The following is adapted from a short talk I gave at NYU DISOrientation‘s “Chatroom IRL” this Thursday in Washington Square Park:
As the world waits to see when, and for how long, the US will finally save innocent Syrians by bombing them, one might be excused for missing the news that, elsewhere in “that part of the world”, the so-called peace process has once again been put on hold.
Palestinian Authority negotiators canceled a round of peace talks on Monday after 3 Palestinians were killed – and 15 wounded – in a night raid by the Israeli Defense Force on Qalandia, a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Israeli soldiers entered the camp to make arrests, and were met by a demonstration of local residents. Some threw rocks and empty bottles. The IDF responded by firing tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at the demonstrators. Among the dead was a 34-year-old United Nations employee on his way to work.
It’s understandable that many point to incidents like this one – and Israel’s approval, a day earlier, of some 1500 new homes in the illegal West Bank settlement of Ramat Shlomo – as proof that the Israeli government’s actions are once more dooming the negotiations to failure. To continue killing Palestinians and stealing their land, so the story goes, undermines the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict. But that’s not quite right. The peace process isn’t failing; it’s working brilliantly.
The longer negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership drag on, the more time Israel has to build settlements on Palestinian land. Let’s take the current framework, in which peace talks are supposed to lead to a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with land swaps. What are the land swaps supposed to be for? To keep large concentrations of Israeli Jews within Israel’s borders, and large concentrations of Palestinians out.
If the talks go on indefinitely, Israel wins and Palestinians lose: Israel keeps its Jewish majority inside “Israel proper”, and continues to deprive Palestinians living under military occupation of their basic rights. If the talks succeed, Israel wins and Palestinians lose: Having established settlements on the most useful land, Israel wipes its hands of the Palestinian population it never wanted anyway, while keeping the land and natural resources that would be needed for an economically viable Palestinian state.
So any alternative to the rigged negotiations – impartially brokered by the government that gives Israel upwards of $3 billion a year in military aid – has to soberly address all of the forms of violence Israel commits against Palestinians on a daily basis. This means that while we draw attention to Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements, it’s crucial to see those settlements as just a part of a larger system of ethnic cleansing, segregation, and discrimination. Israel isn’t two states: It’s one state, and that state is an apartheid state.
The state that just approved 1500 new, Jewish-only homes in Ramat Shlomo is the same state that has turned the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison with its draconian blockade, that has locked up and tortured around 7500 Palestinian children since 2000, and that is set to forcibly expel up to 40,000 Palestinian Bedouin from the Naqab (Negev) desert as part of the Prawer Plan.
It’s the same state that revoked the Israeli citizenship of 70,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, placing them under the military dictatorship that controls the West Bank, and whose racist land-planning and zoning regulations ban Palestinians from building in 87% of East Jerusalem, effectively strangling the hub of the Palestinian economy.
It’s the same state whose system of segregation and discriminatory laws deny Palestinian citizens of Israel the right to the same housing, land leasing, welfare benefits, and education as Jewish Israelis. If they are married to someone from the Occupied Territories, Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon, their spouse has no right to obtain citizenship or residency through marriage, and their children will be deported at age 12. They are more likely to be convicted of murder, denied bail, and receive severe sentences. They can be arrested without charge or trial and expelled from their homes while the area in which they live is cordoned off and declared a “militarily closed area”.
It’s the same state that, in its infancy, expelled some 750,000 Palestinians from their homes between 1947 and ’49. And it’s the same state that denies the 7 million Palestinian refugees – from that founding violence, and from the ongoing colonialism since – the right to return to their land and homes.
To move past the impasse of endless peace talks, to end the plight of Palestinians, we have to face all of these realities, and insist that Palestinian self-determination doesn’t just mean Palestinians being in charge of a nominally independent state. The people of the world have to heed the call of Palestinian civil society for “BDS”: Boycott of, Divestment from, and Sanctions against the state of Israel, those Israeli institutions that refuse to speak out against their government’s crimes, and companies that profit from apartheid. BDS has three core demands, all of which are necessary for Palestinian liberation and none of which entail the “destruction” of Israel:
- That Israel end its occupation of Palestinian land conquered in 1967.
- That Israel end its ethnic discrimination against its Palestinian citizens.
- That Israel grant Palestinian refugees their rights, including their right to return to their homeland.
The only real solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the end of Israeli apartheid.