Posted on May 24, 2019, by & filed under News.

By Jeff Halper

May 2006


The time has arrived. After years of warning of an “impending” regime of apartheid in Israel-Palestine, of the dangerous trend “towards” apartheid, of an “apartheid-like” situation, it has become official: within the next six to nine months an expanded Israel will officially and unilaterally impose an apartheid regime over the remaining tiny, isolated and impoverished islands of a Palestinian Bantustan. According to the official Guidelines of the Olmert government,

The government aspires to bring about the definition of the state's permanent borders as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, and as a democratic state, and will act to do so through a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of mutual recognition, existing agreements, the principles of the road map, an end to violence and the disarmament of the terror organizations. The government shall endeavor, as stated, to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians ... but if the Palestinians do not behave as stipulated in the near future, the government shall act even in the absence of negotiations and an agreement with them on the basis of the broad national consensus in Israel and its deep understanding with Israel’s friends in the world and at their head the United States of America and President George Bush.

That is, Israel, by annexing its major settlement blocs, declaring the Wall that intrudes deeply into Palestinian territory its permanent “demographic” border plus declaring the Jordan Valley its second eastern “security” border, Israel expands from 78% to some 85% of the country, sandwiching the Palestinians into a series of enclaves on the remaining 15%. The permanent and structured domination of Israel over the Palestinians based on the “separation” of Jews and Arabs in order to ensure Jewish demographic hegemony, combined with the creation of a truncated, non-viable Palestinian Bantustan, constitutes an apartheid regime in a full sense of the term. This is the only way to interpret the “Convergence Plan” that Ehud Olmert, Israel’s new Prime Minister, has laid out in great detail as the central task of his government.

Olmert’s address to both houses of Congress was perhaps the most skilled use of Newspeak since George Orwell invented the term in his novel 1984. (He had help: author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel reportedly drafted large sections of the speech.) Just as Orwell’s totalitarian propagandists proclaimed WAR IS PEACE and Israeli government signs placed at the Wall (sorry, fence) at the entrance to Bethlehem greet Palestinians with the blessing PEACE BE UNTO YOU, so Olmert declared in Washington: UNILATERAL REALIGNMENT IS PEACE.

Because of Olmert’s use of Orwellian language (can anyone, including President Bush or members of Congress, explain to us what “convergence” and “realignment” mean?), we must listen carefully to what is said, what is not said and what is meant.

What was said sounds fine if taken at face value. Olmert, extending “my hand in peace to Mahmoud Abbas, the elected president of the Palestinian Authority,” declared Israel’s willingness to negotiate with him on condition that the Palestinians “renounce terrorism, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, accept previous agreements and commitments, and recognize the right of Israel to exist.” If they do so, Olmert held out Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.

What wasn’t said? While reference to a Palestinian state sounds forthcoming, two key elements set down in the Road Map defining that state were missing: an end to the Israeli Occupation and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. “A settlement,” says the text of the Road Map to which Olmert and Bush constantly declare their allegiance, “will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel. The settlement will…end the occupation that began in 1967.”

Olmert’s “convergence plan,” based on the massive “facts on the ground” Israel continues to impose unilaterally with overt American support, cannot possibly give rise to a viable Palestinian state. The “Separation Barrier,” which will be declared Israel’s permanent “demographic border,” takes 10% of the West Bank. That may not sound like much but consider this: it incorporates into Israel the major settlement blocs (plus a half-million Israeli settlers) while carving the West Bank into a number of small, disconnected, impoverished “cantons” – hardly the basis for a viable state. It removes from the Palestinians their richest agricultural land and all the water.

The convergence plan also creates a “greater” Israeli Jerusalem over the entire central portion of the West Bank, thereby cutting the economic, cultural, religious and historic heart out of any Palestinian state. It then sandwiches the Palestinians between the Barrier/border and yet another “security” border, the Jordan Valley, giving Israel two eastern borders. Palestinian freedom of movement of both people and goods is thus prevented into both Israel and Jordan but also internally, between the various cantons. Israel will also retain control of Palestinian airspace, the electro-magnetic sphere and even the right of a Palestinian state to conduct its own foreign policy.

The Road Map, like international law regarding the end of occupations in general, also insists on a negotiated solution between the parties. Olmert made a great issue of Palestinian terrorism (playing on American sensibilities to this buzzword), placing pre-conditions on negotiations. Israel is willing to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, he said, if it renounces terrorism, dismantles the terrorist infrastructure, accepts previous agreements and recognizes the right of Israel to exist (a right Israel has not recognized vis-a-vis the Palestinians). What is not mentioned is Israel’s Occupation which, regardless of an end to terror and negotiations, is being institutionalized and made permanent. For neither security nor terrorism are really the issue; Israel’s policies of annexation are based on a pro-active claim to the entire country. Virtually no element of the Occupation – the establishment of some 300 settlements, expropriation of most West Bank land, the demolition of 12,000 Palestinian homes, the uprooting of a million olive and fruit trees, the construction of a massive system of highways to link the settlements into Israel proper or the tortuous route of the Barrier deep in Palestinian territory – can be explained by security. Terrorism on all sides is wrong (let it be noted that Israel has killed four times more civilians than the Palestinians have), but to demand that resistance cease while an occupation is being made permanent is unconscionable.

Finally, what was meant? In a word: Apartheid. The “A” word was missing from Olmert’s speech, of course, but the bottom line of his convergence plan is clear: the establishment of a permanent, institutionalized regime of Israeli domination over Palestinians based on separation between Jews and Arabs. The only slight hitch in Olmert’s march to convergence was American and European opposition to Israel unilaterally determining its borders. That was too brutal, too obvious a gross departure from the Road Map, moribund but still given lip-service as the only diplomatic initiative on the table, which is based on mutual steps towards a settlement and negotiations. So how does Olmert plan to adapt his unilateral plan to the Road Map? By making a simple adjustment from “convergence” to “realignment.” In Olmert’s subtle new formulation, then, Israel is merely “realigning” its borders in an “interim” manner that conforms to Phase Two of the Road Map. The Palestinians get their state, albeit with “provisional borders.” And given the history of Israel’s “facts on the ground” -- “temporary” outposts, by-pass roads, closures, checkpoints, walls and all the rest of its matrix of control – the “interim realignment” becomes, de facto, the permanent system of control, domination and expansion envisioned in the Convergence Plan.

On May 23rd, 2006, when Olmert met with Bush to extract the requisite American approval for convergence (they spent a full six hours together), he got the word that by switching from unilateral convergence to interim realignment he could finesse his plan for a permanent de facto settlement without requiring the Quartet to actually approve deviations from the Road Map. Although this was commented upon in the Israeli press, it was lost on the British. The Big News of the June 12th Blair-Olmert press conference, we were told, was Blair’s unwillingness to endorse Olmert’s unilateral “convergence plan.” The Bigger News was – who cares? It will be implemented anyway, albeit under the rubric of “realignment,” and Israel will even win kudos for by-passing the Road Map just as it did from Blair over its unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza.

A discerning ear would have heard a joint shared framing of the conflict that already prejudices the Palestinians’ case. Blair spoke about the “disputed territories” rather than “occupied territories,” the term used in his own Road Map. The difference is not merely semantic. “Occupied territories” have a determined status in international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an Occupying Power from transferring its population into an occupied area, from building settlements and from hindering daily life or harming the well-being of the occupied population in any way. It also rejects the notion of unilateralism, making it incumbent upon an Occupying Power to enter into negotiations with the occupied people. Adopting the term “disputed territories” negates all that. It accepts Israel’s contention that there is no occupation, merely “disputed territories,” and that therefore international law does not apply. Negotiations are therefore not required (and Blair gave room to Olmert to proceed unilaterally if the Palestinians do not accept pre-conditions that have no basis in international law), and even if they do take place perfunctorily Israel, infinitely stronger than the Palestinians on the ground, will have no problem imposing its own terms.

But Olmert is extraordinarily clever and fast on his feet. He side-stepped Blair without the latter even knowing it. Olmert knows the Road Map is dead but still requires lip-service (even Blair, who self-admittedly formulated the Road Map and has declared his personal commitment to it, called it a “mantra”). He got Blair to agree to three “conditions” the Palestinians must meet for negotiations to begin (recognize Israel, end violence and sign onto the Road Map), without insisting on three conditions that Israel must meet in the First Phase of the Road Map (end violence on its part, freeze settlement activities and improve humanitarian conditions, including freedom of movement and end to house demolitions). But, again, Olmert’s most clever move was to bring his “convergence plan” within the framework of the Road Map, thereby mollifying Blair, Bush & Co. He is even willing to meet with Abu Mazen to give the appearance of negotiating, although convergence/realignment is predicated upon avoiding negotiations – not because of Palestinian intransigence, as we are all told, but simply because Israel has nothing of meaning to negotiate.

In Olmert’s plan, the Road Map process is generally followed but gets “stuck” in Phase Two, an interim Palestinian state with provisional borders, and never gets to Phase Three, an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state. This, of course, is the Palestinians’ greatest fear, since they know from experience that for Israel de facto means permanent. Once it has turned the Separation Barrier into a border, annexed the settlement blocs and “greater” Jerusalem and created the semblance of a two-state solution, no further pressures to advance to Phase Three will be forthcoming.

And lest we think that Bush and Blair’s reservation about Israeli unilateralism truly impressed Olmert (who needs only one ally of note: an American Congress that trumps even the President), the very next day after his meeting with Blair, the Israeli Prime Minister publicly declared, in the presence of Chirac, that "The [convergence] plan is inevitable, it will be implemented, hopefully by agreement, but it will be implemented."

So where does this leave the Palestinians? Irrelevant, manipulated, set up, as usual. “Should we realize that the bilateral track with the Palestinians is of no consequence,” said Olmert to Congress, “should the Palestinians ignore our outstretched hand for peace, Israel will seek other alternatives to promote our future and the prospects of hope in the Middle East. At that juncture, the time for realignment will occur. Realignment would be a process to allow Israel to build its future without being held hostage to Palestinian terrorist activities.” Talk about an Orwellian formulation! The election of Hamas has nothing to do with the impossibility of negotiations. Sharon refused to negotiate with or even meet the pliable Abbas, and Israeli governments never negotiated seriously with Arafat. The truth is that Israel has nothing to negotiate. “Greater” Jerusalem is ours, the settlement blocs are ours, the borders are ours, the water is ours, even the sky is ours. What’s left to negotiate? And Israel’s success in neutralizing the Palestinians is stunning. The diplomatic and economic isolation imposed on the Palestinians after Hamas won the elections represents the first time in history an occupied people fighting for their freedom (a right recognized by UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples) is sanctioned rather the power occupying its land and oppressing it.

No, Abu Mazen’s designated role is not as a negotiator. Israel does not need him to broker an agreement; in 6-9 months, according to Olmert’s declared timeline, an apartheid regime named “realignment” will be imposed anyway, thanks to Israel’s ability to delegitimize Hamas (despite its declared readiness to seek a political accommodation). What Israel seeks in order to successfully execute realignment is a coordinator on the Palestinian side who will ensure that the process flows smoothly – the very role Abbas played in the Gaza “disengagement.” Israel hasn’t spent forty years and billions of dollars to leave the disposition of its settlement blocs and borders to the whims of unnecessary negotiations with the Arabs.
There is, however, one element missing in Olmert’s and the Quartet’s evaluation of Israel’s ability to get away with apartheid: the Palestinians’ role as “gatekeeper.” The Israel-Palestine conflict is emblematic to the Muslim world of Western neo-colonialism and American Empire. The Occupation is seen not as an Israeli occupation but as an American-European-Israeli occupation. Israel may well avoid negotiating with the Palestinians and, with Blair’s help, may even finesse “realignment” as a “two-sate solution.” But until the Palestinians signal to the Arab and Muslim worlds – plus the wider international community – that a just and lasting solution has in fact been achieved, this conflict will continue to destabilize the entire global system.


Needed: An Anti-Apartheid Campaign

Given the international support Israel has garnered and the urgency of defeating convergence/realignment/apartheid, the time has come to launch a coherent, assertive Big Picture anti-apartheid “meta-campaign.” Campaigns of divestment and sanctions; campaigns against house demolitions, the construction of the Wall, the uprooting of olive trees; campaigns for applying the Fourth Geneva Convention or norms of human rights to the Occupied Territories; resistance to Occupation on the ground and internationally – as vital as they are to the struggle for justice and peace in Palestine-Israel – must be integrated into this overarching meta-campaign.

A draft of the “Call” for a global anti-apartheid campaign is presented below. It presents in concise form the issues outlined above, opposes the “convergence plan,” stresses the urgency of the situation, demands international intervention and presents the essential elements of any just and lasting peace. After the Call is finalized and Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, activist groups and prominent public figures sign it, it will become the basis of a campaign designed to mobilize civil society against Israel’s impending apartheid regime.

Many, we know, will take issue with the term “apartheid.” There are those who object to that term on the grounds that it is a “red flag” that deflects debate from the issues themselves. They prefer terms more descriptive for what is occuring in Israel-Palestine: “dispossession,” “ethnic cleansing,” “colonization,” “occupation,” “separation” and others. Yet we feel that apartheid is the only term that gets to the systemic quality of Israel’s Occupation, beyond mere policies of discrimination. While not based on the racial policies of South African apartheid, it is based on ethnic, religious and national separation – indeed, “separation” (apartheid in Afrikans) is the official name Israel gives to its policies vis-à-vis the Occupied Territoties. More to the point, the formal institutionalization of the Occupation whereby one state assumes permanent and structured domination over another, one people permanent domination over another through a system of institutionalized discrimination, means that Israel’s form of apartheid conforms in principle, conception and structure to that of South Africa.

Still, to avoid disagreement and bring in as many people and groups as possible, the first stage of the campaign covering the period leading up to Olmert’s actual implementation of the “convergence plan” will warn against the danger of impending apartheid. Only at implementation will the campaign turn into an explicit and full-fledged anti-apartheid campaign.

While the Call specifies the elements necessary for a just and sustainable peace and calls on the international community to adopt them, it does not advocate a particular political resolution of the conflict (one/two states, confederation, etc.). The campaign is instead intended to focus on apartheid and occupation, preparing the ground for negotiations among government that will lead to a just resolution.

The proposed campaign, then, is based on the following principles:

  • A triple-focus. The proposed campaign would focus on three fundamental preconditions for a just resolution of the conflict: (1) resistance to any attempt to impose an apartheid regime over Israel-Palestine; (2) insistence on a complete end to the Occupation; and (3) rejection out of hand of any attempt to impose a “solution” unilaterally. The anti-apartheid campaign would remain separate from any effort to promote a particular solution. Unlike the case of South Africa when the anti-apartheid movement fought to establish a single democratic state, there is no consensus among the Palestinians as to the “end game:” the political goal of Fatah differs from that of Hamas; proponents of a one-state solution exist side-by-side with proponents of various two-state solutions and of regional confederation. In order to attract maximal support, then the focus of the campaign should be on the three elements specified above.
  • From Prevention to Resistance. The first phase of the Campaign would direct our energies towards preventing Israel from formally imposing an apartheid regime on Palestine with international backing. This really brings the struggle to the doorstep of every civil society group which is charged, among other things, with preventing its country from supporting Israel’s apartheid intentions. In the likelihood that apartheid is in fact announced on a particular date (when Israel officially announces the implementation of its Convergence Plan), the Campaign would shift to a full-fledged campaign against apartheid.
  • Mobilization of international civil society. Resistance to apartheid and movement towards a just peace will take place only if significant international pressure can be applied to Israel, the Occupying Power. For this it will be necessary to mobilize much wider circles of civil society than we have until now. The Israel-Palestine conflict must be re-framed as a global conflict having an impact far beyond its local confines. Only then will we be able to mobilize wider segments of the activist community than we have until today. And only when we succeed will be able to both pressure our governments and engage with them to secure a just peace.
  • Integration of existing campaigns. An anti-apartheid campaign does not replace any existing campaign. It merely provides an overarching and urgent framework in which the various campaigns can “plug in” and coordinate their collective efforts. In addition to their existing activities, each campaign should relate to the urgency of imminent apartheid and gear its demands to that eventuality. We all benefit from coordinated campaigns and sharing resources.

This Call and campaign are perhaps one of the most important initiatives civil society has taken until now. Given our record of fragmentation, it is to be hoped that we will find a way to work together in good faith and good will to achieve our common aim: an end to Occupation, an end to any hint of apartheid and a just resolution to the conflict.

A Call of Civil Society to End the Israeli Occupation, Prevent the Imposition of an Apartheid Regime Over the Palestinian Territories and Achieve a Just and Lasting Peace

We, representatives of Palestinian, Israeli and international civil societies, call upon governments, international organizations and individuals of conscience to raise their voices against the imminent imposition of a permanent apartheid regime of Israel over Palestine and to join in a collective effort to end the Occupation before all hopes of a just peace in Palestine-Israel are dashed forever. The intentions of the Israeli government are spelled out in detail in its “Convergence Plan.” Immediately upon receiving American approval (even tacit), Israel will move to declare both its illegal Wall extending far into Palestinian territory as its new permanent border and the Jordan Valley as its second eastern border. Its massive settlement blocs containing 87% of its illegal settlers will be annexed, leaving the Palestinians with a non-viable Bantustan comprised of tiny, impoverished and disconnected enclaves – a prison-state. The brutal physical “separation” of Jewish and Palestinian populations in which Israel permanently controls 85% of Palestine-Israel, the borders, Palestinian freedom of movement, the economy, Jerusalem, the richest agricultural lands, the water and even the country’s airspace constitutes nothing less than a full-fledged apartheid regime. Israel’s Convergence Plan will institutionalize Israel’s Occupation in perpetuity, reducing the Palestinians to a fragmented, powerless and dependent population without any rights of self-determination whatsoever. According to Olmert Israel will complete its unilateral program of convergence/realignment while President Bush still holds office.

The international community cannot remain silent, indifferent and inactive. Israel’s Convergence Plan is as illegal in international law as it is immoral, since the Fourth Geneva Convention specifies that occupation can only be disposed through negotiations, not through unilateral actions. It is inconceivable that only a few years after the fall of both the Berlin Wall and South African apartheid the international community would permit an entire people to be literally imprisoned and a new apartheid regime to emerge before our eyes.

We of the Palestinian, Israeli and international civil societies call upon the international community to take immediate and effective steps:

  1. To reaffirm the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination as guaranteed in international law;
  2. To end totally Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and to dismantle the Wall;
  3. To find a just and mutually agreed-upon solution to the refugee issues that complies with international law and UN resolution 194 regarding the rights of Palestinian refugees;
  4. To guarantee to the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel the fundamental right to full equality; and
  5. To ensure the integrity and security of all the states in the region.

For the sake of justice and genuine peace in Palestine/Israel, as an essential contribution to global stability and well-being and, indeed, for the promotion of a world based on human rights and international law, we call upon you all to join with us in initiating a world-wide Campaign to Prevent an Israeli Apartheid.

Dr Jeff Halper is an anthropologist and the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and was nominated with the Palestinian peace activist Ghassan Andoni, for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He can be reached at