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Are Palestinians walking into a trap at the UN?

When the South African government tried to build non-sovereign states for its blacks they were soundly rejected by the world community. But now the Palestinians appear to be the ones seeking to legitimise their own Bantustan.

Virginia Tilley has  a very important post up on Electronic Intifada, discussing the possibility the Palestinian bid at the UN is a political suicide of sorts. She argues they are defiantly riding into the very trap the South African national movement managed to avoid: International recognition for divided, isolated, powerless cantons as a “nation state” solution for national aspirations of the oppressed.  She suggests:

…it’s no exaggeration to propose that this idea, although well-meant by some, raises the clearest danger to the Palestinian national movement in its entire history, threatening to wall Palestinian aspirations into a political cul-de-sac from which it may never emerge. The irony is indeed that, through this maneuver, the PA is seizing — even declaring as a right — precisely the same dead-end formula that the African National Congress (ANC) fought so bitterly for decades because the ANC leadership rightly saw it as disastrous. That formula can be summed up in one word: Bantustan.


The Bantustans were designed to correspond roughly to some of the historical territories associated with the various black “peoples” so that they could claim the term “Homelands.” This official term indicated their ideological purpose: to manifest as national territories and ultimately independent states for the various black African “peoples” (defined by the regime) and so secure a happy future for white supremacy in the “white” Homeland (the rest of South Africa). So the goal of forcibly transferring millions of black people into these Homelands was glossed over as progressive: 11 states living peacefully side by side (sound familiar?).

The idea was first to grant “self-government” to the Homelands as they gained institutional capacity and then reward that process by declaring/granting independent statehood… the most urgent mission of apartheid South Africa — getting the indigenous people to declare statehood in non-sovereign enclaves — finally collapsed with mass black revolt and took apartheid down with it, yet the Palestinian leadership now is not only walking right into that same trap but actually making a claim on it.

And drives it home:

It must be obvious that, if Israel had stood up in the international stage and said “as you are, you are now a state” that Palestinians and everyone else would have rejected the claim out of hand as a cruel farce. Yet getting the Palestinians to declare statehood themselves allows Israel precisely the outcome that eluded the apartheid South African regime: voluntary native acceptance of “independence” in a non-sovereign territory with no political capacity to alter its territorial boundaries or other essential terms of existence — the political death capsule that apartheid South Africa could not get the ANC to swallow.

Tilley’s warnings echo much of what I’ve felt regarding the two-state solution in any realistically attainable form, but the prospect of self-imposed international recognition for a shredded, disfigured non-entity of a state is, indeed, an especially frightening one. I strongly suggest you read the entire thing, complete with a thorough explanation of the Bantustan tactic in South Africa and its differences and similarities to the prospects in Israel-Palestine.

My main beef with her text is her assertion Israel is only raising a ruckus about September to convince the Palestinians to go for it (hence “getting” in the last quote; there’s more assertive speculation in the text itself).  Israel may well be poised to benefit a potential diplomatic development, as Tilley argues; but it could at the same time devoting every conceivable effort to undermine it. Wouldn’t be the first time.

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    1. Heloisa Pait

      It’s kind of spooky to compare Israel with South Africa. So a less than ideal Palestine is bad because the end goal will be further away?
      What is the end goal? South Africa? One country?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Sam

      Not all Palestinians approve of this step – it’s a move designed by Abu Mazen and his sellout cronies.

      It’s the worst possible solution for the Palestinians, I think.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Vickie

      I think this venture has only one practical application: to prove that Israel is completely incapable of dealing fairly with Palestinians. Most of the world already knows that, but I think this move will demonstrate it to average Americans and Israelis.

      The two state solution only works for Israel. Best case scenario, Palestine becomes a welfare state much like most of the European colonies in Africa. Worst case scenario for Palestinians–but best case for Zionists–establishment of Palestinian state, support of state by surrounding Arab countries that have recently seen upheaval, Israeli aggression against someone they try to exile to the new ‘state’, retaliation by a Palestinian, invasion by Israel, capture of all Palestinian lands, including newly disorganized and chaotic Arab areas…domination of all of “Israel” from the river to the river…World War III.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sylvia

      “From a rumor, to a rising murmur, the proposal floated by the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Ramallah leadership to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally has suddenly hit center stage.”
      Rumor? floated? suddenly? Hardly. The Declaration of a Palestinian Independent State at the UN in 2011 was officially announced two years ago in the widely publicized Palestinian National Authority Program of August 2009 entitled :

      Palestine – Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State
      Program of the Thirteenth Government
      August 2009

      I quote:
      “We call on our people to unite behind this program and the government’s vision to transform it into a reality. This is the path to freedom. This is the path to the creation of the independent state of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. And, yes, this can and must happen within the next two years.”
      I think you all should start doing some research before you feed others your drivel. That document has been available on the Internet. What I see in that article is a bizarre bazar of conspiracy theories in which the writers are desperatly struggling to place the “apartheid’ label, like one tries to force into a puzzle a piece that doesn’t fit. Enough. Have some shame and start looking at facts instead of serving stupidities.
      This has been planned, it has been planned by the Palestinian Authority with full knowledge and cooperation of the people, and the leadership didn’t and wasn’t going to move one iota from their program, no matter what Netanyahu was or wasn’t prepared to give. Of course it would have made it easier to get the settlements expansion stopped (but not destroyed) when you plan to make Jerusalem your capital.
      With all the facts out there for all to see, there are still those who call the move an Israeli conspiracy! How deluded can one be?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Sylvia, two years time is actually are pretty quick turnover from a hypothetical proposal to a political actuality, especially under an occupation (under which the proposal could have been realized at any time) that has lasted over 40 years in the West Bank. So to say that it emerged from a rumor to a murmur to an actuality over the course of those two years is by no means “drivel”. Saying so makes you look silly.

      Also, I think that everybody on this thread should read Guy Goodwin-Gill’s legal opinion on the Palestinian declaration of statehood. He is the international jurist who recognized the illegality of the separation wall because of its intrusion into Palestinian territory. He clearly states how the declaration disenfranchises Palestinians, both within Israel as well as in the diaspora. The text is at http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/238962-final-pdf-plo-statehood-opinionr-arb.html.

      You may call some “deluded” for saying that the proposal is not consistent with Palestinian popular demands. But you’d be entirely wrong. The declaration of statehood undermines the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions until their demands are fulfilled: an end of the occupation, equality for all Palestinians, and the right to return for Palestinian refugees.
      Basically, the declaration is a coup de’tat for the PA from the PLO.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Joseph

      This is precisely the subject of my master’s dissertation I’m writing right now! Brilliant! I am glad someone else has put it out there so thoroughly. Her post may provide a valuable source for me to use. Do a google search for a map of the West Bank, and a search for a map of South Africa bantustans, and the similarities are undeniable from appearance alone. Then, delve into the proportions of land for whites and blacks and Jews and Palestinians, population density comparatively, and the stated goals of the Israeli and South African governments for these policies, and you have a pretty convincing argument (and my dissertation outline). Thanks Dimi for posting./

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sylvia

      Matt Graber
      That program and the philosophy behind it are known as FAYYADISM. It began to be implemented when Salam Fayyad entered the government, which is many years ago and the West Bank population has been working on it for years. Like it or not – and I would have much preferred prior negotiations – but I am not to going to ignore the evidence to please anyone.
      It was in that context that the Americans trained the PA “police”. It is in that context that Obama called for Israel to freeze the settlement

      As to BDS, it will continue because it fits in the plan as well. What is BDS, if not a way to steal Israeli markets to enhance the PA economy in accordance with that plan?
      Furthermore, everyone has forgotten that there was already a Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988 toward a State when Arafat was Chairman.

      So those writers are either deluded, or outright liers.
      However, given that Hamas opposes Fayyadism, and that the Electronic Intifada is close to that terrorist organization, it is only natural that this kind of unsupported drivel would find a home there.
      I gave enough information for you to do your own homework. All this has been written about in newspapers for years and as I said, is widely available on the Internet. It doesn’t suit you? Tough.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Every “solution” is a trap. Every solution is imperfect, advantaging some, disadvantaging others.

      Some regard the two-state approach, without a guarantee of evolution to a bi-national federation of states, as a trap.

      Its hard to know. A single-state denies Jewish Israelis self-governance (if that is what they democratically prefer). A bi-national federation denies Palestinians national sovereignty (depending on the degree of weight of governance of the state vs federal entities). A two-state solution is Palestine landlocked (only two bordering states).

      Rage at inherent contradictions doesn’t strike me as a responsible approach.

      Its like dealing with risk. The response of some is to avoid the condition that creates the risk. The mature response is to assess if the risk is manageable, and then to pay close attention to the factors that stress it, so that the conditions remain a risk (a fear), and do not shift to a reality.

      There is a risk that Palestine will be a Lesotho, but there is also the possibility that Palestine will be part of a regional federation.

      What should we actionalize, the risk of the possibility? (likud is risk averse, is that a good model?)

      Reply to Comment
    9. mongelet

      I think it is a bit strange to compare a future palestinien state with an south afican bantustan state. I do not think a palestinien state will be an isolated island on an arabic continent. I believe that Israel in this comtext could be seen as an more isolated island i an arabic environment.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Janna

      Sylvia, in response to what appears to be your first comment, I’d ask you to please note that Tilley’s article was *written* two years ago.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Mike

      This is a perfect illustration of the fallacy of the equation of South African apartheid with Israel.

      Creation and recognition of a Palestinian state is the convergent goal of Israeli and Palestinian moderates. Whether we get there though a UN declaration followed by negotiation (of course) or negotiation first, is just a detail. The big question is, will peace include recognition of a Zionist Jewish state… or not. Dimi Reider is clearly opposed to such an outcome, and thus truly opposed to peace… other than perhaps the peace that results from the repression, expulsion and killing of the Jews of Israel.

      You only call a sovereign negotiated Palestinian State a Bantustan if you fundamentally reject the existence of the Jewish state… and you only do that if your vision of a final settlement is indifferent to whether it becomes a “final solution” for the Jewish people, or thinks that might not be a bad idea.

      South Africa involved a white minority. It requires willful hatred to see the Jewish majority in pre-1967 Israel in the same light. The population situation is different, the historical relationships to the place and to each other are different, the surrounding environment is different. In short, the analogy to South Africa is intellectually bankrupt. It is prescriptive, not descriptive. It is deeply dishonest.

      Two states for two peoples is a formula for justice. Framing it as a Bantustan idea is a choice, the kind of choice you make if your vision of justice does not include Jews or Zionism in the Land of Israel. It is, in short, a call for war. There is a better way.

      A balance between Jewish nationalism and Palestinian nationalism is possible, but it must be built upon mutual recognition of competing and incompatible claims, and upon the need to live permanently with those claims never fully resolved.

      Reply to Comment
    12. directrob

      You are a master of framing:
      “Two states for two peoples is a formula for justice. Framing it as a Bantustan idea is a choice, the kind of choice you make if your vision of justice does not include Jews or Zionism in the Land of Israel. It is, in short, a call for war.”
      Why can all people in Israel not live in peace together? Why is calling for a secular state with equal rights for all for all not a call for justice. Bantustan and Israeli style apartheid is what there is now, peace is what the people of Israel need not the continuation of injustice.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Sylvia

      Thanks, Janna. I see that now. Dimi’s post had such a tone of urgency that I didn’t even think to look at the date. Still, three months after the program was published by the Palestinian Authority. Hardly a rumor.
      In my second post, I mentioned that Arafat had declared an independent Palestine already in 1988.
      The PLO has been consistent, and clearly had absolutely no intention to negotiate. Abbas’ mind was made up when he first went to see Obama. Salam Fayyad said it repeatedly point blank to every microphone he encountered in the past few years. So why the surprise?
      Anyone who mentions Bantoustans in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict not only has no clue what it was really like, but more importantly is whitewashing the real crimes of those who practiced implemented and lived apartheid.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Sylvia

      “Why is calling for a secular state with equal rights for all for all not a call for justice.”
      Calling for a secular state with equal rights for all is a call for justice.
      The only problem is that the Palestinian Parliament have already written their Constitution (Basic Law) and decided that the Palestinian State will be an Islamic State using Sharia as its legal instrument, like it or not.
      Palestinian Constitution (revised 2007)
      “Article (7)
      The principles of Islamic Shari’a are a major source for legislation. ”
      So much for the secular state.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Piotr Berman

      Guy Goodwin Gill very recently made similar arguments (as Matt Graber posted).

      I think that Sylvia got it right, although I would draw different conclusions. One can debate the rights of the Diaspora, but however real, I do not see any possibility of turning them into something tangible (well, barring rather apocalyptic scenarios that are not totally far-fetched). “Fayyadism” is about getting something possible for Palestinians and ending the conflict. Concentrating on possible got bad names; the concept was invented by French Radical party in XIX century that got dubbed “possibilists”, and also “opportunists”. Later, opportunism became a bad word.

      The chief problem of Palestinian possibilists /opportunists is that what they want is not possible. Now. Negotiations with Israel are totally pointless when there is such a broad consensus in Israel against even quarter-decent compromise, and such degree of support (active or tacit) for expansion of settlements, and given that oppression of Palestinians is perhaps more popular as entertainment than baseball in USA.

      Perhaps I incorrectly interpret huge popularity of military service EXACTLY when it entails the active humiliation of Palestinians which is fondly commemorated by alumni of the military service in social media. But what is the purpose of having a SEPARATION WALL and settlements? Seems that Gaza and Area C allow the Jewish nations to make up for long centuries when various nations could oppress each other — but Jews could be either by-standers or on the receiving end. Now Jews can control their destiny. Accepting universal rules of decency would cede such control to faceless bureaucratic bodies of UN etc. Imagine that Jewish nation cannot include in the celebration of national holidays the blocking of Palestinian movement between their villages etc. It would be truly sad. And unsafe, and contrary to the Torah, bad for the children, unsanitary, surrendering to evil forces of the Califate of the Left etc.

      Just ask Sylvia what she would offer to Fayyad if she were the Israeli negotiator.

      Every nation has some cherished idiocies, and Israel, at long last, can be like every nation. And more!

      So what can Palestinian opportunists do? Legal principles would do zilch. UN route at least offers some action, and something visible happening. Which by itself still does not change anything tangible, but after winning the tangible war, Israel (and USA) can loose the intangible one. Escalation of idiocy allows one to loose even if you have all the trump cards. And indeed, a number of idiocies following UN vote is already promised.

      Then USA and Israel may reconsider, and loose face (and elections!). Or follow on all the promised defiant repressions and create a painful international crisis.

      So Fayyadism may win the day.

      Reply to Comment
    16. directrob

      “All Palestinians are equal under the law and judiciary without discrimination because of race, sex, color, religion, political views, or disability.”
      There are plenty of good points in Palestinian basic law. I bet you can reach a compromise.

      Reply to Comment
    17. delia ruhe

      If Bibi can turn it into a trap, then it’s a trap. So is NOT going to the UN.

      Reply to Comment
    18. RichardNYC

      Any moral comparison to SA is overshadowed by the striking demographic differences: SA whites were 10% of the population and geographically dispersed, while millions of blacks lived outside the Bantustans. Bantustans simply weren’t where blacks lived. But the West Bank is where Palestinians live, so why would they get more territory than that? There’s no proposed “transfer” of millions of Palestinians on the table, so the comparison to SA doesn’t make sense.

      Reply to Comment
    19. rfjk

      Beyond bantustans and a sort of reformed apartheid, I don’t recall Afrikaners proposing anything similar to ‘two states for two peoples.’

      And as far as apartheid is concerned, Gaza and the W. Bank have long been carved into bantustans with Hamas and Fatah suckered into being its goalies and enforcers.

      Back in June of 2009 in an attempt to pacify US pressure Netanyahu reversed himself and finally agreed to a two state solution. It of course was a ploy because he conditioned it with a counter demand that Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish State.” What he didn’t envision were Palestinians like Salam Fayyad who would take him at his word and vigorously start building & reforming Palestinian institutions and civil society.

      I believe a trap was sprung on Israel. And its architecture was created and tripped by Netanyahu’s big mouth. Fatah’s leadership and some moderates in Hamas exploited the opportunity and have successfully managed a strategy to breakout of the snares & entraps of Zionists, that have reduced Palestinians to helots under the Israeli boot.

      An interesting result is the virtual impotence of US influence with allies and the global community regarding nixing the Palestinian initiative. I’m not convinced the US is so demonstrably weak and powerless to act, incapable of using its considerable leverage on this issue and believe the US is playing a double game, whereas its anti-Palestinain public posture is more affectation than real.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Sylvia

      I know there are a lot of good points in Palestinian Basic Law. But that’s not the point is it?
      The point is that you knowingly and viciously push the notion of the “secular state” of Palestine, even though you know it is not the case. Even though you know full well
      that the Palestinian Basic Law has already established that the future Palestinian State will be an Islamic State goveerned by Sharia.
      It doesn’t matter how many times you’re corrected, you’ll still push the “secular state” lie.
      Because you take people here for total idiots, I expect you’ll do it again.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Sylvia

      In apartheid South Africa, a black worker who for something or another needed to go to the Gldstone family home, would have gone to the back door (blacks were prohibited from going to the front door), would have waited for someone to open the door, and would have asked, staring at the ground: “Is the Master home?”.
      I was reminded of this yesterday precisely as I was reading the drivel about ‘apartheid Israel”. While at my computer, a Palestinian working on a construction site in my street, wanting some ice, pushed my front door wide open, entered the house and standing in the living room, shouted: “Mishehu babayt?” (“Anyone home”?).
      I garantee you that this couldn’t happen even in equal and democratic America today.

      Reply to Comment
    22. directrob

      I firmly believe that the Israeli conflict can be solved by the creation of one secular state that protects the rights of all (including religious rights). I do not know what is vicious about an Israel where everyone has equal rights. It is way better than the current situation.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Ben Israel

      Pre-1933 Germany was a secular state with equal rights for all. Interwar Poland was a state that guaranteed equal rights for all. The USSR was a state that guaranteed equal rights for all. Egypt, Iraq and Syria before 1948 had constitutions that guaranteed rights for all citizens. Yet in all these countries, things didn’t work out so well for the Jews, as I am sure you know. So we are not as trusting of other people’s motives as you seem to be.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Ari

      You’re missing the whole point. The Palestinians are not declaring Areas A and B of the West Bank (the parts where they have civil control) to be their state. They’re declaring all of the territory outside the Green Line as their state. That means that 500,000 Israeli citizens (most living in post-1967 areas of Jerusalem, or just outside the city) will be illegally living in another country. The entire Old City of Jerusalem–including Jewish and Christian holy sites–will also be legally Palestine.

      Far from accepting a Bantustan, Abbas is unilaterally claiming a state with maximalist boundaries. He’s doing this because he knows that he and future generations of Palestinian leaders will unable and/or unwilling to make the genuine territorial (post-’67 land swaps) and ideological (’48 refugees) compromises necessary for genuine peace.

      Reply to Comment
    25. directrob

      I understand recent history was scary still all risks considered would you rather live in a dictatorship? Or do you just think a Jewish state is safer than a democratic secular state? Cannot every state derail?

      Reply to Comment
    26. ARTH

      Yes, they are walking into a trap. Without any sort of mechanism to implement this recognition, they are trapping themselves, on their own initiative, into the paradigm for a “Bantustan”-like territory.

      Reply to Comment
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