No matter what John Kerry says, Israel is not in danger of becoming an apartheid state — but the same can’t be said of a future Palestinian state.
Last week, Kerry was caught on tape warning an off-the-record meeting of the Trilateral Commission that if Israel does not reach a peace deal with the Palestinians soon, it is at risk of becoming like apartheid South Africa. The statement was asinine for the reasons journalist Jamie Kirchick ably laid out in Tablet magazine, but since we are talking about apartheid, has anyone stopped and considered what a Palestinian state would actually look like?
During a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in 2011, I asked Maen Rashid Areikat, who represents the Palestinians in Washington, whether he could imagine a Jew being elected mayor of a city in an independent Palestine.
“Well, I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future,” he said, suggesting that an independent Palestine wouldn’t allow Jews to even live there. “But after the experience of 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it will be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first.”
After his statement caused a minor uproar, Areikat absurdly claimed I distorted what he had said. But his comments were on tape. I even followed him to his car and twice gave him an opportunity to clarify his remarks. Repeatedly asked if “Jews” would be allowed to live in a Palestinian state, he reiterated his vision of total separation.
Now, I doubt many Jews would be signing up to live in a Palestinian state, even if they were allowed to do so. Arab countries don’t have the strongest reputations for providing rights to their own Arab populations, much less Jews. According to Freedom House, of the 16 Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, not a single one is considered “free.” A few have been awarded the middling rating of “partly free,” but the majority received the human rights organization’s worst rating of “not free.”
Perhaps an independent Palestine would be different than every other Arab country that exists. But there is really no good reason to believe so. The West Bank’s semi-autonomous government is hardly a model of freedom. Gaza is even worse. Not too long after Israel left Gaza in 2005, the terrorist group Hamas established a religious despotism there. If any Jews actually lived in Gaza, you can bet they would be second-class citizens, if they weren’t murdered outright. Apartheid would probably be something to long for if you were a Jew living in Gaza.
While Kerry is fretting over the imaginary threat of an “apartheid” Israel, the Jewish state continues to be the only country in the region where Arabs have the type of rights we in the West take for granted. Israel is the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region to get Freedom House’s top rating of “free.” That doesn’t mean Israel is perfect. But Israeli Arabs serve in Israel’s parliament, sit on Israel’s Supreme Court, have served in Israel’s cabinet and have succeeded in the media and private sector. Just last week, Samer Shalabi, an Israeli Arab, was elected chair of Israel’s Foreign Policy Association.
Let me be clear: Despite my concerns about what a future Palestinian state would look like, I still support a two state solution. But a two state solution will only be possible when there is a unified and moderate Palestinian leadership willing to prepare its people for peace. It certainly won’t come about as long as a terrorist group founded upon a charter with genocidal yearnings remains in control of Gaza.
It would be far more productive for Kerry to promote liberal Palestinian institutions rather than push a peace process that cannot now succeed or scaremonger about a future Israeli dystopia that is unlikely to ever come to be. But I guess that’s not the type of thing that puts one in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize.