Correction: Palestine Is Cross-Cut By “No Palestinians Allowed” Roads, Not Jews-Only Roads

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Here’s a message I got from SG:

Dear Mr. Yglesias

I am a conservative who enjoys reading your blog because of how well you articulate the liberal position and how it differs from the conservative one. However, I have issues with how you characterize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You consistently refer to the Palestinian territories as if they were already a country called “Palestine.” This is factually incorrect, there has never been an independent Arab country with this name, nor did any of the Arabs who attacked Israel in 1948 seek to set up a Palestinian state. You are also incorrect when you write of “Jews-only” roads in the West Bank. There are no such roads. It is true that there are roads for Israelis only for security reasons, but there are 1 million Israelis who are Arab, and the have identical license plates. I wish you would stop using the term, “Jews-only” to describe these roads because it gives the impression that Israel is practicing South-Africa style apartheid in the West Bank.

A couple of points on this. One is that I use the term “Palestine” because I think people ought to recognize Palestine’s right to exist and that people increasingly will do so after a declaration of statehood that we’re expecting to see in September. I think it would be much healthier to think of the territory west of the Jordan River as comprised of two states, Israel and Palestine, engaged in a boundary dispute than the currently prevailing dynamic where the existence of a Palestine is thought to be contingent on good behavior.

On the roads, however, SG is completely correct. There are no “Jews-only” roads in the West Bank and, indeed, when I visited the area I drove on the roads in a van that included both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans. What would be more correct (and, frankly, stranger) would be to say that these are roads accessible to everyone except Palestinians. In terms of the apartheid question, however, this is obviously a distinction without a difference. There are highways through the West Bank that Palestinians can’t use. There’s a section of Hebron where Palestinians carry goods on donkeys because they’re not allowed to use cars. It’s true that the exclusion of Palestinians from this infrastructure is done for security reasons, but the infrastructure is being built in order to colonize Palestinian territory. This is a street where Palestinians are only allowed to walk on one side (the smaller side) and non-Palestinians are only allowed to walk on the other:


Meanwhile, Israel claims to have annexed the eastern portion of Jerusalem and a good deal of its surrounding suburbs without granting citizenship to the Palestinian residents of that area or their descendants. It’s sensible that Zionists in the United States and elsewhere are concerned about Israeli policy being described in apartheidesque terms, but the correct expression of this concern is to try to change the policies not the descriptions.