After a long career as a journalist covering the apartheid in South Africa, Allister Sparks travelled Israel and Palestine, shocked by what he witnessed he was compelled to comment, “When I look at Israel, when I traveled through the West Bank, I was looking at Bantustans-totally unviable, impossible states”.
Bantustans were Apartheid South Africa’s answer to the “problem” of the black majority. Under the Bantu Authorities Act, the man behind the vision, Dr. Hendrick Verwoerd, set about cutting little islands in the map of South Africa that were to become “states” exclusively created for the black population.
Under the façade that there would be no peace until the white man had his country and the black man had his, each island was declared an independent state. They had their own governments and infrastructure, but in reality they were merely impoverished puppet states controlled by South Africa and acted as a smokescreen for the continued policies of Apartheid.
In his speech to congress Verwoerd referenced the conflict between the Arabs and Jews as one in which the solution chased was Apartheid. Years later, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met in Jerusalem to carve the map of peace for Israel and Palestine to the shape of a one state for them, one state for us solution, in the hope of ending the decades long conflict.
But the question remains what will these two states look like in a two state solution, or rather what will Palestinian statehood look under this vision?
Jeff Halper, Director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, said to Memo that he believes Israel had created a situation in which it is impossible to detach any definable territory from Israel. He said, “There’ s one territory under Israeli control from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, with one army, even one electrical system and one water system.”
Shortly after the commencement of talks Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the approval of 1,200 new settlement units to be constructed in the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem. Settlement construction has eaten away at Palestinian land, with the 125 Israeli sanctioned but internationally deemed illegal settlements carving up the diminishing West Bank and increasingly encircling the major cities.
Meanwhile the remaining land of the West Bank is subject to further fracturing. A network of Jewish only roads connect the flourishing settler communities from their homes in the West Bank to Israel proper, a 8 meter high Separation Wall casts a shadow over the Palestinian villages whose land it cuts through, while military checkpoints dot the West Bank.
“Israel doesn’t want a two state solution, it wouldn’t be building settlements if it did, but Israel also can’t accept one state because it wants a Jewish state. Just like South Africa, the only way to control a whole country and exclude Palestinians is apartheid,” said Halper.
Following the announcement, Netanyahu claimed that the building of further settlements would not derail the peace talks because they would be built in the urban blocks he believes will become part of Israel proper in the final agreement. The real issue, the leader said, is creating a de-militarized Palestinian state to finally recognize and accept the one and only Jewish State. The echoes of Verwoerd can be heard as he stood up and delivered his Senate speech with conviction, “After all, there cannot be domination by Whites over Blacks where there are two neighboring states, the White state and the Black state…A White state, a big and strong White nation, along with various Bantu national units and areas (or states, if you like)”.
The Bantustans were seen by the world as fantasy entities with governments and borders that gave them a veneer of reality. Similarly a de-militarized “state” of Palestine as envisaged by Israel leads one to consider when a state ceases to be a state.
This vision of Palestinian statehood has been set forward since the Oslo Accords and reiterated through years of failed negotiations. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly said to the Former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alemhe that the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict.
The Oslo Accords divided Palestine into three areas, with a 60% slice of the West bank, called Area C, placed under complete Israeli control, where it still remains today. Memo spoke to Chris McGreal, a journalist who has written extensively on the subject as Guardian correspondent in both Johannesburg in the 90’s and Jerusalem during the second intifada. He said this slice contains only around 2% of the population, corroborating South Africa’s Bantustan model.
“It was about putting people where you want them, about White South Africans keeping as much land while shedding responsibility for of the black population. Take as much land for as little people, that to me is the Bantustan model.”
The Bantustans led to the herding of the majority black population into reserves that made up only 13% the land. Israel extends the Bantustan model past the West Bank, to include Palestinian residents of Israel. Under a similar façade of the protection of rights, Israel is in the process of passing the Prawer Plan. Through policies of displacement and dispossession the plan aims to relocate 70,000 Palestinian Bedouin from 35 unrecognized villages in the Naqab Desert, southern Israel, to government-regulated towns and cities that will condense them into an urban area that occupies only one percent of the land.
The Olso Accords also established the Palestinian Authority, the body that governs the West Bank. According to Na’eem Jeenah, a South African journalist, “What Oslo did was create an authority, which allowed Israel to still control the occupied Palestinian territory, but control it through a Palestinian authority. In fact, Israel controls the borders. Israel controls taxes. Israel controls all kinds of things-access in and out of that area,”
“Israel can’t create a situation of control without a pretend president of a Palestinian Bantustan, that’s Abu Mazen,” said Halper.
When asked at what point a state ceases to be a state, McGreal pointed to the reality that some countries in Africa are so dependent on Western aid, for example, they are effectively neo-colonies. Aside from defining physical borders, he argued there are much more intricate details in establishing a Palestinian state. He pointed to the example of water, a commodity Israel takes from the West Bank and questioned whether they would be willing to give up access to the water.
“The real danger of a Bantustan parallel is that you emerge with a Palestinian leadership that is effectively dependant on Israel, this would be the definition of a Bantustan Palestine. Israel may cede sovereignty but will seek to agree some kind of control,” he said.
The essence of the Bantustans was the creation of a fantasy entity for one race exclusively. The entity was to resemble a state but not to be a state, with sovereignty but dependent, run by a leader that governed the oppressed but who was a puppet for the oppressor. As settlements flourish amid peace talks discussing Palestinian statehood is this that far from the reality Israel has and continues to create today?
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