Israel's deputy minister of foreign affairs, Danny Ayalon, paints a picture of an innocent Israel yearning for peace, virtually begging the intransigent Palestinians to come negotiate so there can be a "two-states-for-two-peoples solution" ("Who's stopping the peace process?" Dec. 14). But it's one that bears no resemblance to the realities Palestinians experience and much of the world sees every day.
Ayalon claims that the settlements Israel refuses to stop building on occupied land are a "red herring" and present no obstacles to peace because in the "43 years since Israel gained control of the West Bank, the built-up areas of the settlements constitute less than 1.7% of the total area."
But let us remind ourselves of a few facts that are not in dispute. Since the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993, the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has tripled to more than half a million. Ayalon's deceptive focus on the "built-up areas" ignores the reality that the settlements now control 42% of the West Bank, according to a report last July from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
B'Tselem points out that there are now more than 200 Israeli settlements "that are connected to one another, and to Israel, by an elaborate network of roads." These roads, along with various "security zones" from which Palestinians are excluded, cut across Palestinian land and isolate Palestinians in miserable and often walled, ghetto-like enclaves.
Despite a 10-month settlement "moratorium" that ended in September, Israel never stopped building settlements for a single day. Construction went on virtually uninterrupted, according to Israel's Peace Now, and within weeks of the official end of the "moratorium," settlers had more than made up for the slight dip in new housing starts in the previous months. In East Jerusalem, where Israel never even pretended to have a moratorium, government-backed Israeli settlers continue to evict Palestinians from numerous neighborhoods.
While Israel's violent actions in occupied East Jerusalem have gotten a little bit of attention, its silent ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley has attracted almost none. Israel has reduced the Jordan Valley's population of 200,000 indigenous Palestinians to just 60,000 by demolishing their villages and declaring vast areas of this vital region off-limits to them.
Israel's settlement project has one goal: to make Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and a two-state solution impossible. With no prospect of drawing a line between Israeli and Palestinian populations, it's time to recognize that Israel has succeeded and what we have today is an apartheid reality across Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Prominent Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola recently told the Jerusalem Post that Jews already constitute just under 50% of the population in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. In effect, a Jewish minority rules over a majority population that includes 1.4 million Palestinian (second-class) citizens of Israel, 2.5 million Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and another 1.5 million under siege in the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip. All credible projections show that Palestinians will be the decisive majority within a few years.
This injustice is intolerable. Under Israel's policies and the refusal of the United States to exert any real pressure, there will be no end to it, and the prospects for catastrophic bloodshed increase.
Absent any real action by the United States or other governments to hold Israel accountable, it is up to civil society to step in. When black South Africans saw the world doing nothing about apartheid in the 1950s, they called on global civil society to impose a boycott, divest from the country and pass sanctions. By the 1970s and '80s, such campaigns were mainstream in U.S. churches, campuses and communities, and politicians who had been reluctant to support sanctions on South Africa eventually came aboard.
Today we see a similar movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions, endorsed overwhelmingly by Palestinian civil society and growing around the world. It has even gained support from some Israelis. Its aims are to do what the U.S. government should be doing but will not: pressure Israel to end discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, end its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and respect the rights of Palestinian refugees whose return home Israel refuses to accept just because they are not Jews.
This movement is not an end in itself but a vehicle to get us down the road to a just peace built on equality for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel's policies, typified by the disingenuous diversions of Ayalon, have left us with no other choice.
Ali Abunimah is the author of "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse," and a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada.