
Israelis and Americans prefer that the Palestinians accept partial sovereignty over disconnected swaths of land, thereby concealing an apartheid reality. Were it not for the Palestine Papers’ revelation of a dangerously compliant Palestinian Authority and the emergence of the Arab Spring, the Palestinian leadership may already have accepted a poor deal.
Statehood can certainly empower the Palestinian national leadership to more effectively hold Israel to account. But if the recent words of the PLO's Ambassador to the US are any indication, the Palestinian leadership is using the statehood bid as no more than a tactic to garner a stronger negotiating position vis-à-vis the US and Israel rather than as the first step in a new strategic course aimed at pressuring Israel to comply with human rights norms and international law.
If short-sighted, the Palestinian UN stratagem for statehood threatens to force Israel to get serious again about negotiations. And bilateral negotiations have long proven detrimental and counter-productive to Palestinians as they have devolved into a diplomatic veneer faintly covering Israel’s relentless settlement expansion. Statehood also risks unintentionally legitimizing a national program for self-governance that does not include a broader vision of self-determination for the entire Palestinian national body, specifically refugees in forced exile and citizens of the Israeli state.
Despite the best efforts of Israel and the US, the farce of negotiations has been thoroughly exposed and is gradually being replaced with a battle for equality and freedom against modern-day Apartheid. Palestinians globally are now preparing to pursue other options – equality in one state as eventually occurred in Apartheid South Africa and the segregated American South – as the US and Israel are clearly opposed to meaningful and long overdue Palestinian independence and freedom.
Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and currently an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University. She is a co-editor for Jadaliyya and its Occupation, Intervention, and Law page.