Thursday, October 20, 2005


Dennis Ross offers the interesting suggestion that South Africa should get more involved in Palestinian affairs, while at the same time quibbling with the comparison:
Yasir Arafat loved to equate the Palestinian struggle for statehood with the struggle of South Africans against apartheid, but his was always a false analogy. In South Africa, less than 15 percent of the population controlled all the power and wealth and subjected the other 85 percent to a degrading, inhuman and segregated existence. For the oppressed majority, the answer was not one state for non-whites and one for whites; rather, the goal was justice and majority rule.

Compare that to the Palestinian movement for self-determination. Arabs today remain a minority in the area that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. To be sure, given demographic trends, Jews will become a minority in that area within this decade, but even by 2050, Arabs would outnumber Jews by only 60 percent to 40 percent.

I really don't think demography is the pertinent aspect of apartheid, as if segregation and institutionalized racism would have been less despicable if the whites were a majority in South Africa. It certainly didn't make it less despicable when it was practiced in the United States, nor does it now in Israel, where Israeli Arabs live under a form of Jim Crow.

As for the occupied West Bank, the term apartheid is insufficient to describe the condition of 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs corralled within a series of military checkpoints for the benefit of 450,000 Israeli settlers.

Ross is probably right that the Palestinians would benefit from imitating the ANC a bit more, but I reject his root assumption that the Palestinians must prove themselves worthy of their own state, must prove that they deserve to have the military occupation of their land and the daily brutalization of their people ended. This argument would never have flown in regards to South Africa.


On a side note, though he doesn't specifically mention it, Ross's putting the onus on the Palestinians is of a piece with his efforts over the past few years to cast blame on Arafat and deflect it from Barak and Clinton (and himself) for the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I still run into intelligent people who regurgitate the "Arafat walked away from Barak's generous offer! This proves Arafat didn't really want peace!" line, given that this is virtually the only version on offer in U.S. media. It's simple, it's straightforward, and it safely plays into American assumptions about the reasonableness of people in suits versus the unreasonableness of people in kaffiyehs. It's true that Arafat didn't accept Barak's offer, because that offer was DOA. Arafat knew that Barak would not have been able to sell the offer to his own government, not least because of the opposition of people like Ariel Sharon. Was Arafat wrong not to counter-offer at Camp David? Very probably. Don't get me started on things that Arafat should have done. But the fact remains that Arafat warned the Clinton administration coming into the negotiations that he and his team had not had adequate time to prepare, and that he would not be pressured into accepting a deal. As it was, pressure was brought to bear from the moment Arafat arrived at Camp David. The only thing his refusal of Barak's offer proves was that he paid attention to Israeli politics.

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