Same situation but different solution

The obvious parallels between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and apartheid in South Africa do not necessarily lead one to the conclusion that the solution that succeeded there is applicable here.

Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories are creating an apartheid situation whereby two communities living in the same territory do so under two completely different sets of regulated circumstances; answering to two different legal systems, driving on two separate road networks and working under different economic situations, etc. These different sets of laws are clear evidence of discrimination by the occupying forces that represent the settler minority and are causing a huge gap in the standard of living between the two peoples.

And as with the apartheid regime in South Africa, Israel is also in clear contravention of international law, the resolutions of the United Nations and the majority opinion of the international community vis-a-vis the conflict. It is obvious that the majority of world public opinion is in favor of the applicability of international law and thus clearly against the illegal occupation and its resulting apartheid practices.

One significant difference in this regard, however, is the difficulty in translating world public opinion into official positions of governments, especially influential ones. The main reason is that one of the two parties in the conflict, namely Israel, has two sources of influence on foreign governments. One is the strategic role Israel is playing in the region, which serves strategic interests of international powers such as the United States.

The second is the existence of pro-Israel lobbies powerful enough, both economically and politically, to be able to influence the positions and behaviors of other governments on the conflict, in particular the US. There, the influence of these lobby groups makes itself felt particularly in the Congress and Senate where representatives know their voting patterns vis-a-vis the conflict can influence the extent to which they receive funding for future election campaigns.

It took years of bloodshed and miserable racial discrimination, but fortunately, in South Africa they eventually managed to find a solution based on the fundamental principle of democracy, namely the one-man, one-vote system. In our case, such a solution, though attractive to Palestinians, has little practical chance of implementation. That’s why the only way out seems to be by dividing the land between the two peoples in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, some of which determine the principle–UNSCR 181–and some of which determine the borders–UNSCR 242.

The most important lessons that can be drawn by Palestinians and Israelis from the South African situation are three. First, people on both sides must renounce the use of violence and replace it by a constructive dialogue and negotiations that have a better chance of achieving the objective of peaceful co-existence.

Secondly, both parties must also realize they cannot get all that they want. This is a logical corollary to conducting negotiations in the spirit of compromise.

Finally, in all things, proper weight must be given to legality, whether in terms of following or respecting current international law or basing any future arrangement on new laws that enjoy the respect and the adherence of both parties.