"Only a true peace with neighboring peoples can
render possible a common development of this portion of the earth as a vanguard of the awakening of the Near East."

Martin Buber, Speech 1945

Who is afraid of Palestine?
August 13, 2001

One might think that Israel's worst nightmare is the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Such a state would endanger Israel strategically. It would impede Israel's defense, especially in a ground battle. Everyone knows how hopelessly narrow the Israeli territory would be. Militarily, it would be suicide.

Or so one might be led to think. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. A Palestinian state is indeed a headache, but not the Israelis'. It is Arafat who has the most to lose in such an event.

In fact, the worst thing Arafat can do to Israel is not to declare an independent state. The reason is that a Palestinian declaration of independence would mark the end of the Palestinian national struggle. It would be the equivalent of Mandela declaring independence in Gauteng or Mpumalanga, leaving the rest of South Africa to the whites.

By not setting up a Palestinian state, Arafat effectively achieves a strategic goal: it will force Israel into a state of apartheid. Slowly, the suffering of the Palestinian people will become apparent to everyone. Their lack of human rights will become a burning issue.

The Palestinian population, which doubles every 17 years, will labour under Israeli restrictions and brutality, until it becomes self-evident that the international community must intervene. As Arab influence increases in the West, especially in the US, the media will increasingly cast the Palestinians in the role of the victim and the Israelis in the role as villain. This is virtually inevitable because of the inflation that has occurred in the Jewish victim status.

One cannot purport to be victims and send F-16s to shell civilians.

And one should not underestimate the power of the media. Think of the impact of Fiddler on the Roof or Shindler's List on the minds of European and American voters and decision makers. As soon as the Palestinians begin manage their image in the West, the tide will turn. The process has already begun.

Should Arafat, on the other hand, decide to declare a state, three things are bound to occur: First, he will irretrievably lose all claims to areas within the Green Line. Second, Palestinian rejectionists like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, currently operating from neighbouring countries, will be asked to leave by the local governments. They will be asked to continue their fight against Israel from Palestine. Lastly, he will lose the plight of the Palestinian refugees. In the event of a Palestinian state, they will then have a country to return to.

As long as Palestine does not yet exist, the refugees' only address is Israel.

Even if Israel withdraws unilaterally, this will not solve the problem. By withdrawing without an agreement, Israel will cause chaos to erupt in the territories. Palestinians will be barred from participating in the Israeli economy. Palestinian standard of living will drop and security czars will rule a cantonised Palestine. At some point, a Palestinian leader with a vision like Mandela will appear. As soon as that happens, Israel is finished. Politically, economically, morally.

This is what the discussion at Durban Conference on Racism boils down to. If Zionism is racism then the whole project of Israel is racist and should be stopped. Not by abolishing Israel, but by delegitimising Zionism.

Again countries that spoke out when the rest of the world was silent are beginning to sound the alarms. Peace-loving states like Norway and Denmark are proposing to enact sanctions against Israel. In the case of South Africa, sanctions is what lead to a wide-scale flight of investors in the 1980s. In the end, the government had no choice but to ease the race laws that had oppressed the black and coloured populations since the enactment of legalised apartheid in 1948.

Arafat has no doubt realised this. He is making sure that it becomes impossible for Israel to implement a two-state solution. This can easily be achieved by a mixture of rejection of Israel's offers and a covert support of terrorism.

So if a Palestinian state is Arafat's nightmare, what should Israel do? If Israel is intent on protecting itself against the trap of apartheid, it should act immediately to make Arafat an offer he cannot refuse. This will entail an evacuation of the settlements and the erection of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It will entail a comprehensive and historic solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

Only then can Israel rest assured that the Palestinians will be duty bound by their promises to accept the peace deal. Thereby they will aid us in preserving Israel's Jewish nature and rescue us from impending moral bankruptcy.

Daniel Reisel

2001-2002 Brit Shalom