Supporters of Israel would have breathed a sigh of relief when the Zionist state postponed its 2 July annexation of the West Bank, in what was a humiliating about-turn. The formula for peace envisaged in the two-state solution is considered the last chance to redeem the Zionist project from tipping over into a full-blown apartheid state.
With annexation being a daily reality for Palestinians, the international backlash concealed a level of hypocrisy and ignorance that is particularly unique to this issue. Israel formalised its annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights with very little resistance from the same outspoken critics. One has to ask: is one set of illegal annexation worse than others? Would annexation of another 30 per cent of the West Bank be as disastrous as it's made out to be, when all the territory west of the Jordan River is controlled by Israel? What should Palestinians do when annexation eventually goes ahead?
These were some of the questions raised in Thursday's webinar hosted by MEMO: Israel Annexation, Apartheid & the Media. With three experts: Dr Virginia Tilley, David Cronin and Shafiq Morton offering their unique perspectives on the issue, the 90-minute virtual forum offered MEMO readers around the world a unique opportunity to critically look at the debate around annexation.
We should "embrace" annexation, Tilley insisted in her 20-minute presentation. The Southern Illinois University professor urged listeners not to get carried away with the palpable "alarm" over Israel's unilateral move, which in reality is merely seeking to formalise what has been de facto annexation for decades. "Let's just accept annexation and call Israel on the consequences," advised Tilley.
The arguments presented by Tilley are debated in greater detail in her book The One-State Solution. By embracing annexation, the paradigm that has allowed Israel to continue on a path of ongoing land theft can be challenged more effectively, suggested Tilly. The argument is that Palestinians can advance their cause for basic human rights through an anti-colonial and racist movement, far more effectively than the current failed model of Palestinian statehood. The full weight and scope of law will come to bear on Israel under such a campaign, explained Tilley.
"Annexation is Israeli policy and settlements are its instrument," Tilley went on to add, dismissing the illusion that such takeover of Palestine is carried out by religious zealots on little hilltops. "That's a lie," she insisted. Israel's takeover of Palestine: "Has always been a state-sponsored programme. Every ministry is involved with some ministries spending their entire budget on settlement programmes," according to Tilley.
Tilley argued that the centrality of the West Bank to Zionist vision has made reversal of annexation programmes impossible. "Israel is absolutely committed to its annexation programme and no outside actor including the US is going to be able to muster the political will to counter the settlement enterprise," she affirmed. Such a scenario, she claimed, made the creation of a Palestinian state impossible, and therefore forces Palestinians and the international community to rethink how best to uphold and protect the basic human rights of the different populations living within historic Palestine.
Tilley insisted that the alternative to the one-state model was "dangerous" and would lead to the creation of an apartheid situation with Palestinians forced to live in bantustans. Palestinians can expect to gain much more under a one-state programme, by accepting full annexation of Israel over the entirety of historic Palestine, she argued. "They will have access to the full gamut of human rights law developed over the last half century about equal rights including prohibition on racial discrimination and apartheid.
In his observations about the manner in which the media has covered the topic of annexation, David Cronin spoke about the BBC's failure to discuss this issue in any shape or form that could be considered "honest". The associate editor of the Electronic Intifada explained that though annexation is a daily occurrence, the mainstream media ignores the reality of Israel's takeover of Palestine. "Facts on the ground are that Israel is in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention; settlement activities are war crimes," asserted Cronin pointing to the BBC's neglect to speak about annexation in a direct manner. He indicated that the BBC's insistence on making light of the illegality of Israeli policies with the phrase "settlements are considered illegal except by Israel," is no different to the suggestion that everyone considers the Earth to be round except The Flat Earth Society.
Shafiq Morton, an award-wining South African journalist described the challenges of covering annexation under a global pandemic. With fewer journalist on the ground, Israel has found it easier to squash news of its illegal practices in Palestine. His main concern over the coverage alluded to the lack of context and history. "Many stories pretended as if annexation fell out of the sky," expressed Morton. Annexation, he explained, is: "The oldest narrative of the Palestinian story." The global outrage to the threat of annexation of the West Bank, suggested Morton, implied that soft critics of Israel were completely detached from the reality. He warned that without more context, nobody will understand the Palestinian question.
Morton shared several observations on the parallels between apartheid in South Africa, which he covered extensively during his 30-year career as journalist, and Israel. He mentioned the architect of apartheid itself, racist prime minister of white South Africa, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, who in 1963 declared that: "Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state."
The two-state model has utterly failed the Palestinians, was the webinar's key message. With Israel's annexation irreversible, Palestinians have no alternative but to transform their state-focused campaign for self-determination into an anti-colonial, civil-rights movement. Such a campaign has a greater potential for success in protecting the basic human rights of all communities in the territory.
With nearly a century of conflict triggered by attempts to divide Palestine into two countries on the basis of ethnicity, who can argue with that? Maybe now is the time to restore the Holy Land to the original ideals of its people — a state founded on territorial, civic nationalism protecting the rights of all people, of all faiths and communities living in the country without racial and religious discrimination.