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Bantustan reality unfolds

An oft-repeated pattern was made visible once again this week, as acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of his plans for Israel’s future borders in interviews with the Israeli press. Settlements that began as outposts, colonies that started life as military bases, are now to be annexed by the Separation Barrier as irreversible ‘realities’.

It has been a central tenet of the Zionist movement throughout its history; establish ‘facts on the ground’ through power disparity, facts which then form the new minimum position or status quo for any potential negotiations. This principle was evident when Palestinian refugees did not return after their expulsion in 1948, when settlement construction began after the 1967 war in the newly conquered territory, and with the ongoing erection of the Separation Barrier.

Olmert’s remarks, in the context of the upcoming Israeli election, are clearly for domestic consumption, yet their implications for the Palestinians, and Israel’s international status, are far-reaching. The warnings about the West Bank being reduced to a series of cantons or reservations have gone unheeded; Olmert has unveiled a road map that heads straight to a Bantustan Palestine.

First, on the practical details, Olmert has fleshed out what many had already ascertained from the disparate comments of generals and politicians. Ha’aretz does a good job of summarising the territorial ambitions:

 

He wants to make sure Israel holds on to Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, the Jerusalem envelope and Gush Etzion; establish the Jordan Valley as a security border and provide the Israel Defense Forces with freedom of action in the West Bank

 

Of course, what makes a lot of this a feasible proposition is the Separation Barrier, a project that was never about ‘security’ to all but the most partisan observer, but rather securing as much land with as few Palestinians as possible. When it came to discussing the ‘fence’, Olmert made a passing reference to the original excuse:

 

I believe that in four years’ time Israel will be disengaged from the vast majority of the Palestinian population, within new borders, with the route of the fence – which until now has been a security fence – adjusted to the new line of the permanent borders. It could be that there will be cases in which we move the fence eastward, and it could be that there will be cases in which we move it westward, in accordance with a line that we will agree upon. We will take a crucial step forward in the shaping of Israel as a Jewish state, in which there is a solid and stable Jewish majority that is not at risk.

 

The ‘fence’ is suddenly transformed into a permanent border, and regardless of whether it is shifted a little to the west or east, the key factor is in “shaping” Israel as “a Jewish state”. The Separation Barrier’s purpose is therefore intrinsically bound up with the ethno-religious character of the Israeli state, part of the same design that establishes roads for Jews only that criss-cross Palestinian land.

There is a debate worth having about the precise location of Israel’s borders, according to Olmert, with “all of the elements that are relevant to a decision like this”, a category that incredibly does not include the Palestinians. In fact, this “domestic dialogue” (my emphasis) embraces the representatives of the settlers before it engages the Palestinians themselves. This so-called ‘unilateralism’ is characteristic of a mindset that sees the Palestinians as a passive agent, to be dictated to almost like a child, rather than treated as anything approaching a legitimate, equal, partner. It is entirely characteristic of a colonial mentality.

Olmert also had some interesting remarks on the perceived international response to unilateral Israeli action, both past and present. He noted that in recent days Israel had carried out “targeted interception actions” (assassinations) and invasions of cities like Nablus, and “not a hint of a critical remark, has come from anywhere in the world”. This is true, and it is noteworthy that such silence impacts the highest echelons of the Israeli political establishment as they weigh up their options.

Clearly, should Olmert be voted into office by the Israeli electorate, he will not seek to waste time, as “in his opinion, there is now a rare opportunity to achieve broad international agreement for the permanent borders he is planning”. The acting head of state reminds us that “every time we decided to take the initiative, we have gained from it”. Sadly, this has so far been the case, and it remains to be seen what initiatives can emanate from the Palestinian side, and their global supporters, as the Bantustan reality unfolds.

Published in Palestine Chronicle.

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