Top Israeli Official Warns Of An ‘Apartheid State’ Should Two-State Solution Fail

John Kerry and Tzipi Livni (Credit: Reuters)

A senior Israeli government official warned this week of a potential “apartheid state” should the Israelis and Palestinians fail in achieving a two-state solution to their decades-old conflict.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Justice Minister and lead negotiator with the Palestinians, has said that she supports U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent efforts to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track.

Speaking at a conference in Israel on Monday, Livni noted the possible bad options that lie ahead for Israel should the two sides fail to come to a peace agreement, the Jerusalem Post reported:

During her Eilat speech, Livni said she was impressed that youth in the country protested against the government decision to export natural gas.

“I appreciate the fact that they care and are thinking about the future, and obligating us to think about the future,” she said. “But the time has come for the same youth to ask, to what kind of state do they want to leave the gas reserves? To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state? It is impossible to deal with economic issues and to ignore the important diplomatic issues related to two states for two peoples.”

In suggesting that Israel could become an apartheid-like state absent a two-states agreement, Livni joins other high-level Israeli officials — including former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert — offering similar warnings.

But is the “apartheid” analogy accurate? Larry Derfner from the Israeli English language website +972 Magazine writes:

Myself, I don’t use that term to characterize the occupation because … apartheid was based on race, while the [Israeli] occupation [of the West Bank] is based on nationality and territory. Instead, I prefer terms like “military dictatorship,” “tyranny” and “colonialism.” But I think the similarities between the occupation and apartheid far outweigh the differences – they’re both based on one kind of people “legally” lording it over another kind – so while the term is imprecise, it’s not an insult, or an offense, or, to use a term right-wingers love, a “blood libel.”

Indeed, the term is contentious, and using it in the Israeli-Palestinian context often serves as a tool to shut down debate, as Matt Yglesias once noted on this blog. “The use of the term ‘apartheid’ seems to shut down people’s critical faculties and make them defensive,” he wrote back in 2010. “So I generally prefer to set it aside. The point is that there’s a political system in the West Bank where the Jewish residents have the right to vote, have privileged access to water, have exclusive access to some roadways, have privileged rights to travel, etc., none of which are shared by the non-Jewish residents. You can call it what you like, but it’s not democracy.”

But regardless of what term one uses to describe what might happen to the Jewish state absent a two-state solution — an outcome a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support — Livni’s comments highlight the urgency of achieving an agreement soon. Kerry, who has made five trips to the region in recent months trying to broker a deal, also recently warned that time is running out. “I can guarantee you that am committed to this,” he said during a House panel hearing in April, “because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time a year, a year and a half, to two years or its over.”

“As articulated by multiple U.S. administrations,” CAP’s Matt Duss wrote on Tuesday in support of Kerry’s efforts, “an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is in both the U.S. and Israeli interest, and U.S. leadership and engagement remains essential to achieving that goal.”