Meron Benvinisti


Unilateral separation leads inexorably to apartheid

(23 August 2001)


HA’ARETZ (English Edition), Thursday, August 23, 2001
Ha’aretz English website (

While a wall separates Israel from the West Bank between Bat Hefer (left) and Tulkarm, unilateral separation of Israel from the Palestinians, like all ideologies, mocks any argument that dares challenge the feasibility of its implementation.

One day, more than 30 years ago, two Israelis who dealt with handling the Palestinian population – one in Jerusalem and the other in the West Bank – met a high-ranking South African official. At the meeting, the two explained their jobs and the way they were improving Israeli-Palestinian relations by letting the Palestinians manage their own lives.

Suddenly, the guest said, “What would you say if I invited you to assist the new regime in the Transkei homeland?”

The Israelis were astonished. Their guest’s question insinuated that their tolerant and liberal activities were similar to the racist practices of apartheid rule. When they objected, he smiled at them.

I understand your reaction. But aren’t you basically doing the same thing? You and we both face the same existential problems, so we reach the same solution. The only difference is that your solution is pragmatic and ours ideological. Yes, we’re all in love with the compromises we make with ourselves.

More than 30 years have passed, and the pragmatic solutions “necessitated by reality” have crystallized into a coherent ideology. It’s called unilateral separation.

Like all ideologies, unilateral separation “rises above” pragmatic solutions to immediate needs, and purports to provide “an answer” to existential problems: Jewish existence (dubbed “Zionist”) is in mortal danger because of the demo-geographic threat.

Therefore everyone – liberals, conservatives, leftists and nationalists – rally round to save the Zionist enterprise by “separating” all the others, including Arab citizens of the state, using three barbed-wire fences – one “around Area A”, the second “near the Green Line”, and a third, never mentioned, along the international borders of mandatory Palestine.

Like all ideologies, unilateral separation mocks any argument that dares challenge the feasibility of its implementation. It all depends on making “brave national decisions” that rise to the occasion of the expected catastrophe, and those who are not ready to rise up to face the severity of the situation are being irresponsible.

Opposition to the ideology of unilateral separation on principle, for example, like using the “demographic threat” to characterize “the proliferation” of the other, and that its implementation will only meet the needs of the ruling group and the price will be paid by the other, are rejected with disgust.

Along with mocking the soft bleeding hearts, the ideologues of unilateral separation emphasize the “fact” that it will require “the evacuation of 30-35 settlements in Judea and Samaria and tearing out sections of the state populated by Arabs of Israel”.

That heavy price will remain, of course, theoretical, since the ideology of separation is based on the monopoly of absolute power (the “unilateral”) remaining forever in the hands of the stronger side – whether it has a demographic majority or whether it becomes a minority “in 2010”.

And when the demographic reversal does take place, they’ll simply stop counting the “others”: in any case there’s no relevance to the number of heads as long as they cannot raise their hands to vote.

The demographic “threat” is nothing more than a contemptible means to enlist xenophobia and the isolationist tendencies beating in the breasts of masses of frightened people who are lost without leadership, for the purpose of creating political movements that pretend to offer “solutions for the situation”.

The ideological preaching serves as a cover for “pragmatic” steps like closures and sieges, and the failure of the method requires ever-more extreme measures of separation, accompanied by ever-more extremist declarations about the “others” to justify the extreme measures.

And then, when the separation comes dangerously close to apartheid, everyone cries out, “How dare you compare? We’re in favor of a Palestinian state prospering on the other side of and between the three barbed-wire fences. Bantustan, you say? That’s an insult.”

If that South African official were to return today, he’d shake his head in sorrow.

We reached the conclusion ten years ago that unilateral separation that keeps the monopoly of coercion in the hands of the white community simply won’t last and has to go. Your political thinking now is the same as it was back when we first met. True, as I said then, the existential problems are the same; we chose a united multi-racial state (what you call a “binational” state). Maybe there’s still the alternative of dividing the country with an agreement. If there is, grab it.

Believe me, unilateral separation is not an option. It only will turn you into a pariah state isolated from the West, just as we were. We also thought the world didn’t understand us, wasn’t sensitive to our plight. You have it a little easier, because you can think it’s all anti-Semitism. Forget it. Learn from us.


Last updated on 23.8.2001