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Driving through the West Bank 'felt like apartheid'

Three anecdotes from Peter Beinart’s Crisis of Zionism reveal a lot on what can and what can’t be said in Washington today

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office. To the dismay of the White House, Democratic representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz signaled her party members to applaud Netanyahu's controversial comments (Pete Souza/White House)

“The Crisis of Zionism,” Peter Beinart’s new book on the Jewish establishment’s transformation into a propaganda and lobbying arm for the occupation and the settlements, has a few fresh examples of Washington’s double talk regarding the nature of Israel’s control over the West Bank. It’s something you often hear in private: Every diplomat who has visited Palestinian towns and villages and met with locals knows how bad things are, but it’s impossible to discuss these issues in public because of the possible political consequences. As a matter of fact, Beinart himself is experiencing some of the wrath of the Jewish establishment right now, from hit pieces in the Jewish media to the lowest kind of personal attacks.

This incident is quoted from a senior State Department official. Naturally, he asked to remain anonymous:

In March 2009, Hillary Clinton, [U.S. Envoy George] Mitchel and a few aides traveled from Jerusalem, where they had met with Israeli officials, to Ramallah. As they sped through the West Bank, passing boulders that blocked Palestinian villages from accessing settler-dominated bypass roads, the Americans became palpably uncomfortable. “There was a kind of silence and people were careful,” remembers one former senior state department official, “but it was like, my God, you crossed that border and it was apartheid.”

Another telling incident happened during Obama’s campaign for the Democratic nomination, just before arriving to Israel. Jerusalem has just decided to bulldoze the house of a Palestinian that deliberately slammed his truck into several Jewish cars and a bus, injuring 24 people. Obama’s advisers prepared a statement that took no issues with Israel’s response. Based on a conversation with one of these advisers, Beinart writes:

Obama told them he disagreed, saying he doubted that bulldozing houses deterred terrorism and that the man’s relatives were being punished for a crime in which they played no part. But then he added, “I’m not going to say that,” in public.

It is no secret that criticizing of the occupation or showing empathy to Palestinians carries a price in Washington today. Occasionally, things become really grotesque, as they did when Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress last year:

Whenever Republicans rose to applaud Netanyahu’s more controversial statements, Democratic representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida would turn to her party colleagues and raise her arm, thus signaling them to stand as well. One White House staffer called the event a “cartoon scene.”

I will review The Crisis of Zionism sometime next week.

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    1. aristeides

      And they still say the US government isn’t Zionist-occupied.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bill Pearlman

      comment was deleted.

      Reply to Comment
    3. @Bill, another personal attack and you will be banned.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Bill Pearlman

      Noam, the guy attacks me all the time. I don’t take it personally. Btw The proper appellation is ZOG. Maybe your not familiar with that term in Israel

      Reply to Comment
    5. Well it looks like Apartheid, it feels like Apartheid and it acts like Apartheid. As Bibi would say, it is the Apartheid duck.

      The only question is how long will our ever diminishing Israeli left excuse themselves from fighting Apartheid by using the token “two state solution” slogan. And demolishing Apartheid is done by granting equal rights, one man one vote, not a Bantustan solution as the Zionist left advocates.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Rodrigo

      Ahad Haadam, I think a lot in your duck analogy depends on the definition of what ‘it’ is. The West Bank does look like apartheid. Israel doesn’t. So logically, if Israel was no longer in the West Bank, then nothing would ‘feel like apartheid’ anymore, right? However, by pursuing your approach Israel seizes to exist and instead it turns into another Arab hellhole. See the problem?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Rodrigo

      Noam, still waiting for part 2 of your wonderful article on status quo as being Israel’s preferred approach. Loved the first part.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Rodrigo, you have a logical flaw. If you admit that the West Bank is Apartheid, then all of Israel is Apartheid since Israel controls the West Bank and the governments that created and support this structure are voted on by the entire Israeli public.

      I also have news for you: the two state solution is dead. I supported it for a long time but it is not the Palestinians that have expanded settlements and put facts on the ground to prevent a two state solution.

      Israel has nobody to blame but its elected leaders who destroyed the two state solution. Now we must move forward and end Israeli Apartheid through democratization.

      Reply to Comment
    9. aristeides

      Israel looks like segregation.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Rodrigo

      Ahad Haam, I admitted the West Bank looks like or might ‘feel like’ apartheid, not that it is. Because it isn’t. It is a disputed territory where two national movements are attempting to carve out the borders.

      The logical flaw in your argument is that Israel controls only parts of the West Bank, while the Palestinians control the rest and Israel does so without considering it a part of the state as it has never been annexed pending final status negotiations. The West Bank is not a part of Israel and never has been. Parts of it will likely be annexed in the future as expected by all sides, but that just demonstrates the fact that they haven’t been to date.

      The two state solution is hardly dead. From the point of view of finding a border between Israel and the West Bank, the expansion of the settlements over the past 20 years has had absolutely no geographic or demographic impact. There isn’t a single major settlement bloc that has been built since Oslo was signed. The whole argument that settlement construction is what has made the two state solution impossible is demonstrably bogus and is mostly used by people that never wanted that solution in the first place.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Rodrigo, you are proving to be not only a shameless propagandist, but also ignorant or a liar, one of these two. Claiming that “the expansion of the settlements over the past 20 years has had absolutely no geographic or demographic impact” should disqualify you from commenting here.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Rodrigo

      Ahad Haadam, Israel doesn’t control the PA. If it did a lot of things would be easier.

      I want you to point to me a single place on a map of the West Bank where settlement expansion has made significant changes to the underlying demographic/geographic map of the region in the past 20 years that would prevent a two state solution as suggested by Olmert or Barak. This is not propaganda. It is a simple truth that you can clearly see by looking at any map and determining that the growth in settlements is overwhelmingly in the same blocs of Jewish settlements that Israel intends to annex according to all proposed plans – the Gush Etzion bloc, the Modiin bloc and the Jewish settlements around Jerusalem. This is before even bringing up what must be an inconvenient fact for you that Israel has in the past 10 years clearly demonstrated the ability to remove settlements when deemed necessary.

      Also, congratulations on resorting to personal attacks and questioning whether I should ‘be allowed’ to post something you disagree with on this blog.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Cortez Moreno

      Rodrigo: All of Area C then compare to Area A and B…look at a map or better yet drive through it, especially the bypass roads.
      And settlement growth is one aspect…settlement growth is accompanied by massive road construction, the barrier, military closures, security zones and expropriation of land.
      I used to think a two state solution was possible until I noticed that the West Bank looks like the Philippines now.

      Reply to Comment
    14. aristeides

      Interesting that according to Rodrigo the fate of the West Bank is to be determined solely by Israel’s intentions and Israel’s plans. Nothing about the plans and intentions of Palestine.

      Further, Israel’s “demonstrated ability” to remove settlements is nothing but a farce. Ariel Sharon could remove settlements. Ariel Sharon is now a rutabaga. The current government plays a game of knocking down a trailer, then looking the other way while the denizens crawl back out from under the rocks and put it up again.

      In the meantime, house by house, field by field, hill by hill, well by well, the settlers take over Palestinian land.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Rodrigo

      Cortez, I am listening. Area C. It is under Israeli control pending negotiations and has been since Oslo. What specific changes have occurred in area C as a result of settlement growth in the past 20 years that have changed the situation in regards to the feasibility two state solution?

      Aresteides, the fate of the West Bank will be determined in future negotiations. Realistically Israel’s interests are going to have to be taken into account.

      Ariel Sharon removed settlements. Menachem Begin did it before him. I get it. You don’t like the current government, but you can’t argue that Israel hasn’t repeatedly removed settlements where needed.

      Reply to Comment
    16. dickerson3870

      RE: “Whenever Republicans rose to applaud Netanyahu’s more controversial statements, Democratic representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida would turn to her party colleagues and raise her arm, thus signaling them to stand as well.” ~ State Department official

      ALSO SEE: “Bibi and the Yo-Yos”, by Uri Avnery, Antiwar.com, 05/26/11
      (excerpt) It was all rather disgusting.
      There they were, the members of the highest legislative bodies of the world’s only superpower, flying up and down like so many yo-yos, applauding wildly, every few minutes or seconds, the most outrageous lies and distortions of Binyamin Netanyahu.
      It was worse than the Syrian parliament during a speech by Bashar Assad, where anyone not applauding could find himself in prison. Or Stalin’s Supreme Soviet, when showing less than sufficient respect could have meant death.
      What the American Senators and Congressmen feared was a fate worse than death. Anyone remaining seated or not applauding wildly enough could have been caught on camera – and that amounts to political suicide. It was enough for one single congressman to rise and applaud, and all the others had to follow suit. Who would dare not to?
      The sight of these hundreds of parliamentarians jumping up and clapping their hands, again and again and again and again, with the Leader graciously acknowledging with a movement of his hand, was reminiscent of other regimes. Only this time it was not the local dictator who compelled this adulation, but a foreign one.
      The most depressing part of it was that there was not a single lawmaker – Republican or Democrat – who dared to resist. When I was a 9 year old boy in Germany, I dared to leave my right arm hanging by my side when all my schoolmates raised theirs in the Nazi salute and sang Hitler’s anthem. Is there no one in Washington DC who has that simple courage? Is it really Washington IOT – Israel Occupied Territory – as the anti-Semites assert? . . .

      Reply to Comment
    17. BOOZ

      Rodrigo & Ahaad Haam :

      If I were you I wouldn’t proclaim the TSS dead so quick.. coz if I read “Palestinian” and “Zayzafuna” latest posts here, the 1SS implementation would mean your having to see your travel agent and buy a 1WT ( translate : one way ticket).

      Reply to Comment
    18. Leen

      I think there is a great misconception here running through the debate, that it is a disputed area. I have to point out, that this is not a disputed territory, it is occupied territory (it is recognized by international law as such. Israel controls Area C, Area B and the borders to Area A. Israel controls the borders of Gaza and West Bank(by imposing a blockade, raiding, assassinations, house demolitions, building a wall snaking through the Palestinian territory, etc). If Palestinians want to leave the West Bank to Jordan let’s say, they will have to go through Israeli checkpoints… up until recently even the passports were Israeli issued.
      It is a dispute by two unequal powers, one where they can boast a UN seat, have accesses to ICC and other international institutions, nuclear weapons, recognized as a sovereign state, 4th powerful army, while the other side’s leadership is fragmented, refugees still growing to 4.5 million, have no control over their borders, their government (because Israel is not above assassinations or arresting PLC members or putting presidents/government members under seiges), their resources (because Israel expropriates their natural resources in the Jordan Valley) and so on.

      This isn’t a case of India and Pakistan disputing over Kashmir. Even within the UN, the West Bank is not filed under the territorial disputes committee (Jerusalem is another issue though).

      Reply to Comment
    19. Leen

      Also, Sharon removed settlements from Gaza Strip so he can continue expanding settlements in West Bank. He was then able to restrict access to Gaza (he didn’t have to worry about harming Israelis now that they were out of Gaza), and able to use the line ‘but I made concessions!’ to Arafat in order to block West Bank sovereignty. You should watch Elusive Peace (documentary series on BBC detailing Camp David and Intifada and all the secret dealings).

      Reply to Comment
    20. Matt

      It is all perceptions if the world believes it is apartheid then it is apartheid regardless of the reality. It is the perception. You have to look at the end game, what do you want to achieve. How are you going to achieve the outcome you want, for the Palestinians it is a big mistake using an apartheid strategy. There is no way around direct talks and compromise and the reality of the situation in relation to resistance to liberate Palestine. The Middle East situation is across South Africa, East/West Germany and Australia in relation to apartheid and the outcome. Each is different, yet has similarities, with the Israel/Palestinian issue.

      Look at the difference between the outcomes in Australia and South Africa, look at the issues Israel historically 1947 and 1967, contrasts between Israel and the West Back.

      As long as they hold the belief that via resistance be it armed or passive they will get the land back. They will never make peace, not real peace each concession Israel makes in the search for peace is views as stepping stone of resistance. That is why the land concessions have failed. Mazen had East Jerusalem under Olmert and he did not make a deal, so he now has lost it under Netanyahu. Same with the temporary settlement freeze.

      Now he waits for President Flexibilities second term. Apartheid strategy, President Flexibility, UN sanctions, BDS. Israel will not submit to pressure of this kind, so they will continue the policy until the cost is too high and it collapses overnight, like East Germany and South Africa. Which means millions of settler will be left in the West Bank and the UN will not be dealing with Israel but with the settlers. They will have to make a deal between the settlers and the Palestinians. Palestine as a state will included both Jews and Palestinians as will the Parliament and government just like unified Germany and South Africa.

      In the end there will be no state for only Palestinians, a one state solution in relation to Palestine not Israel.

      It is not a strategy I would advise because it does not achieve liberation of Palestine or a exclusive Palestinian State. It results in a Two State Solution, not a One State Solution in relation to Israel. A Two State Solution between Israel and Palestine and a One State Solution between the settlers and Palestinians. Unless that is the outcome the Palestinians want, it is a flawed strategy.

      Reply to Comment
    21. joe

      I can’t really see what help there is in importing South African terms. It isn’t really like apartheid – except in superficial visual ways – and the situation is quite different to that in South Africa.

      What it looks like is what it is – two populations living uncomfortably in one land. The stronger one expanding at will, the weaker disenfranchised, bullied and struggling.

      Rodrigo, I think you are both right and wrong. Technically Israel does not control the PA, but practically speaking, the PA can do nothing without the say-so of Israel and the IDF. In that respect it is like the South African plan to give the different racial groups their own parliaments but then ensure that they were all weaker than the white parliament. On one hand that gives the dominant group the upper hand whilst at the same time some deniability as to what actually happens within the PA controlled areas.

      This is most plainly seen with respect to the security and policing functions. Inside the PA areas, Palestinian police occasionally arrest the odd Israeli car and immediately escort the occupants back to the IDF checkpoints. At the same time, the IDF can raid inside PA areas at will. It would be impossible to imagine the reverse happening.

      Reply to Comment
    22. AHAD HAADAM: You ask when the Israeli left will give up on the disreputable fiction of 2SS. I would ask a different question: When will the Israeli left and (Jewish) peace-and-justics-niks in the USA and elsewhere give up on ISRAELI POLITICS as the appropriate mechanism (or locus) for political work to end the I/P conflict and turn, instead, and with maximum effort and “noise” to the international community? Does not the UNGA need to be shamed into recognizing the scandal of the present-and-likely-to-continue apartheid situation and intervene to end it, at least in Gaza, West Bank (with occupied Jerusalem), and Golan?

      Israel’s hands are tied by settler-nationalist-territorial politics, USA’s hands are tied by our disgusting oligarchic political system which gives direction on I/P to APIAC. If there is power anywhere, it is outside the USA/Israel governance.

      Israeli lefties should appeal to it directly and with as much force and noise as Marwan Barghouti used to appeal from a jail cell to Palestinians to bravely confront Israel (and stop cooperating with it).

      Reply to Comment
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