Israeli Settler Colonialism and Apartheid: Poised for Victory or Defeat?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 16 Jan 2023
“These are the basic lines of the national government headed by me: The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel–in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria.”
— Benjamin Netanyahu, 30 Dec 2022
13 Jan 2023 – Anyone with but half eye open during the last several decades should by now be aware of the existence of an undisclosed Zionist Long Game that preceded the establishment of Israel in 1948, and remains currently very much alive. It aims at extending Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Occupied Palestine, with the probable exception of Gaza, excluded for demographic and biblical reasons. The significance of Netanyahu’s public affirmation of this previously secretive long game is that it may be reaching its final phase, with him presiding over the far right governing coalition that is poised to pursue closure.
Should it matter that Netanyahu’s claim of exclusive Israel’s supremacy on behalf of the Jewish people over the whole of the promised land is in direct defiance of international law? Additionally, Netanyahu’s statement is also perversely at odds with Biden’s stubborn insistence, however farfetched, on reaffirming U.S. Government support for a two-state solution. This zombie approach to resolving the Israel/Palestine struggle has dominated international diplomacy for years, usefully allowing the UN and its Western members to maintain their embrace of Israel without seeming to throw the Palestinian people under the bus while doing just that. Netanyahu’s brazen avowal of Israeli unilateral expansionism foregoes these earlier diplomatic charades to placate world public opinion to put Israel’s intentions of unilaterally finishing the Zionist Project.
Such a forthright approach challenges the UN, the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people, governments around the world, and transnational civil society to open both eyes and finally acknowledge that the two-state solution is dead. This does not mean giving up on a peaceful solution based on political compromise, but it does suggest shifting such hopes from two-state proposals to a single unified confederal, secular state with coexisting dual homelands for the two peoples based on equality of ethnic entitlements to Palestine as often conceived from ‘the river to the sea.’ Such a state would have a single governance structure upholding the fused sovereign rights of a post-Zionist, presumably renamed, state premised upon equal citizenship and human rights for Jews and Palestinians.
In fairness, it is true that this Zionist Long Game has only recently become fully apparent to all but the closest observers of the struggle. Throughout the 20th century this design of progressive expansionism was hidden from public view by a combination of Israeli control over the public narrative and U.S. complicity, which deceived especially diaspora Zionists by assuming that Israel was open to a political and territorial compromises and that it was the Palestinians who were mainly responsible for the failures to accept reasonable diplomatic proposals prefiguring Palestinian statehood. Such an interpretation of the stalemate was always deeply mistaken because it underestimated Israel underlying ambitions.
The Zionist Project from its very beginnings, more than a century ago, proceeded by stages to accept as final whatever was politically attainable at any given time, before moving quietly and quickly on to the next stage in fulfillment of its long-range colonization plans. Zionism never convincingly gave up its guiding commitment to establish a Jewish state that exercised sovereign control over the whole of ‘the whole of the promised land,’ itself a misleadingly precise reading of Judaic biblical tradition that could be concretized in any way that the Israeli leadership preferred.
This pattern of expansionist priorities should have become evident in the periods following the Balfour Declaration of 2017 and after World War II. The infamous colonial Declaration had pledged British support for ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine. This pledge was made credible during the British mandatory period by accommodating ballooning Jewish immigration, which coincided with the rise of antisemitic fascism, most visibly in Nazi Germany, but extending to much of the rest of Europe.
After World War II came the UN partition resolution (UNGA Res. 181, 1947), which not only ignored Palestinian rights of self-determination by partitioning the country without a prior referendum, changing the status of the Jewish presence from ‘national home’ within the state of Palestine to a sovereign Jewish state on fully half of Palestinian territory, and then failing to take effective responsibility for implementing the portions of the UN proposals more favorable to Palestinians. This internationally devised ‘solution’ was greeted positively at each stage by the Zionist formal leadership, but rejected by representatives of the Palestinian people and by neighboring Arab governments.
This regional rejectionism led directly to the 1948 War, which resulted in the catastrophic dispossession of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians, known to its victims as the nakba, ending with a ceasefire that increased Israel’s share of Palestine from 55% to 78%. The dispossession of such a large number of Palestinians was integral to the Zionist commitment to make Israel not only Jewish but democratic.
It was understandably thought insecure to suppose that Israel could remain an ethnic democracy without a substantial Jewish demographic margin, and this could not be obtained except by dispossession, by coercive means to the extent necessary. From early on, Zionist zealots believed it desirable for security and nation-building to work toward a Jewish Only state, and that goal may resurface in the months ahead, not only to achieve ethnic purity, but to quell worries about Palestinian ‘demographic bomb.’
The next step in carrying forward the Zionist Project resulted from Israell’s victory in the 1967 War, which drove Jordan out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (and Egypt from Gaza). II also dispossessed another large number of indigenous Palestinians, a course of events known among Palestinian as the naksa. The 1967 War also resulted in Israel’s prolonged occupation of the territories occupied during the short war, and it was the beginning of an Israeli version of ‘triumphalism,’ which also made converts among foreign political elites in Washington previously worried that full support for Israel would alienate the Gulf oil producers.
The occupation by law and political consensus at the time was expected to be temporary (a matter of a few years at most) but the establishment of many unlawful Jewish settlements encroaching on what had been projected as a coexisting Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem strongly suggested that all along Israel’s leadership envisioned permanent arrangements with an end game in mind that did not include viable Palestinian statehood encompassing the West Bank heartland. Israel stalled over the years by complicated demands for border adjustments being agreed upon prior to any withdrawal. And somewhat later on, with a show of temerity, Israel contended that the West Bank was ‘disputed territory’ rather than ‘occupied territory.’
Another strong straw in the wind back in 1967 was Israel immediate declaration and enactment of a sovereign claim over the whole of an enlarged Jerusalem as the ‘eternal capital’ of the Jewish state, signaling its unwillingness to trust an outcome of post-1948 diplomatic negotiations (or to uphold the Jerusalem portion of the UN Partition Plan), which had originally envisioned East Jerusalem as the capital of the co-equal Palestinian state, before backpedaling and accepting the idea of the holy city being divided between the two peoples. This incorporation of Jerusalem into Israel proper was repeatedly rejected by overwhelming votes in the General Assembly, duly ignored by the Israeli government, but again Israel found that it would suffer no adverse consequences by defying international law and General Assembly majorities.
There were many lesser displays of virtuoso salami slicing by Israel of Palestinian rights and expectations in the subsequent 55 years. The Oslo diplomatic process lingered and languished for more than 20 years after the 1993 hyped handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn, which was the most notable stunt by Israel along these lines designed to show the world that Israel remained open to achieving a negotiated sustainable peace.
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear that in the Israeli strategic imaginary ‘peace’ was never what Oslo was about. The real basis of Israeli support for Oslo, besides satisfying international pressure to manifest a willingness to engage in some semblance of negotiations, was to gain the needed time to make the Jewish settlement movement large and territorially diffuse enough to become irreversible. Such an obvious assault on the two-state mantra should then have sounded the death knell of two-state duplicity, although it was overdue by 40-50 years. Yet the curtain was not lifted then or since.
The continuing international avowal of adherence to a two-state solution, until the present, was mutually convenient for both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and for friendly foreign governments, and even for the UN that was far too weak to insist on Israeli compliance with international law in the face of Euro-American unwavering refusal to authorize any pushback in the UN Security Council.
Israel’s 2018 Basic Law proclaiming the supremacy of Jews in ‘the promised land of Israel,’ including the whole of the West Bank, moved a giant step closer to revealing the integral goals of the Zionist Project as openly endorsed by Netanyahu to coincide with the swearing in of his fourth go at being the Prime Minister. As argued here, the essential elements of such a project had preceded its public endorsement by more than a century, but for an Israeli head of state to dramatize the commitment as openly was new, and politically of great significance.
Yet, despite this series of monumental successes of this Zionist Long Game is from some perspectives more problematic of completion than it has ever been, strange as such assertions might be regarded from a purely materialist view of politics. The Palestinian people have held firm in their commitment to self-determination throughout, while enduring a century of being tested by large-scale Israeli settler encroachments, as aggravated by Palestinian disunity and inadequate representation at the international level by the quasi-collaborative leadership provided by the Palestinian Authority. The spirit of resistance and struggle has been sustained by a Palestinian deep culture of steadfastness of sumud as reinforced by global solidarity initiatives and a generally supportive global public opinion, as well as by Palestinian resistance and global solidarity, which although sporadic never disappeared.
Additionally, the weight of evolving historical circumstances has enabled the Palestinians to achieve important victories in The Legitimacy War being waged by the two peoples for the control of symbolic and normative spaces in the wider struggle, against all odds, is being won by the Palestinians. Over the course of the last decade the international political discourse has increasingly accepted the Palestinian narrative of Israel as ‘a settler colonial state,’ a damaging assessment in an era where colonialism elsewhere was being dismantled by the weaker side militarily, suggesting the unrecognized leverage of law, morality, global solidarity, and nationalist mobilization in out maneuvering a militarily superior adversary.
My previous comments on this latest, possibly terminal phase, of the Zionist Project, is further illuminated if interpreted through the lens of settler colonialism. As Patrick Wolfe, the leading academic expositor of the concept, and others point out, a settler colonialist undertaking eventually falters and collapses unless it manages to eliminate or at least permanently and radically marginalize and pacify the native population. Settler colonial successes in Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand confirm this hypothesis as do the most prominent instances of failure, South Africa, and less clearly, Algeria. Given this historical record, I anticipate feverish Israeli attempts in the near future to achieve a further massive dispossession of the Palestinian people. In an important sense, the nakba should be understood as a process rather than an event back in 1948, to be culminated during the 2020s by a new surge of dispossession tactical moves.
Beyond allegations of settler colonialism, and more carefully documented, the accusation of apartheid directed at the Israeli state, which had long dismissed as the irresponsible screams of those that wanted to destroy the Israeli state, became validated by an emergent civil society consensus. Over the course of the last six years exhaustive reports prepared under the auspices the UN (ESCWA), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even the fiercely independent Israeli NGO, B’Tselem issued reports documenting with care and professional skill the apartheid allegations. As memories of the Holocaust faded and wrongdoing toward Palestinian rights became harder to shove under the rug, world public opinion especially in the West, became somewhat more sympathetic to and convinced by the Palestinian narrative, and as significantly, by the relevance of the South African precedent that became harder to ignore.
Further symbolic Palestinian victories included widespread diplomatic recognition of Palestinian statehood by many governments in the Global South, admission of Palestine to non-voting membership in the UN, access as a state party to the International Criminal Court and its 2021 judgment authorizing the investigation of Palestinian allegations of international crimes in Occupied Palestine after 2014, and at the end of 2022, approval by a wide margin of a General Assembly Resolution requesting an Advisory Opinion from the World Court in The Hague on the prolonged unlawful occupation of Palestinian territories amounting to a deprivation of the Palestinian right of self-determination. T
he 2022 HRC appointment of a high-level Commission of Inquiry with a broad mandate to investigate Israel wrongdoing was also a revealing UN turn in favor of the Palestinians. Such challenges to Israeli administration of the Occupied Palestinian Territories only occurred after decades of UN frustrations arising from Israeli non-compliance with international humanitarian law in the OPT as set forth in the 4th Geneva Convention devoted to belligerent and refusal to cooperate with UNHRC Special Rapporteurs.
Israeli and its puppet NGOs, UN Watch and NGO Monitor, recognized the gravity of these largely symbolic delegitimizing developments, as did the Israeli government. Israel was intelligently responsive to the risks to its own viability as a Jewish Supremacy state by the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa due to pressures brought about by a blend of resistance, symbolic delegitimization, and global solidarity initiatives. Accordingly, Israel and its militants fought back, with total support of the U.S. Government, but not substantively, recognizing the costs of bringing about further scrutiny of the substance of Israel’s policies, practices, and racist ideology. Instead, the Israeli push-back focused on attacking the critics and their institutional venues, including even the UN, as antisemitic, and in the process smearing conscientious legal experts and even international civil servants and the institutions themselves.
This has created a sufficient diversionary smokescreen to enable Biden and top EU bureaucrats to keep faith with both sides by championing the hollow prospect of ‘two states for two peoples’ when even they must know by this time that such a policy is moribund, and no longer is of much use as a public relations tactic. This assessment is truer than ever now that an apparently cocky Netanyahu has publicly told foreign political leaders to their faces that Israel no longer is interested enough in the two-state ploy to underpin its credibility. This leaves Israel’s most ardent supporters out in the cold with no place to hide their formerly respectable pro-Israel one-sidedness.
Given this line of interpretation, contrary to media commentary, Netanyahu, rather than being burdened, is likely pleased that his governing coalition is heavily dependent upon the rightest extremism of the Religious Zionism (RZ) and Jewish Power bloc. In the present context RZ, led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvar seems useful, if not natural allies of Likud in launching this culminating phase of the Zionist Project. This last phase involves territorial consolidation over the whole of the promised land and likely moves to inflict further dispossession of Palestinians—on the scale of a second (or intensified) Nakba—from their native lands. Seen in this way, the Netanyahu declaration above amounts to a virtual road map, hopefully from his point of view with RZ taking most of the heat for its inflammatory, openly racist, and likely violent implementation.
Given this background, the present context should be understood differently than the prevailing mode of reporting that stresses the difficulties for Netanyahu of heading the most right-wing and extremist government in the history of Israel. Mainstream journalism remains sympathetic with Netanyahu’s situation of supposedly being forced to rely on a coalition that gives dangerous influence to RZ. In opposition to such thinking, I believe having RZ entrenched in his governing structure actually strengthens the hand Netanyahu wants to play.
It is instructive to notice that most of the regrets up to now expressed in the U.S. about the extremist successes in the 2022 Israeli elections are devoted to their possibly negative impact on support for Israel in the liberal democracies, especially, among the predominantly secular dominant communities that largely shape attitudes toward Israel in the European and U.S. Jewish diaspora. The probability of intensifying suffering inflicted on the Palestinians hardly ever is mentioned, and almost never evokes Western empathy. Such slanted presemtations has always slighted the successive stages of the Palestinian collective trauma that has obscured their Orientalist erasures throughout the struggle.
Biden’s undoubtedly unconscious embrace of such Orientalist insensitivity to Palestinian rights, much less acknowledging Palestinian legitimate aspirations should have been expected. The evasive wording of Biden’s statement congratulating Netanyahu, warrants scrutiny: “I look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been my friend for decades, to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region, including threats from Iran.”
In the same text, the American president asserts that “the United States will continue to support the two-state solution and to oppose policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values.” What struck me most, although by now I should have known better, was the absence of even a small gesture of recognition that these developments might have a negative relevance to Palestinian wellbeing. Often silences convey meanings better than do words of explanation with the hope of winning approval.
Despite all, most pro-Israeli commentary analyzing the shift to the right on the part of the Israeli voting public attributes the extremist outcome in the November elections to some combination of the perceived absence of ‘a partner’ in the search for peace, the Israeli security-first response to Palestinian ‘terrorism,’ the rising influence of the religious right within Israel, the emboldening effects on Israel of the normalization agreements (so-call Abraham Accords) reached in 2020 during the last months of the Trump presidency, and even Iran’s threat to Israel. Undoubtedly, these contextual factors were influential in persuading a larger segment of Israeli voters to swallow their dislike of a governing coalition that gave strong influence to RZ, interpreted in some circles as the foretaste of a now plausible Jewish theocratically-tinged fascism.
Overall, it seems enough Israelis gave priority to their hopes for a unilaterally imposed Israeli ‘victory’ scenario to the hypocritical uncertainties of the diplomatic status quo that is disinterested in negotiating a political compromise with its Palestinian counterpart. My main point here is that the shift to the right was opportunistic and pragmatic rather than reactive, resulting in most media accounts missing the relevance of the commitment of the Israeli religious right to the completion of the Zionist Project in the near future.
My own encounters with liberal Zionist opinions in America emphasized a belief that Israeli good will with respect to a political deal with the Palestinian had run into a brick wall of Palestinian hard line opposition, an indirect validation of the ‘no partner’ excuse, or at best, blaming both sides for diplomatic failure in an asymmetric situation where one side was the oppressor and the other the oppressed. This view was accentuated by the entirely unreasonable, accompanying insistence that Israeli’s closest ally and geopolitical source of security serve as intermediary in all ‘peace’ negotiations. Nothing exhibited Palestinian weakness or lack of strategic judgment more dramatically than this willingness to rely on such a flawed diplomatic process for their prospects of realizing such basic national rights as self-determination.
While these factors have been endlessly analyzed in piecing together a coherent, exoteric or public narrative, the real story—the deep roots of these developments—is in my view yet to be told. This is because the true account of the evolution of the Zionist Project before and since the establishment of Israel is bound up with an esoteric or secret Zionist narrative that links the successive stages of Israeli expansionism to an overarching vision.
This esoteric narrative centered on a strategic plan for the ideologically coherent and steady unfolding story of Israeli expansionism, which involved a pragmatic suppression of disclosing the utopian character of Zionist Project of recovering all of Palestine during a period when such ultimate goals seemed hopelessly out of reach due to the prevalence of rampant nationalism and the widespread decline in the geopolitical leverage and political acceptance of colonialism.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.
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