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Lesson from last apartheid president: 2-state solution to fail

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:

[h/t JSF/via Mondoweiss]

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.

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    1. I agree this is the direction, but I also think the White land grab was much more outrageous than in Is/Pal, seeing as how the Black population was 7 or 8 times bigger.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      The land pattern and passes are parallel.

      The economic integration argument isn’t.

      It’s an irony that one of the likud platforms was (not is), some regional economic integration.

      The term “single-state” is often used as a pejorative by some on the left when referring to the greater Israel version, then as an advocacy when referring to the integration version.

      As the term normalization is used as a pejorative when referring to the political agitation for a single state, but as an advocacy when referring to the effort to form a single state.

      Just different usages at different times and contexts? Or present and/or future confusion?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron

      Some essential differences between Israel and South Africa:
      Demographics. De Klerk talked about a civil war that would destroy the economy. Israel and the Palestinians have been fighting a war for decades, and the Israeli economy is doing just fine, thank you.
      The problem is not that the Jews want too much land for Israel. The problem is that the Palestinian leadership can’t or won’t take any state at this time as part of a final agreement, even if it had borders along the 1949 armistice lines.
      The world would love to recognize a sovereign state of Palestine, unlike the Bantustans.
      People have been saying for years that the settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are at “the point of no return.” After the relatively quick and easy evacuation of the Gaza settlements, it’s now supposedly those in Judea and Samaria that are at “the point of no return.” But they can be evacuated overnight, and they will be, if the Palestinians ever offer what the Israelis *perceive* as real peace.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron

      My first point above wasn’t clear. I meant that because Israeli Jews are not a small minority like white South Africans, they can survive economically even in a war against the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Eamonn Blaney

      Agreed! I totally support a one state solution but I don’t think it would not be fair or equitable to make Israeli’s wait ten years for their new ID cards or the right to vote in Palestinian elections.

      Doesn’t sound so appealing now, does it ???

      Reply to Comment
    6. Richard Witty

      South Africa is not parallel to Israel, fundamentally.

      Generalizations applying to one, don’t translate perfectly. More specific analysis is required.

      The demographics:

      South African whites (10%) ruling directly over South African blacks (90%).

      The Bantustans comprised a small % of South African blacks, most were still disenfranchised residents of South Africa proper.

      The South African economy was a classic colonial relationship (white ownership, black labor), along colonial lines. Israel/Palestine’s is much different and more complex.

      The population demographics in Israel/Palestine are close to 50/50 river to sea, a loss of Jewish Israeli parity in the event of full application of right of return. In Israel 80/20 with Arab participants in some Zionist parties, 90/10 in Palestine with no participation offered to Jewish residents.

      The demographics are of separate nations, not of integrated.

      Maybe that would change. It had changed in the early 80’s, where with the functional annexation during the Begin administration, it was an annexed single state.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Mikesailor

      There are many disingenuous arguments supporting the status quo but De Klerk is absolutely right, the apartheid state of Israel is self-destructing and will ultimately be proved to be a massive mistake. I particularly find it funny when Richard Witty attempts to distinguish South Africa from present day Israel. The demographic argument for instance. Does is really make a difference whether 10% of the population rules directly over 90%, or whether 50% rules over 50%? or that in Israel 80% rules over 20% where Arab and other non-Jews are relegated to the ‘back of the bus’, and freely discriminated against? Where Israel is given a free hand to occupy and steal from those in the ‘occupied territories’? Attempting to cite differences is insane when the underlying premises are the same. In south Africa, it was presupposed that the whites would dominate and not allow real political power to the indigenous population. In Israel, transpose Jews for the whites of South Africa and you have the same. Unless you enfranchise all, unless you change the underlying premise of Jewish superiority, nothing will work. Only more blood will be shed until the idea of Zionism is rightfully consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Was the division of India and Pakistan also parallel to South Africa and the bantustans? What about the creation of Southern Sudan next to Sudan? Or the redivision of the Balkans? I agree that what Israel has offered the Palestinians SO FAR amounts to a bantustan, but if Palestine were given the same sovereign rights as Israel or any other state, then it would just be another example of what’s happened over and over again around the world – the creation of new states for the purpose of separating nations that can’t get along under one roof.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Apa

      Larry, do you see a political situation in Israel willing and able to offer a solution that is not a bantustan? If yes, how? If no, how is the situation materially different from apartheid?

      Reply to Comment
    10. yaya

      APA, do you see a political situation in Israel willing and able to adopt a solution that spells the dismantlement of their state?

      I find it funny and at the same time troubling that those who say Israel would never come around to giving Palestinians the sovereign state they deserve, ceding 22% of the land, believe that Israelis would sooner agree to dismantle their state, ceding 100% of the land to an eventual Palestinian Arab majority.

      You’re doing the Palestinian cause a disservice when you take your eye off the ball, the occupation, and focus on rectifying 1948. Ultimately, South African apartheid’s demise came from the top-down, when those like De Klerk concluded that 10% ruling over 90% in a system based on perceived racial inferiority was unsustainable, and they worked to get the best deal possible for South African whites (keeping positions, holdings, etc.). The external and internal pressures that brought this about are just not there, nor will they be there, and you’re consigning the people on both sides to further conflict and occupation. I suppose the PA and the rest of the international community must be fellow “racist Zionists” to be so blind to these parallels.

      While you’re fighting your moral armchair fight to consign Zionism to the “dustbin of history”, remember to tell those in the West Bank, Lebanon, and in refugee camps around the Diaspora to keep on suffering the good fight because peace, prosperity, and normal lives come secondary to good ole fashioned “justice”.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Richard Witty

      There is “rectifying 1948” as in the Arab League succeeding in defeating Israel, correcting its mistakes.

      There is “rectifying 1948” as in the Arab League and Palestine accepting the 1947 UN partition plan.

      There is “rectifying 1948” as in really rectifying 1920-1948, in successfully restricting Jewish immigration.

      There is “rectifying 1948” as in hoping that nazi Germany never took power, and then never forced European Jewry to seek haven.

      There is “rectifying 1948” as in hoping that nazi Germany took more power, won, so that the Jewish problem would be eliminated, as planned.

      There is “rectifying 1948”, meaning that the nakba never happened, and was just some people’s collective imagination, you know like the Armenian holocaust.

      There is “rectifying 1948”, my choice, as in Israel accepted internationally, and then repealing the 1949-1951 knesset laws prohibiting Palestinians from making land title and residence claims, then expropriating “abandoned” lands, and giving Palestinians their day in court, at which point its done.

      Hard to know which “rectifying 1948” Palestinians and Israelis and their supporters, are referring to.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Curious

      The comparisons to other situations are halting in their relevance.

      Witty tries to desperately move away from the Apartheid analogy, even Derfner tries that. But that’s precisely what it is in the Occupied Territories.

      The situation in Israel today is increasingly like the one in Jim Crow American South. The blacks were actually a smaller proportion than the Whites in the Deep South, but they were brutalized anyway in the most vicious ways.

      Today in Israel, communities, within the green line, can discriminate against Arabs even if it’s carefully worded in the law as not to implicate ethnicity, everyone knows why the law was signed into practice.

      Apartheid South Africa is the most apt to use in the West Bank. South/North Sudan is different in many other ways, partly because it’s the same people/religion to a large, but not full, extent.

      All historical analogies are imperfect, and Israel is a mix between Apartheid South Africa in the Occupied Territories and Jim Crow. Although it should be said, Arabs still have it better within the green line than blacks during Jim Crow, but that situation is rapidly deteriorating.

      Another sidecomment: White-rule South Africa at least built schools and the like for blacks, something Israel does not for the Arabs it controls in the Occupied Territories. In fact, one of the foremost anti-Apartheid civil rights heroes from that era, a professor of whose name I do not remember at the time of writing(but I could get back with a name if someone wants it), stated a few months back that Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Territories is actually worse than what he witnessed and fought against during Apartheid.

      Mearsheimer believes the 2SS is dead, the settlement project has been pushed beyond the point of no return. I’m inclined to agree. Likud is still against it, and Netanyahu has shown zero will to make anything substantial happen on the front despite the media propaganda.

      And even if Netanyahu would try, his coalition would fall apart and disintegrate within a New York Minute if he ever came close to any solution. And Labor’s new leader has been reaching out to settlers in order to expand the voting base.

      There’s no real opposition to the gradual annexation and the fulfillment of the Jewish Apartheid(as horrendeous as it sounds) state within Israeli politics today. Remember under whom settlements increased most. It’s a question of pace. In fact, the record under Likud is fairly benign in comparison to Kadima and/or Labor.

      My end guess is that we won’t see a 1SS. We will see the dissipation of Israel, and the massive immigration of Israeli Jewry to the Anglosphere, mainly, as well as scattered showers to Germany and Eastern Europe. And what they’ll leave behind is one big Palestine, because they couldn’t control their greed so they lost it all.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Bosko

      “Was the division of India and Pakistan also parallel to South Africa and the bantustans? What about the creation of Southern Sudan next to Sudan? Or the redivision of the Balkans? I agree that what Israel has offered the Palestinians SO FAR amounts to a bantustan, but if Palestine were given the same sovereign rights as Israel or any other state, then it would just be another example of what’s happened over and over again around the world – the creation of new states for the purpose of separating nations that can’t get along under one roof”
      Well said, I agree with most of this except in the interim. There has to be a well defined period of time, say 10 to 20 years iduring which the new Palestinian state would be prohibited from establishing a substantial army of it’s own. During that time, let them concentrate on building their state and their future. And from Israel’s point of view, if it gives up lands under it’s control which was previously (pre 1967) was used as a base to attack Israel, then it has to have an interim period during which it could build confidence that such attacks will not recurr in the future.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Sol


      The most important essential difference between Israel and South Africa:

      The United States supports Israel, Judea and Samaria, and the settlements.

      The United States opposed apartheid South Africa.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Kibbutznik


      ” The United States supports Israel, Judea and Samaria, and the settlements. ”
      dont agree with the above Sol
      the US supports Israel proper and certain elements within american politics support Judea and Samaria and the settlements but Obama and many Jewish Democrats do not .

      Reply to Comment
    16. John Daniel Gore

      Ami, you have conveniently forgotten the Palestinian diaspora– the people violently driven from their land and all of their descendants. Actually, this exposes that the situation in Historic Palestine is even MORE extreme. Israel has only been more clever about masking apartheid and finding ways to make it more intense through technology and more feasible through propaganda.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Richard Witty

      Before the first intifada, and immediately after Oslo, Israel did build schools, hospitals, electricity access, etc in the West Bank.

      Before the intifida in the then annexed single-state, the social services were afforded to “Israelis”. That was apartheid Israel, land annexed, but no voting rights to West Bank Palestinians.

      After Oslo, services were afforded to assist PA delivery of those services.

      In the ramp up to the second intifada and since, Israel got frustrated with damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and more or less gave up.

      The solution to the mess is still the two-state. You can call a 67-border Palestine a Bantustan if you want, but that would be a distraction from what Palestinians would need at that point.

      There is a gross tragedy with the left’s agitation for a free South Africa. That is that after South Africa dissolved political and legal apartheid, the left abandoned the people of South Africa, who still suffer underdevelopment and quite extreme poverty.

      They weren’t committed enough to actually help, to actually work.

      The same is a prospect for Palestinians and Palestine. The measure of success is the relative health and well-being of Palestinians, not the political.

      Free from poverty. Stay committed. Get your commitment to be comprehensive and not just political.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Jaime

      The comparison between South Africa and this
      Israel/Palestine conflict doesn’t work because the Blacks did not insist upon the complete extermination and cleansing the land of all the whites, like Hamas wants to do to all of the Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    19. AYLA

      @jaime–there are certainly differences and comparisons are dangerous, but/and, that’s boring, finger-in-ears propaganda that just keeps feeding this conflict based on fear and hatred. Thanks for the valuable contribution to society, from wherever, far-away from this place, you reside.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Borg

      I think the Korean peninsula offers a better look at the future. Israel as S Korea, and Palestine as N Korea. The chances of a one state solution are even more remote than Korea, as the Koreans are the same people, but Israelis and Palestinians are different. In fact, Palestinian identity is based upon negating Israeli identity

      Reply to Comment
    21. adrienne

      I just don’t get this conversation. Is Israel the most horrible unjust place anywhere in the world? There is slavery in India (they also claim to be a democracy)China and various states throughout the middle east and Africa have terrible Human Rights violations. if the Arab world were really behind a Palestinian state, it would have existed by now. Its very convienient for oppressive oil rich arab states to shine the light on Israel so they don’t have to take responsibility

      Reply to Comment
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