South Africa’s real lesson for Israel


South Africa’s real lesson for Israel

Op-ed: Israelis should keep in mind, especially after Gaza pullout, that some situations are far worse than occupation


The best proof of the Israeli Left’s intellectual bankruptcy lies in the geographical locus around which its discourse revolves. In the heady days of the Oslo agreement their paladins preached the dawn of an era where Jews and Arabs would embrace each other in perpetual peace. As soon as their messianic Middle East failed to materialize the peace camp simply shifted its chips to another continent. South Africa thus became the buzzword of the peace camp.

Undaunted by setbacks in the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Syriaand every other Arab country, the Zionist Left insists that unless Israel acquiesces to a Palestinian state in the whole of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Israel is set on the path of South Africa. Namely, on the path of apartheid, international ostracism and – in the case of Israel – a bi-national state ruled by an Arab majority.

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This argument has its cogency, except that this cogency is based on a mistaken assessment of South African history. It would be simplistic to believe that South Africa’s Caucasian minority repealed apartheid simply to please the international community or to appease its conscience. Indeed, most whites knew long before 1994 that minority rule was immoral.

What earned their support for a policy that was so unethical was their sincere conviction that apartheid was the lesser evil. As a matter of fact, it was not until after most communist dictatorships had collapsed that the African National Congress disavowed its stated goal of nationalizing mines, banks, industry and farmland, steps which many anti-apartheid activists viewed as preliminary towards establishing a socialist state in South Africa.

For this reason it is not implausible to believe that – had South Africans been granted universal voting rights in the 1960s or 1970s – South Africa today would resemble contemporary Tanzania and Zimbabwe rather than the vibrant multiracial democracy we know nowadays.

The lesson Israel should learn from the South African experience is clear. A people should not surrender out of sheer fear what ought to be agreed upon out of a sense of justice and shared purpose. As long as the Palestinian Authority ominously threatens Israel with international ostracism and as long as the winners of Palestinian elections wage war and terror against it, Israel should stand firm in its refusal to establish a Palestinian state.

In order to dash Palestinian hopes that demographic trends and random settlement construction will render a bi-national state necessary, Israel should limit construction activities to the strategic Jordan Valley, Green Line and settlement blocs. That would be the most powerful way to persuade the Palestinian people and the entire Palestinian leadership that the time has come to genuinely accept Israel as a neighbor.

As long as such a change of heart and mindset is not forthcoming from the Palestinian camp, Israelis should ignore intellectuals’ siren calls. Israelis should be steadfast in remembering, especially after the withdrawal from Gaza, that there is a state of affairs which is far worse than an occupation – namely war, terror and bloodshed. And Israelis should take special care to remind their intelligentsia that the former statement applies to Jews and Arabs equally.


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