Building 'Bantustans' in the West
by Charmaine Seitz
In These Times, August 2002
Ramallah, the West Bank - Ramallah is
eerily quiet. In the mornings, Palestinians wake and listen for
traffic, a sign that the Israeli military has lifted its injunction
against going outside. Sometimes, the traffic is wrong and gunshots
ring out. Then: silence once more.
The despair is palpable. "It is very
bad," says Rima Tarazi of the General Union of Palestinian
Women. "If you are going to ask me now what I see for the
next year, l don't know. l can't tell you anything."
But what Palestinians express as hopelessness,
the Israeli government sees as a big victory. Armed Palestinian
attacks have slowed-but not ceased-as the Israeli army is once
again patrolling Palestinian towns. What is rarely talked about
is the accompanying loss: prospects for viable Palestinian statehood.
"I think Israel believes that it
has defeated the Palestinians," says Jeff Halper of the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions. "It is finished. The
war is over. What that means then is that Israel doesn't have
to negotiate anymore with the Palestinians. Israel is now free
to pretty much impose whatever it wants."
In recent weeks, walls have been built,
plans approved and settlements institutionalized that literally
reshape the West Bank. In the northern half of the West Bank,
construction is well underway on a fence dividing Israel proper
from the areas it occupied in 1967. Or almost. Palestinians say
that the 110-kilometer fence, first approved in 2001, actually
dips beyond the 1967 borders, completing the de facto annexation
of 69 square kilometers of the West Bank, including 11 villages
of some 40,000 Palestinians. Another 2,500 acres of West Bank
land has been confiscated from Palestinian landowners for the
building of a second wall stretching north from southern Tulkarem.
Amid the recent violence, the Israeli
government has approved settlement plans previously considered
too controversial. The final door has nearly closed on Palestinian
access to East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1980. In June,
Israel's zoning commission approved the Eastern Gate plan, a settlement
complex that cartographer Jan de Jong predicted in 1998 would
"determine the chances of East Jerusalem forever." The
new scheme and accompanying roads would make it possible for Israel
to add 800,000 Israeli settlers to the area, while preventing
Palestinian growth in the city. Currently, there are some 200,000
Israelis in East Jerusalem settlements, competing with 200,000
While Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer
made world headlines last month for dismantling several outposts
put up by Israeli settlers in the West Bank without government
approval, settlement watchdog groups say the move was just a smokescreen.
The 90 outposts were reduced by 11, but the rest gained de facto
government support. It is no accident that these sparsely manned
outposts lay just on the seams of Palestinian populated areas.
"What is actually happening is a slow process of legitimizing
these settlements," says Dror Etkes of Peace Now.
The northern West Bank will be split from
the Ramallah area by an extensive bloc of settlements connected
to Israel. The Ramallah area will then be cut off from the southern
West Bank by an enlarged Jerusalem controlled by Israel. Another
small canton will be made up of Palestinian communities in East
Jerusalem, while walled Gaza remains largely intact. "That
will be the independent state," Halper predicts of Gaza.
"And then the Palestinians in the other four cantons will
either get autonomy, or-if there is a lot of pressure-Israel will
give them Palestinian citizenship. It doesn't really matter because
Israel has encircled them and still has control."
The new map looks uncannily like a 1997
"peace plan" fronted by Sharon as a cabinet minister.
At the time, the idea of annexing 65 percent of the West Bank
and 30 percent of the Palestinians living there was laughed at.
But Israelis today are convinced that by turning down the proposals
offered at Camp David before the current hostilities, Palestinians
rejected peace. "There is an agreement [in this Israeli government]
that there should be a Bantustan," Halper says. "The
Israelis don't use the word Bantustan, but that is what it is."
Halper is not the only one to draw comparisons
with apartheid. "I've been very deeply distressed in my visit
to the Holy Land," Archbishop Desmond Tutu told a Boston
conference in April. "It reminded me so much of what happened
to us black people in South Africa."
For their part, Palestinians view this
new map with an uncharacteristic pessimism. There seems to be
little that Palestinians can do to halt the process underway in
the West Bank. "Maybe this is my idealism speaking,"
Halper persists hopefully, "but it is hard for me to believe
that in the 21st century, in the light of day, with CNN and everything
else, a new apartheid situation could actually emerge."
Still, even he admits that he has no idea
what might stop it.