January 15, 2023

Israel – an Apartheid State – Deepens Its Oppression of the Palestinians

Vijay Prashad

ON January 8, 2023, the Israeli government revoked the travel permit of Riyad al-Maliki. This act is not unusual, since Israel controls the movements of all Palestinians and routinely denies Palestinians the right to mobility, especially between the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the territories designated as Israel. The apartheid wall that snakes around the West Bank has a few gates where Palestinians stand in long, interminable queues where they experience terrible humiliation trying to go to work in Israel or trying to meet family members separated by the Israeli occupation. Riyad al-Maliki is a Palestinian, and therefore is just one more person in a long line of people who experience this form of discrimination. But he is also different than his fellow Palestinians, because al-Maliki is the minister of foreign affairs in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Al-Maliki was told that his special privileges had been revoked by Israel when he returned to the country from the inauguration of President Lula of Brazil.

The revocation of al-Maliki’s permit was made by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security in the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Ben-Gvir is the leader of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), a far-right party that is in an electoral alliance with Netanyahu to form Israel’s first openly theocratic and Jewish supremacist government. Jewish Power, Ben-Givr’s party, is for the annexation of all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and for the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel-controlled territory who are not seen to be loyal to Israel. Ben-Gvir’s new ministry will control the Israeli security forces all the way from the west of the Jordan river, giving him power over Palestinians who are supposedly under the legal power of the PNA. As minister, Ben-Givr banned the presence of any Palestinian flags in public spaces, saying that these flags are a display of ‘terrorism’. Men such as Ben-Givr, and the political forces that they represent, are maximalists: they reject the establishment of any Palestinian state and indeed they reject the existence of Palestinians. Their maximalism, therefore, includes the annihilation of the idea of Palestine, both as a political entity and as a historical social identity. Ben-Gvir has tried to withdraw some of his more dangerous statements, such as that all Palestinians must be deported from his Greater Israel, but the stain of this kind of ethnocide persists. It has come to define this new government of Benjamin Netanyahu, his sixth since 1996.

It has become commonplace in the liberal western media to bemoan the entry of men such as Ben-Gvir into Israel’s government. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, for instance, asked, ‘What in the World is Happening in Israel?’ (December 15, 2022), scratching his head about the entry of party leaders (Aryeh Deri, Bezalel Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, and Netanyahu) who have been either ‘arrested, indicted, convicted, or served prison time on charges of corruption or incitement to racism’. While Netanyahu’s government is fiercely far-right wing, from the standpoint of the Palestinians, there is a great continuity in Zionist state policy. On December 30, 2022, Netanyahu defined his government’s mission with clarity: ‘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’. Netanyahu’s maximalist standard – that the Jewish people, not just the Zionist state, have the right to the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea – is not something that has appeared precipitously in the statements of this government. It is rooted in Israeli state policy. Israel’s Basic Law (2018) says, ‘The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established’. Such a legal manoeuvre established Israel as the land of Jewish people and not as a multinational or multi-ethnic territory; furthermore, every administrative definition of the ‘State of Israel’ asserts its control over the entire territory from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea (for example, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has – since at least 1967 – counted every one of the Israelis living to the west of the Jordan river, even in the West Bank, as Israelis, and official Israeli maps show none of the internal divisions produced by the 1994 Oslo Accords).

Netanyahu’s government certainly has shoved aside all pretence of Zionist liberalism, which was never liberal for the Palestinians, but which provided a liberal face for their North Atlantic allies. No longer can Israeli propagandists praise the country for its adherence to a socially liberal culture, tolerance of sexual minorities and advancement of women’s rights, for instance. Netanyahu’s cabinet includes the hard-right Noam party, and its leader – Avi Maoz – is the head of new ministry to regulate Jewish identity. Maoz’s Noam party is anti-Arab and anti-LGBTQ, with its mischievous slogan, ‘Israel chooses to be normal’. As part of his view of Jewish identity, Maoz believes in total gender segregation and believes women’s role is to raise the family. If there will be eyebrows raised in the North Atlantic, it will be around these issues and not about the routine oppression of the Palestinians. These socially illiberal views are consonant with the kind of political worldview of the hard right, as it consolidates across the world, bringing together a deep hatred of minorities of all kinds (migrants, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities).

Part of the virulence of the Israeli hard-right comes from the gains made by the Palestinian struggle over the course of the past decade. Despite the fragmentation of the Palestinian political project, the Palestinians have been able to galvanise majority votes in the UN General Assembly both to condemn the occupation and to advance their claims of the Israeli occupation being a permanent condition of apartheid. Most recently, on December 31, 2022, the UN General Assembly voted 87 to 26 to ask the International Court of Justice to provide an opinion on ‘Israel’s prolonged occupation, settlement, and annexation of Palestinian territory’. There were signs, even in this vote, of the weakness of the Palestinian solidarity movement. Fifty-three countries abstained from this vote, such as India and Brazil (at that time under the rule of Jair Bolsonaro). The United States – along with most of its European allies – voted against the motion. The fact of this motion, however, deepened the anger inside Israel.

The future of the Palestinian struggle remains unclear. A lack of basic unity amongst Palestinian forces weakens their overall struggle for national liberation. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) no longer carries the political prestige that it did decades ago. Attempts to revitalise it have failed, with other forces – such as Hamas – suspicious of the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority. Not only has this political fragmentation taken its toll, but there is no consensus over a political project. Two paths remain open: attempting to create a Palestinian state in the threadbare territories promised by the Oslo Accords or attempting to build a binational state in Israel/Palestine. The second, the binational state, is an option foreclosed by the Zionist insistence that Israel be a Jewish state, an ethnocentric and anti-democratic option. The first, Palestinian statehood, is increasingly unlikely as parties such as Jewish Power regularise illegal settlements in the land promised for that state, and as the Israeli state withdraws any possibility of sovereign action by the Palestinian National Authority, such as revoking the right of movement of its foreign minister.