F. W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, explains why the “multi-state solution” to apartheid didn’t work in his country, and why it would probably fail in Israel/Palestine
One of the ways the whites in South Africa tried to preserve the ethnic separation of apartheid was by introducing autonomous regions for the black minorities, known also as Bantustans. Some of the Bantustans even received “independence,” and unlike the Israeli government, the South African actually tried to have the international community recognize them. It even wanted them to have a seat at the UN but the trick didn’t work – the Bantustans weren’t sovereign nor separate; it was just another form of ethnic segregation and ethnic control. Curiously enough, Israel was the only country in the world to express some sort of limited recognition of their independent status, and one Bantustan even opened a trade mission in Tel Aviv under its own flag.
In an interview last week, the last white president of South Africa and the man who canceled the Bantustans, F. W. de Klerk, told the BBC what made the South African “multi-states solution” fail:
What I supported as a younger politician was exactly what the whole world now supports for Israel and Palestine, namely separate nation states will be the solution. In our case we failed. There were three main reasons. We failed because the whites wanted too much land for themselves. We failed because the majority of blacks said this is not how we want our political rights. And we failed because we became economically totally integrated. We became an economic omelet and you can never again divide an omelet into the white and the yellow of the egg. And we realized in the early eighties we had landed in a place which has become morally unjustified.
Is this where the two-states solution is also headed? All evidence points at this direction. The Jews want too much land for themselves, and their power allowed them to bring the settlement project to the point of no return; despite efforts on both sides, the economies are still linked to each other. One could claim that Israel is not as dependant on the Arab work force as South Africa was on the black work force, yet it still desires the land in the West Bank and the resources that come with it. The only real difference is between the black leadership in South Africa, which didn’t play along with the idea of the Bantustans, and the PLO, which is only too happy to run its own fantasy of an autonomous Authority. It’s not just President Abbas: Palestinian politics is still very much committed to the idea of a nation-state.
According to de-Klerk’s logic, a shift in Palestinian politics towards a consensus around the one-state solution might be all it takes to end any possibility of an ethnic/demographic separation in Israel/Palestine.