Dr. Tilley is a political scientist specializing in the comparative and international politics of racial and ethnic conflict and serves as a chief research specialist in the Democracy and Governance Programme at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa.
In an Israeli-Palestinian peace process most commonly described as “moribund,” the Palestinian Authority (PA) recently raised a diplomatic ripple by publicly proposing to make a “unilateral declaration of independence” for a State of Palestine within the 1967 Armistice borders of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). In challenging the diplomatic stalemate, the proposal struck a range of observers as positive, suggesting an innovative way to rekindle the diplomatic process and hope of an eventual peace agreement. Yet the implications of this proposal are more complicated than they appear.
Publicly, the reasons for issuing a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) appear to be tactical. It could redefine Israel’s occupation as invasion and thus re-legitimize Palestinian resistance, potentially triggering more effective international intervention. It could give the Palestinian side more leverage by allowing it to escape the disabling status of a non-state actor. It could reconfigure the "peace talks" as negotiations between two states, rather than leaving statehood forever contingent on irreconcilable differences about final-status issues. At the least, by opening a new stage with attendant unknowns, it could help prop up the PA’s disintegrating standing with the Palestinian people for another year or two by raising some hope for new diplomatic openings. Although the principal beneficiaries of this maneuver may be PA elites, preserving the PA could be welcomed by the entire international community. Since the great majority of world states currently have diplomatic relations with the PA and international diplomacy operates through its Ramallah office, just preserving the PA could be seen as desirable, whether its activities and negotiations are effective or not.
Thus, as a diplomatic maneuver, the proposition (or threat) to issue a UDI has its own uses. The question explored here is whether a UDI, if actually issued, is likely to serve international security by contributing to a stable peace. This question requires some forward projection about what kind of Palestinian “state” a UDI is likely to generate. In the highly unlikely event that it impels Israel to withdraw wholly from the occupied Palestinian territories, it could conceivably assist in the creation of a viable Palestinian state that would satisfy Palestinian national demands, or at least defuse those demands sufficiently that the conflict drops off the international agenda (including the agendas of terrorist groups). If a UDI instead permanently seals the PA’s current condition of extreme vulnerability and dependency within a fragmented territory — a condition that inherently leads to anti-democratic and repressive governance — then it is a formula for a leadership crisis, Palestinian insurrection, and continuing unrest and militancy throughout the Middle East.
Weighing the likelihood of these scenarios requires identifying and assessing the factors that shape them. This project can benefit from historical consideration of a similar attempt, the project to establish separate states for black Africans in apartheid South Africa. Ideological sensitivities regarding this comparison should not deter this study. Comparative politics across world regions is always a complicated undertaking, and comparative conflict resolution is more complicated still, but these two cases are clearly close enough to warrant the attempt. Both involve cases where a dominant state, self-identified with a particular ethnic or racial group, premised its survival on politically and physically excluding an indigenous population of ethnic others in order to sustain an overwhelming titular majority. In both cases, this perceived imperative inspired the state to award the unwanted population a form of self-governance in part of the territory. Both are highly unequal conflicts, in which a world-class military confronts a demilitarised indigenous civilian population. The two conflicts are also contemporary, having assumed their modern parameters through decisive events in 1948, such that the evolving context of international politics, law and human-rights norms is the same. Last but not least, Israel and South Africa were close allies throughout the apartheid era and shared considerable expertise and consultation about their common demographic and security predicaments.
Hence the factors that shaped the outcome of apartheid South Africa’s project to develop “homelands” for its black population are pertinent to identifying and assessing factors likely to steer the long-term impact of a UDI in Palestine. The following discussion is structured into three sections: a review of the Annapolis approach to Palestinian state-building, a brief summary of the South African Homeland or “Bantustan” history, and an assessment of the implications for UDI.
FRAMEWORK FOR A UDI
All observers agree that some breakthrough in the so-called “peace process” is needed. The Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Interim Governing Authority (PA), exhausted hopes for a final agreement after the failed Camp David summit of 2000 and the outbreak of the Second Intifada. In 2002, the Oslo framework of “stages” was effectively replaced by the simpler “Roadmap” agreement, developed by the Bush administration, which called openly for a two-state solution. The Roadmap replaced all previous frameworks and remains relevant to this day; it also comprised the basis for UN Security Council resolutions endorsing a two-state solution.1 By 2007, however, the Roadmap in its turn was recognized as failing to make any headway on the thorny final-status issues: Jerusalem, settlements, borders, water and the return of Palestinian refugees. The comment by Dov Weissglass that the diplomatic process had gone into “formaldehyde” after Israel’s withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2006 had proved precise.
In late 2007, growing international concern prompted the Bush administration to launch yet another framework, termed here the “Annapolis process.” This process was not merely a new stage in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Launched at a one-day conference in Annapolis, Maryland, on November 27 and linked to a Donor’s Conference in Paris that December, the Annapolis process redirected international action away from negotiations toward financial support for one side of the conflict: Palestinian state-building. International confidence in this approach was encouraged by the PA’s elaborate Palestin ian Reform and Development Plan (PRDP), an ambitious development scheme composed by the appointed government of Salim Fayyad. The stated assumption at the Paris Donor’s Conference (PDC) was that firmer financial footing for the PA, and more effective state institutions, could eventually translate into an independent Palestinian state in line with the two-state “vision” affirmed by UN Security Council Resolutions 1397 and 1515.
Not publicly announced at the time was that Fayyad had appended a confidential addendum proposing a unilateral declaration of independence for a State of Palestine after two years. Although this addendum had no formal international guarantees, privately it helped to assure an international community already suffering serious donor fatigue that their financial support had a conceptual horizon. Without such a horizon, the Fayyad Plan could simply threaten to reproduce the failed Oslo process, in which international funds supported Palestinian institution building from 1995 until 2002, when Israel attacked and wrecked the infrastructure so laboriously built up. Moreover, by 2007, it was clear to all observers that international support for the PA had had the primary effect of spawning a culture of rampant corruption, more clearly fostering Palestinian disillusionment and political alienation and fragmentation, as expressed in rising popular support for Hamas, than improved capacity for nation- and state-building. As the PRDP promised to correct these ills, the UDI promised to bypass the crippling final-status disagreements that have blocked creation of a Palestinian state, now seen as the magic bullet for solving the Palestinian problem.
But in fact, in bypassing final-status issues, the proposed UDI bypassed crucial questions about what kind of independence could be created. The thrust of the Annapolis process indeed focused more on how reform and development could help reconsolidate power for the discredited Ramallah-PA led by Mahmud Abbas than on how capacity building could lead to meaningful sovereignty. An exemplar of technocratic planning, the PRDP laid out three general aims.The first was to restore the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through various development and institution-building projects, which the PDC supported by a total of $7.4 billion in pledges. The second aim was “to maximise the resources available to the Palestinian Authority” with the nominally principled goal of restoring Palestinian political unity. The third aim was “to contribute to the Palestinian institution-building program in preparation for statehood.”
State-building, Palestinian unity and economic development are, taken separately, of incontestable value to building a workable peace process. Grouped as a package, however, these aims became expressly factional in supporting the Abbas government to reclaim exclusive authority over the entire Palestinian population in the occupied territories. This goal was stated explicitly at the PDC and in related reports including the World Bank report, which held the Hamas government in Gaza to be illegal and stipulated that the Palestinian people must be unified “behind President Abbas.”5
Still, the agreed goal at Paris was a viable Palestinian state. The PRDP proposed a “Vision” of this state that emphasized Palestinian national life:
Palestine is an independent Arab state with sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the pre-June 1967 occupation borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestine is a stable democratic state that respects human rights and guarantees equal rights and duties for all citizens. Its people live in a safe and secure environment under the rule of law, and it promotes equality between men and women. It is a state which values highly its social capital, social coherence and solidarity, and identifies itself with Arab Palestinian culture, humanistic values and religious tolerance. It is a progressive state that values cordial relationships with other states and people in the globalcommunity. The Palestinian government is open, inclusive, transparent and accountable. It is responsive to
citizens’ needs, delivers basic services effectively, and creates an enabling environment for a thriving private sector. Palestine’s human resources are the driving force for national development. The Palestinian economy is open to other markets around the world and strives to produce high-value-added, competitive goods and services, and, over the long term, to be a knowledge-based economy.
Despite this statement (and 140 pages of associated detail provided by the PDRP), at the Paris Donors’ Conference, French President Sarkozy held that the character of the Palestinian state was “rarely defined” and summarized the vision with a stronger emphasis on security:
An independent and democratic Palestinian State, which Palestinians, wherever they may be, will see as their own. A State in which the Palestinians can build their future together and freely define their destiny. A peaceful State that will be a reliable partner for its neighbours, first and foremost Israel. A sovereign State in terms of its territory and its resources, controlling its borders and enjoying contiguity between Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A State with a rule of law, with strong and independent institutions that will ensure the security of its citizens, enforce law and order, combat the militias and establish a single armed force for a single authority. A modern State developing an open economy and efficient infrastructures for the Palestinians. In short, a politically and economically viable State, that of the Palestinian nation.
Missing from both visions was any discussion of how the PA would obtain essential authority from Israel, the occupying power, to implement the PDRP, although this had been the stumbling block of the Oslo process. The Annapolis process indeed removed the question of Israel’s obligations from the ambit of international debate. The only international pressure that Israel has received in this context is regular but fruitless calls for a settlement freeze, as the West Bank settlements are recognized clearly to preclude the minimal geographic contiguity for a viable Palestinian state. Otherwise, Israel’s prerogatives and conditionalities regarding its own actions and obligations in the occupied Palestinian territories have not only remained unchallenged but now are implicitly contingent on the PA’s successful implementation of the PDRP. This approach effectively depoliticizes the conflict by converting it into a Palestinian project to earn international recognition as a state, not dissimilar to the old League of Nations mandate and UN trusteeship and decolonization systems.
Thus the technocratic, factional and depoliticized Annapolis process is the basis for the Ramallah PA’s proposal for a public UDI. Ostensibly, this approach bypasses the failures of previous processes, including the Oslo process. But, just as the Oslo Accords generated the PA itself, they generated problems of path dependency that tightly constrain the PA’s future. To illustrate how such path dependency can operate, the next section compares the situation of the Palestinian Interim Governing Authority to the Bantu Homelands of apartheid South Africa.
Although popular knowledge about the Bantustans in apartheid South Africa has faded since they were juridically dissolved in 1993, the name remains familiar to most people because they became the most notorious expressions of apartheid rule. Termed “Homelands” in apartheid law, they were the ultimate method by which the apartheid regime attempted to preserve white supremacy in South Africa. In their earlier formulations in the 1950s and 1960s, the Homelands were designed to provide “self-government” for black South African “peoples” and “tribes” in discrete areas of the country, in order to secure their permanent exclusion from any claim to civil rights and equality in white South Africa. By the 1970s, under international pressure, the model evolved to propose that the Homelands would become actual independent “states,” providing self-determination to so-called black “nations.”7The white regime called this solution “Grand Apartheid”: permanent separation of the races through partition.
The ten Homelands for the black or Bantu population did sometimes correspond roughly to historical territories associated with the country’s African language groups.8But they were artificial creations, and in the 1950s many black South Africans had no personal or family association with any of them. To realize their proposed national “character,” the apartheid regime therefore forcibly transferred millions of black people out of white-designated areas into their ascribed Homelands, causing immense human suffering. The borders of the Homelands were a patchwork, moreover, to accommodate existing white farms, industries and transportation grids (see map). Thus, most Homelands consisted of enclaves separated by white-controlled areas that remained under the exclusive administration of the powerful apartheid government. As white areas included the best land, and development within the Homelands was deliberately kept dependent on the white economy, the Homelands became infamous for subjecting black people to endemic land shortages, unemployment and grim poverty leading to misery, malnutrition and soaring mortality rates. They also became notorious for their authoritarian crony leaderships, which were appointed and propped up by the white regime, belying token electoral mandates.
The apartheid regime expressed the rationale for creating separate independent black “states.” Frequently cited is a speech to the South African Parliament by Henrik Verwoerd in 1961:
… we again unequivocally state the policy of the development of the different race groups. The Bantu will be able to develop into separate Bantu states. This is not what we would have liked to see. It is a form of fragmentation which we would not have liked if we were able to avoid it. In the light of the pressure being exerted on South Africa there is, however, no doubt that eventually this will have to be done, thereby buying for the white man his freedom and the right to retain domination in what is his country, settled for him by his forefathers.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 1986: 800481 (543001) 1-86.
This mission to sustain white supremacy was based not merely on economic motivations but also on the premise of white cultural superiority, which required that white society be protected from the inherently backward and anti-democratic cultural propensities of black Africans. But the public rationale for these actions was glossed as progressive pluralism: eleven racial nation-states living peacefully side by side. In fact, the Homelands strategy reflected two projects of the apartheid regime that secured black disadvantage. The first principle was public and codified: separate development(one translation of “apartheid”), meaning that black people could not be allowed to contribute to South Africa’s national political and economic life because the black and white races could not flourish and coexist peacefully in one country. The second principle was not stated but was expressed indirectly,through the state’s policies to retain control over key attributes of the Homelands: that no black Homeland should ever obtain authority or power that could negatively affect white wealth or power.
Many other laws and policies contributed to the internal workings of the Homelands, or Bantustans, such that a comprehensive portrait even of their legal structure, let alone the myriad policies associated with them, is beyond the scope of this study. But aspects of their design can suggest the similar predicament now faced by the PA. That design changed over time as the political environment evolved, and black governance went through a progression: black “areas” could be declared black “territories” run by a black “board,” which could then be given a government designed by the apartheid regime and decreed “self-governing,” and finally advance to “independent.” Only four of the ten Homelands went through the full cycle.
In the range of its powers and limitations as well as its ostensible status as a proto-state, the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority is roughly comparable to the “self-governing” Homelands, as the following discussion will illustrate. Relevant to forecasting the impact of a UDI, however, is what happened to the “self-governing” Homelands when they obtained notional independence.
Ideally, this question would call for a broader spectrum of research than is possible here, so this article focuses only on their juridical frameworks. The PA’s existence traces to a series of agreements in the 1990s, but its institutional design and scope of authority were principally elaborated in 1995 in the “Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” (hereafter Interim Agreement). Comparing Palestinian “interim self-government” as established by the Interim Agreement to the “self-government” arranged for black South Africans by apartheid legislation suggests that, rather than breaking free of Israeli occupation and generating a viable independent Palestinian state, a UDI is more likely to wedge the PA into the culminating stage of a different political trajectory entirely.
“Local and Private” Authority
The Bantu Homelands Constitution Act No. 21 of 1971 restricted black self-government to matters of a “merely local or private nature.” They had no powers over defense, trade, their own borders or anything with cross-border dimensions. Within their territories, Homeland governments were given authority over agriculture, education, the population registry, the land registry, business and liquor licences, traffic and local courts, and so forth. But they were prohibited from making laws concerning the postal service, public communication and airwaves (telegraph, telephone, radio and television) as well as transportation out of the Homeland (“railways, harbors, national roads and civil aviation”). They could build local roads and other public works, but not roads or bridges out of their territories. They could develop industry with links outside the Homeland, but only industry that the white government approved. They were also prohibited from making any law concerning the entry of non-citizens into their territories: this was controlled by apartheid border officials (who used this authority to enforce segregation and keep out sympathetic whites and potential allies).
Annex III of the Interim Agreement similarly accorded the PA nominal authority within its assigned territories regarding 40 categories of civil affairs: agriculture, banking, education, electricity, fisheries, forests, land registration, the civil registry, the postal service, telecommunications, water and sewage, and so forth9— although all these areas are subject to review by various joint committees, as discussed later. The PA has no authority outside Areas A and B and cannot engage in foreign relations; it operates as a local government only. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) can conduct foreign relations on behalf of the PA, but the Interim Agreement provides that treaties, agreements and cooperation arranged by the PLO are binding within areas under PA jurisdiction only in the following cases:
- Economic agreements, as specifically provided in Annex V of this Agreement (that is, subject to approval by the Joint Economic Committee in which Israel has a veto)
- Agreements with donor countries for the purpose of implementing arrangements for the provision of assistance to the Council
- Agreements for the purpose of implementing the regional development plans detailed in Annex IV of the DOP [1993 Declaration of Principles] or in agreements entered into in the framework of the multilateral negotiations
- Cultural, scientific and educational agreements.10
These provisions mean that neither the PA nor the PLO can conduct an independent foreign policy in areas under the authority of the PA regarding economic, political, diplomatic and security affairs. All such policy questions are subject to the joint committees in which Israel holds a veto.
The Black Homelands Constitution Act expressly prohibited the Bantustan governments from amending or passing laws without the approval of the white apartheid government of South Africa, which retained plenary power over all laws and policies within the Homelands. Various provisions ensured this, usually by making Homeland legislation contingent on the approval of South Africa’s president, a minister, a special committee or sometimes Parliament. The “self-governing” Homelands could not even change the design or procedures of their own governments, including electoral laws or the qualifications of voters, without this approval.
Under the terms of the Interim Agreement, the PA is similarly circumscribed, although through a more subtle mechanism. On paper, the PA has a range of “rights” regarding essential civil affairs. When the Agreement was signed, however, Israel held exclusive plenary power over all civil matters in the occupied Palestinian territories, administered by the Civil Administration and Military Government. The Civil Administration was dissolved with the signing of the Interim Agreement, but the framework of military law remained in place pending transfer of authority to the PA. The Interim Agreement specified that this transfer would be determined through consultation by joint committees, composed equally of Israelis and Palestinians, which would take decisions by consensus. This system made the transfer of power subject to Israeli veto and gave Israel a determining say over any new policy the PA may wish to initiate. Additional protocols and restrictions filled the gaps in this arrangement to ensure that the PA has very little latitude for independent decision making on civil governance and development except in areas of no interest to Israel.
For example, all decisions regarding economic development must be reviewed and approved by the Joint Economic Committee (JEC). Even externally funded projects from international donors to the PA must be approved by the JEC.11Israel retains its prerogatives over the water supply because the consensus rule in the Joint Water Committee constitutes an effective veto on any changes to present practices regarding access and distribution, while Israel retains ownership of all water and sewage infrastructure. Similarly, the PA was given authority over telecommunications within the “areas” under its jurisdiction, but any digging for or installing new equipment requires prior Israeli approval, removing any autonomy from such authority. Authority over the electric grid is undercut by geography: completely surrounded by Israeli territory, the PA cannot arrange external connections without connecting to Israel’s grid, and connections remain Israel’s sole prerogative.12As in the Homelands, the PA has no authority in any sphere that has cross-border dimensions: for example, the PA is allowed to provide satellite services for any domestic purpose, but not international service.13The PA’s authority over transportation includes licensing and route management but not road building, and it cannot connect to Israel’s national road grid, even where these roads pass through areas under its control.
Black Homeland governments were charged with keeping public order, which included policing criminality but also repressing dissent. Homelands awarded the status of “self-governing” were required to cooperate with the apartheid government to find and arrest opponents of apartheid but were prohibited from forming or operating “military units” or operating factories to produce arms, ammunition or explosives.14The Homeland governments had no authority over the police and security forces of the apartheid government, which could enter their territories at will to maintain “public peace and order” as well as “internal security and the safety of the area concerned.”15
The PA is similarly limited in its police authority to keeping civil order and repressing dissent. Israel has sometimes permitted PA security forces limited military capacity, notably in the attempt to unseat the Hamas government in Gaza, but it tightly monitors and controls these supplies.16The PA has no authority over Israeli police or military forces operating in Palestinian zones. It also has no authority over Israeli citizens and Jewish settlers (whether or not they are Israeli citizens), even when they are in Palestinian zones.17 Mirroring the Bantustan arrangements as well as colonial concessions elsewhere, Israel retains sole criminal jurisdiction over Israelis (including Jewish settlers who are not citizens) in Palestinian territory and over Palestinians suspected or accused of offences against Israelis.18Appeals regarding Israel’s prerogatives over Palestinian detainees in such cases are, again, referred to a joint Legal Committee.
Under apartheid law, “self-governing” Homelands functioned as autonomy zones within the Republic of South Africa. Sustaining this status served the apartheid state in three ways: it ensured that none of the Homelands could secede and obtain true independence; it ensured that the South African government could control their development to suit white business; and it prevented any foreign power from developing independent relations with them (a concern also informed by the Cold War).19 The Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 expressed this liminal status of the Homelands by providing that Homeland citizens remain under the authority of the South African government for “external purposes”:
The Republic shall not regard a citizen of the Transkei as an alien in the Republic and shall by virtue of his citizenship of a territory forming part of the Republic of South Africa regard him for all external purposes in terms of international law as a citizen of the Republic and afford him full protection according to international law.20
The same Act provided that the flags of the Homeland and the Republic of South Africa fly side by side.
The Interim Agreement established much the same liminal state for the PA. The “State of Palestine” has a flag, an anthem, and a president, as well as ministries, a legislative assembly, police and security forces and a Basic Law. But the “Self-Government Authority” has no sovereignty. While Israel does not claim formal sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it retains effective or empirical sovereignty by holding absolute authority over their borders, trade, natural resources, public planning, public works and infrastructure, industrial development, air- and cyberspace, security, the implementation of foreign treaties or agreements and human movement. Thus, the areas allotted to the PA function as autonomy zones within territory that is the State of Israel in all but name.21 (Indeed, informally Israel does name these territories as part of Israel by posting maps on government websites that do not show them and subsume their land areas into Israel proper.22
The Black Homelands Constitution Act provided that Homeland governments have an electoral mandate. “Bantu areas” all had legislative assemblies composed of Homeland citizens, and held elections contested by political parties. But the internal composition of the assemblies was also determined by the (white) president of apartheid South Africa. The constitution of the “self-governing” Transkei, for example, provided that the 110 assembly members consist of 65 traditional chiefs and only 45 members elected by popular vote. Since the executive — a cabinet and a chief minister — were elected by the assembly, this arrangement empowered the apartheid regime to steer the choice. The authority of the assembly to make laws was, in any case, undercut by the plenary power of the president to review and approve all legislation, so the electoral mandate was intrinsically hollow. The president also appointed the High Courts for the Homelands so that no independent juridical check on the executive could develop. As a consequence, black presidents of the Homelands governed at the pleasure of the white government and were, in the main, correctly understood as apartheid stooges.
The Interim Agreement also provided the PA with an electoral mandate by establishing rules and procedures for “direct, free and general political elections” of a legislative assembly and a “Raees” (head or president).23 These provisions were later supplemented by democratic checks and balances provided by the Palestinian Basic Law, including an independent judiciary. These rules provide, for example, that the president of the Palestinian Authority cannot take office unless his or her election is ratified by the popularly elected Palestinian National Council. Yet the crisis with Hamas in Gaza in June 2008 exposed the intrinsic weakness of these rules. Since that time, the elected Council has been unable to form a quorum, and the split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank blocks conditions for fair elections. As the Basic Law makes no provision for either eventuality, a new assembly cannot be elected and a new president cannot be certified. Rather than leave the PA with no president at the expiration of the current president’s term, the PA has turned to clauses in the Basic Law regarding states of emergency that provide for presidential rule by decree and has appointed a new cabinet and extended the term of President Abbas indefinitely. These measures clearly eradicate any electoral mandate and therefore the legality and legitimacy of the PA within Palestinian Basic Law. But as nothing in the Interim Agreement actually requires an electoral mandate for the PA, the collapse of Palestinian Basic Law has not resulted in diplomatic withdrawals of support, and the Ramallah PA continues to receive international recognition as the representative of the Palestinian people in the territories. Thus, as in the South African Homelands, the democratic mandate for the PA — so central to Palestinian political culture — has been exposed as a temporary contingency by the international community to consolidate legitimacy for a Palestinian “Self-Government Authority” now functioning effectively as a Homeland executive.
Although not rooted in the same doctrine, the PRDP strikingly mirrors the strategy of “separate development,” promoted by the apartheid government. A common translation of apartheid (literally, “separateness” in Afrikaans) is indeed “separate development,” and this term dominated government discourse about the Homelands. Physical separation of the races was deemed essential to avoid miscegenation as well as political demands by black people for democratic rights, but this imperative required black economic and political development as a logical corollary. A major study commissioned by the South African government in 1955 to examine the practicalities of separate development endorsed the general logic:
…separate development of the European and Bantu communities should be striven for, as the only direction in which racial conflict may possibly be eliminated, and racial harmony possibly be maintained. The only obvious way out of the dilemma lies in the sustained development of the Bantu Areas on a large scale.24
As international pressure rose against the regime’s racist policies, however, the doctrine of racial separation was recast as fulfilling black Africans’ rights to self-determination. Thus the chairperson of the Bantu Affairs Commission summarized the strategy in1968:
The government’s policy is, therefore, not a policy of discrimination on the grounds of race or colour, but a policy of differentiation on the ground of nationhood, of different nations, granting to each self-determination within the borders of their homelands — hence this policy of separate development.
Apartheid propaganda promoted separate development to the world through films and photo displays showing hardworking black people in crisp uniforms learning skills in well-equipped new factories in their Homelands. The apartheid regime was never willing, however, to invest the funds necessary to develop industry in the Homelands, and its geographic and legal constraints defeated agricultural development. Enabling genuine development in the Homelands was indeed counterproductive for the government’s goal of sustaining a cheap black labor supply for the mines and protecting white farmers and businesses from black competition. Hence white domination, expressed through the power of the state, locked Homeland economies structurally into dependent relations with white industry. Black migrant labor was thus secured for the white-owned mines and industrial zones strategically positioned in white areas just across the Homeland borders. Weakness and dependency were built into the Homeland system. The self-governing Homelands could collect local taxes and fees for a revenue fund, but currency, banking, the stock exchange, customs and excise duties all remained in the control of the white government. 25 External trade was controlled by the white government, and any economic deal that involved a business or agent outside the Homelands required approval by the white minister in charge.
As discussed earlier, the Interim Agreement effectively reproduces the Homeland development dilemma by making all economic development as well as civil affairs subject to Israeli approval. As Israel also wishes to protect its own economy from competition and wishes permanently to impede population mixing (in order to preserve a Jewish majority), Israeli governments have strong disincentives to relax current restrictions on Palestinian trade, agriculture and industry even in the context of a peace agreement. Thus Israel is actively motivated to preclude the PA from obtaining the authority and conditions necessary to the PRDP’s project of Palestinian separate development, as the plan’s difficulties over the last two years have illustrated.
PROSPECTS FOR INDEPENDENCE
Of the ten black Homelands in apartheid South Africa, four were eventually declared “independent” by the government. Ostensibly, this transition rendered them separate sovereign states, albeit geographically nested within the host body of South Africa. Some obtained small military forces, and their flags flew alone. Bophuthatswana even maintained an embassy in the only other country to recognise it, Israel. Some Homeland leaders argued that independence could enable various federal approaches that would ultimately normalize relations with South Africa, open the borders, and give the Homelands some true capacity to serve their populations.26
But the Homelands’ intrinsic weaknesses, deliberately infused into their original design and geographic placement, did not change after independence. Their incapacity to represent and serve the interests of their populations, and their inherent propensity to foster cronyism, nepotism, corruption and dictatorship, were direct consequences of their structural condition: “states” nested within a powerful country whose perceived self-interest lay in sustaining racial separation as a matter of national survival and protecting the mines, businesses, agriculture and industries of its “nation” — white people of European descent — from black African competition.
This discussion has touched on some key conditions imposed on the PA by the Interim Agreement that mirror restrictions placed on the Homelands. These restrictions might be seen as “interim” in Palestine: a stage of Palestinian state-building that can eventually support a two-state solution. The similarities to the Homelands tracked here, however, suggest that Israel’s present policies to confine and weaken the PA are not simply born of a security dilemma, which can be solved by the PA’s repressing Palestinian resistance. Nor are the PA’s woes precisely a consequence of internal PA fallibilities, which might be addressed through reforms and development. Rather, the rules and procedures that define the PA intrinsically foster repressive and anti-democratic tendencies, as well as corruption and fragmentation. The resulting instability does not favor Israel, but Palestinian corruption and fragmentation do, as these become tools of lasting value to Israel in draining Palestinian nationalist energies, forestalling united and coherent Palestinian political opposition to Israel’s settlement policies, and securing Israel’s prerogatives in its mission to remain a Jewish state.
Facing a powerful antagonist motivated in such ways, any state-building project will find that repression and corruption trace to the design and limits of the system, not to individual or party flaws. Inscribing that design into statehood does not alter those propensities: it concretizes them. For this reason, the ANC harshly rejected “independence” for the Homelands. Its rejection also illustrates possibly the most dangerous effect of a Homeland approach: political fragmentation. Autonomy zones constructed by powerful host states are inherently divisive: some players will embrace the potential they believe can be twisted to better uses, others simply seek personal riches and power, and others reject a situation they see as perilous and co-optive. Thus the Homeland process generated splits and even civil wars within black African groups that fell into different political camps about accepting the project, and the last and ugliest fighting of the anti-apartheid struggle was in the Homelands. In the 1990s, when apartheid was collapsing, thousands died in battles between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party headed by Chief Buthelezi of KwaZulu Homeland. Bitter fighting, with hundreds killed, broke out in the Ciskei. Hundreds were killed or wounded as police fired into demonstrations against the Homeland president in Bophuthatswana.
This article can offer only a brief exploration of a comparison that clearly requires further analysis. Still, this initial perusal of their legal similarities suggests that “self-government” in the South African Homelands and “self-government” in the Palestinian territories have sufficiently strong similarities that such work should be done urgently to clarify them and indicate their significance for a peace settlement. This research is centrally relevant to the concern raised here: the significance for international security if the leadership of a Palestinian “state” — now configured on terms close to those of the South African Homelands — declares independence unilaterally. This study suggests that a UDI in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is much more likely to wedge the PA permanently into an untenable situation conducive to Palestinian political fragmentation, antidemocratic trends, upheaval and potential insurrection, and therefore a continuing climate of instability — associated with terror networks, among other ills — for the entire international community.
Several differences are important to mention. For example, it is often pointed out that South Africa was heavily motivated by the project of capturing black labor, while Israel has worked to detach itself from such dependency. This brief study suggests, however, that this factor is likely to leave conditions in the Palestinian homeland more onerous rather than less, as the contradictions raised by apartheid South Africa’s need for black labor was a major component in breaking down the Homelands system. With less dependency for Israel, Palestine’s prospects for gaining more genuine sovereignty, which would clearly present problems for Israel, are correspondingly dimmer. A second major difference is Palestinian politics. Fragmentation, which plagued black African politics in South Africa, is certainly mirrored in the split between Fatah and Hamas about accepting or buying into the Oslo framework of “areas” and “interim self-government authority.” But the PLO, a corollary to the ANC, also bought into the system and has not yet rejected it. Thus Palestinian opposition to the plan, even as popular distaste and suspicion rise, lacks strong leadership that can cut across ideological barriers; indeed, it suffers now from various forms of internal censorship.
This difference contributes to a third major difference in the two cases: international reaction. Enabled partly by the PLO’s buy-in, Israel’s project to create ethnic autonomy enclaves in Palestine, in order to sustain an overwhelming Jewish majority and a “Jewish character” in Israel, has obtained international support instead of the international opprobrium that ultimately defeated a corollary project in South Africa. Many factors contribute to this difference, as discussed elsewhere.27 The Annapolis process presumes a Palestinian state-building project of real worth, but the international community has never wished to accept the political challenges of compelling Israel to provide the minimal conditions that could allow the PA to escape the South African Homelands’ violent fate. The events of 9/11 dramatically signaled that the entire international community, and not only Israel’s neighbors, must reconsider how long this support can be sustained without inheriting even more serious trouble than it has generated to date. On this point, it may be worthwhile to recall debates in Britain’s parliament about apartheid. In those days, parliamentarians were arguing about the boycott of South Africa in ways that today would be embarrassing to recall. Yet some were prescient. For example, Viscount Samuel said,
The white Nationalists … think they should be admired because they are vigorous and have been successful in preserving their white empire. Money is flowing in, and white settlers are being attracted to South Africa from Kenya, from Rhodesia, from the United Kingdom, even from the Continent. Every man who goes strengthens the white hold on South Africa, and in my opinion, this is wrong.
Before such a situation we stand helpless. We are watching a Greek tragedy, the descent of a pigheaded people down to disaster. Let us not fool ourselves: it is too late today for peaceful change in South Africa. There is no white political party that can unseat the Nationalist Government. There is no alternative white government for South Africa. Even if the Nationalists were convinced that they must liberalise their régime, the whole country would boil over at once. South Africa is a fine country, but it has gone beyond the point of no return. Its future will be massacre and destruction.28
The future of South Africa was not massacre and destruction. But neither was its happier future achieved by international support for policies that the apartheid regime believed essential to white society’s welfare and survival. Hindsight confirms that it was the universal rejection of forced racial separation, and not attempts to defuse black resistance to separation, that achieved a stable peace in South Africa. If different principles apply in Palestine, then these must be swiftly identified and tested and not merely assumed from polemical assertions by one side or the other. The brief exploration of the similarities broached here between the Homelands and the emerging parameters of a Palestinian state indicate that this comparison, at least, can no longer be delayed or discredited by polemical denunciations of the comparison as inapplicable. The international stakes involved in a project to create an enclave state for Palestinians in parts of Mandate Palestine are clearly too high.
2 In 2004, Dov Weissglass, formerly chief of staff to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, famously commented to Ha’aretz that the withdrawal from Gaza “supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians;” see Ha’aretz, weekend magazine, October 8 2004.
3 Palestinian National Authority, Palestinian Reform and Development Plan, 2008–2010; available at: http://www.mop-gov.ps/web_files/issues_file/PRDP-en.pdf.
4 Final statement of the chair and co-chairs at the International Donors’ Conference for the Palestinian State, December 17 2007.
5World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development: Report for the Pledging Conference, Paris, December 17, 2007: available at : http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWESTBANKGAZA/ Resources/294264-1166525851073/ParisconferencepaperDec17.pdf.
6 Speech by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the French Republic, at the International Donors’ Conference for the Palestinian State, December 17, 2007. 7To avoid generating a “black” majority, the apartheid regime in South Africa regrouped the black population into “peoples” defined by linguistic and ethnic criteria.
8The Bantustan territories were roughly congruent with areas designated in the 1917 Land Act for black land ownership. The Land Act was enacted shortly after Afrikaner nationalists assumed political leadership in the newly constituted Republic of South Africa.
9 Interim Agreement, Annex III, Article 4.
10 Interim Agreement, Article 9 (5).
11 Interim Agreement, Annex V, Protocol on Economic Relations, Article II.
12 Interim Agreement, Annex III, Article 10 (2).
13 Interim Agreement, Annex III, Article 36 A (2) and B (2), respectively.
14 Black Homelands Constitution Act, Chapter 1, para. 4(b).
15 Black Homelands Constitution Act, Chapter 1, para. 4(d).
16 Interim Agreement, Article XIV (3 and 4): Except for the arms, ammunition and equipment of the Palestinian Police described in Annex I, and those of the Israeli military forces, no organization, group or individual in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall manufacture, sell, acquire, possess, import or otherwise introduce into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip any firearms, ammunition, weapons, explosives, gunpowder or any related equipment, unless otherwise provided for in Annex I.
17The Interim Agreement specified that “Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order”: Chapter 2, Article X (4).
18 Interim Agreement, Annex IV “Protocol Concerning Legal Affairs,” Article 1 para. 2(2) and Article 4 respectively.
19Apartheid discourse conflated black resistance to apartheid with world communism, as a strategy to discredit the ANC, consolidate white domestic loyalty to the regime, and obtain international support used primarily for repressing black resistance.
20 Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act, Article 2(4); see also Transkei Constitution Act, Part III, Section 7(3).
21 On the distinction between juridical and empirical sovereignty as it is relevant to Israel-Palestine, see Virginia Tilley, “Have We Passed the Tipping Point? Querying Sovereignty and Settler Colonialism in Israel-Palestine,” in Ilan Pappé, ed., Peoples Apart: Israel, South Africa and the Apartheid Question (I.B. Taurus & Co., Ltd, 2010, forthcoming).
22 See, for example, “Israel in Maps” on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website at www.mfa.gov.il/MFA and the Map of Israel listed by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism at http://www.goisrael.com/NR/rdonlyres/1EB6BDEA-AEB9-428D-AE39-2561A8D7FF….
23 Interim Agreement, Annex II, Article 1(1).
24 Summary of the Report on the Commission for the Socio-Economic Development of the Bantu Areas within the Union of South Africa (Pretoria: The Government Printer, 1955), p. 194. This report is often called the “Tomlinson Report” after the chair of the committee.
25 Bantu Homelands Constitution Act (#21) of 1971, Chapter 1, Article 4.
26 See, for example, a thesis for federalism by Kaiser Daliwonga Matanzima published upon assuming his new post of President of the newly “independent” Transkei Homeland, Independence My Way (Pretoria, Foreign Affairs Association, 1976).
27 See discussion in Virginia Tilley, The One-State Solution (University of Michigan Press, 2005), pp. 100-103.
28Hansard 19: HL Deb 22 July 1964, Vol. 260, pp. 639-800 at 702. “Nationalists” refers to the National Party, which endorsed white supremacy in South Africa. Elected to power in 1948, it was the principal political agent in constructing and enforcing the apartheid system until 1990.
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