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http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0830-01.htm

The End of Apartheid, Redux
A Peace Plan for Post-Israeli Palestine

by Ted Rall Published on Thursday, August 30, 2001 by Ted Rall

DAYTON, Ohio -- The trouble with Israel is that nobody -- least of all the Israelis -- knows what it is. Is it a theocracy or a secular state? Is it a parliamentary democracy or a police state? Is it the military occupation of local Arab lands by ex-pat Europeans or the settlement of peaceful colonists in a previously barren land? Israel is all, and none, of these things. And while it's worth noting that this is what happens when countries are designed by committee, casting blame does nothing to address a grim state of affairs -- a vicious cycle of retribution for grievances both real and imagined.

When statesmen and diplomats debate Middle East peace, the elephant in the room is Israel's fundamental founding flaw. On the one hand, it's a Jewish state, its citizenship granted to any Jew regardless of birth nationality. But neither Israel's biggest backer -- that would be us -- nor many of the secular Jews who fought the British during the '40s wished to see an Israel ruled by rabbinical law. Following the example of postwar Europe, Israel became a parliamentary democracy.

It's been a demographic war ever since. As the population growth of Palestinian Arabs continues to outpace that of Jewish families, it's obvious that true democracy will lead to Israel joining the Arab world, with Jews living as a beleaguered minority. Successive Israeli governments have employed various means of combating the demographic threat, most notably refusing Arabs living in Lebanese refugee camps the right to return to the homes they fled in 1948.

A democracy without equal voting rights is no democracy at all. Similarly, few Jewish Israelis want to convert the place into the Talmud equivalent of Taliban-run Afghanistan. The only way to deradicalize the vast majority of Palestinians is to fully enfranchise them into the current Israeli system. But won't numerically dominant Muslims immediately use their newfound political majority status to oppress Jews? Wouldn't genocide necessarily follow?

Not if recent history is any guide. The closest analogy to Israel, a modern second-world state run by an ethnic minority, was apartheid-era South Africa. (It was also Israel's closest military ally.) After decades of political repression, violent acts of terrorism and status as a global pariah, white South Africans got sick of the whole thing and turned over power to Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. White rightists, and not a few foreign observers, warned that South Africa's long-repressed black majority would rise up and murder their former oppressors, but no such thing happened. Most whites remained in the country. They became a minority in parliament, but the socioeconomic order stayed in place: Black people are still poor, white people well-off. To be sure, there have been some isolated incidents of violence and retribution, but nothing close to the wholesale slaughter expected by so many cynics.

A truly democratic Israel would likely undergo a similar process. A tiny minority of Jews remembered for extreme right-wing behavior -- settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, for example -- might be well-advised to relocate after the advent of a Palestinian majority government. But for the most part, Arabs are like people anywhere -- they're far more interested in earning a living than waging jihad. The only reason so many are throwing rocks at Israeli troops is because they feel hopelessly disenfranchised under what they consider a form of apartheid. Remove that injustice, and they'll be too busy enjoying their commutes to jobs no longer cut off by army checkpoints to worry about getting even.

More to the point, Palestinians know that huge numbers of Jews oppose their government's extremism, just as many whites opposed apartheid in South Africa. It's this common ground that will lay the groundwork for peace in what is today Israel.

Of course, there is another alternative. The Israelis could systematically execute and/or deport every single Arab now living within their borders. This would perfectly resolve the battle over demographics. It might not make for such a great democracy, though.

Ted Rall, 38, is a syndicated cartoonist and columnist for Universal Press Syndicate.

Copyright 2001 Ted Rall


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