Rejecting the Bantustan ‘Two-state Solution’, Mandla Mandela Calls for a Single Democratic State in Palestine

by Tim Anderson, published on One Democratic State of Palestine , January 29, 2024

Washington and the Israelis understand that the fig leaf of ‘two states’ hides apartheid and prevents the construction of a broad anti-apartheid movement.

The popular but fallacious touchstone of a political resolution in Palestine has been a ‘two-state solution’. Washington constantly reverts to this and, more disturbingly, so too do many of Palestine’s international friends. Yet, faced with an apartheid regime, the idea is outdated and irrelevant, South African leader Mandla Mandela pointed out at the 5th Global Convention of Solidarity with Palestine, over 3-5 December in Johannesburg.

Mandla Mandela, the grandson of Nelson, head of the Mandela Foundation, clan chief, and an ANC member of Parliament, called for a global anti-apartheid campaign aimed at dismantling the Israeli regime, rejecting the Bantustan-like ‘two-state solution‘, and calling for a single democratic state in Palestine.

South Africans know about Bantustans: these were the so-called native ‘homelands’ – small enclaves set up to help enforce apartheid and prevent democracy in South Africa. The most recent ‘two-state’ proposal, put up by the Trump administration in 2020, shares many features with these Bantustans. But few outside South Africa remember this history in detail.

The ‘two-state solution’ seems to have support in UNSC resolutions since 1967 (#242 and its successors), but the right “to sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries” was conditional on Israeli withdrawal “from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The Israeli regime never met that condition. The Oslo Accords of the 1990s saw the PLO recognizing an “Israeli state“, on the basis that the colonization of the West Bank would end and a Palestinian state would emerge. Those conditions were never met.

Veteran analyst Rashid Khalidi, a leading US scholar on Palestine, says there was never a serious attempt by the Israelis or Washington to create an Arab state that would be “sovereign, contiguous and viable.” Further, the entrenchment of second-class citizenship for Arab Israelis (in ‘1948 Palestine’), the emergence of an open apartheid regime on the West Bank, and the periodic massacres in Gaza have imposed a new reality.

Yet, the pretext of ‘two states’ and the myth of a “return to 1967 borders” (a fantasy destroyed by constant Israeli colonization of the occupied territories) is maintained to obscure the reality of a predatory apartheid Israeli regime that can never co-exist with an independent Palestine. Washington and the Israelis understand that the fig leaf of ‘two states’ hides apartheid and prevents the construction of a broad anti-apartheid movement.

That path is obscured by the ‘two states’ myth, as two former Israeli prime ministers have pointed out. In 2017, former PM Ehud Barak warned that the regime was “on a slippery slope” toward apartheid. Similarly, former PM Ehud Olmert (2007) said, “If the day comes when the [idea of a] two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights,” then we will face an “apartheid-like struggle … [and] the State of Israel is finished.”

The Trump ‘peace plan’ of 2020 is the most recent, detailed version of the deceptive ‘two-state’ idea. It supported the illegal West Bank, Syrian Golan, and eastern part of al-Quds annexations, trying to ‘normalize’ those breaches of earlier international agreements and offering some desert land in ‘compensation’. In recent years these ‘settlements’ have grown so that there are more than 700,000 Israeli colonists on the West Bank. Despite muted international protests, “Tel Aviv’s” backing for this process makes it unlikely that the ‘settlers’ might (as was done in Gaza) simply be persuaded to pack up and go home. Under the Trump ‘peace plan’, total Israeli control over borders, security, and even education would be maintained. That is a close parallel to the Bantustan policy of apartheid South Africa, as Mandla Mandela observed.

The Palestinian struggle can and should draw important lessons from South Africa’s anti-apartheid campaigns and draw on the political capital it built, including in international resolutions. First of all, in 1973, the United Nations declared apartheid a crime against humanity, punishable under the 1988 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Systematic racial discrimination is a crime that should not be aided and abetted, and the Israeli entity has been declared an apartheid regime by six independent reports. As jurists Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley (2017) point out, “States have a collective duty: (a) not to recognize an apartheid regime as lawful; (b) not to aid or assist a state in maintaining an apartheid regime; and (c) to cooperate with the United Nations and other States in bringing apartheid regimes to an end.” That duty militates against recognition of or support for the apartheid regime as a ‘state’.

Second, while the South African apartheid regime tried to present the Bantustan enclaves as some form of ‘self-determination’, this was rejected both by black South Africans and the United Nations. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said tribal enclaves had nothing to do with the South African reality, “we are thoroughly detribalized, it is the government of South Africa that has sought to exacerbate tribal feelings.” The Bantustan policy and practice aimed at reinforcing apartheid by forcing the majority black African population into 13% of the country’s land, with few resources and basic services. Yet collaborating chiefs like Gatsha Buthelezi of KwaZulu were relied on to present a veneer of tribal ‘independence’. This Bantustan policy, including the third class ‘Bantu education’ system which began in the 1950s and catalyzed huge protests, was said to be “the logical territorial extension of apartheid as both a general policy and a way of life for whites as a single preferred tribe over blacks as an inferior collection of tribes.”

In the 1970s, three UN resolutions were passed, which condemned the Bantustan policy. In 1971, General Assembly Resolution 2775 E (XXVI) on the Establishment of Bantustans condemned the practice as “in pursuance of apartheid,” “violating the right to self-determination,” and “prejudicial to territorial integrity.” In 1975, General Assembly Resolution 3411 D (XXX) on Apartheid again condemned the Bantustan policy, and in 1976, the General Assembly unanimously (with the USA abstaining) passed Resolution 31/6 which condemned the designation of an “independent” Transkei Bantustan as “sham independence”, calling on all governments to not recognize it and to prohibit dealings with the artificial entity. The UN, thus, authoritatively condemned the creation of small subordinate enclaves in place of national self-determination for black South Africans.

Just as Apartheid South Africa tried to force the majority Black population into 13% of the country’s land, so the Israelis have forced Palestinians into increasingly restricted enclaves, all of which are controlled by the Israeli regime.

While the Palestinian Arab population today, according to Israeli officials, is about the same as the Jewish, the Israeli population’s control of land and resources is massively unequal. The so-called Palestinian Territories comprise about 22% of historic Palestine and, of that, more than half is zoned to be under exclusive Israeli control Anera.

Zionist apologists try to justify the steady land theft by saying, first of all, that the Israelis acquired that land by military conquest (in the post-colonial era, UNSC 242 declared such claims null and void) and second, that Palestinians somehow acquired control over land for “the first time” under the Oslo Accords. In fact, Palestinians lost even more land to Israeli “annexation” after the Oslo Accords.

The Israeli lobby has relentlessly abused Chief Mandla Mandela. Responding to his accusations that “Israel” had “committed genocide and crimes against humanity,” Tali Feinberg claimed that Mandla’s “anti-Israel vitriol contrasts with his grandfather’s legacy.” Indeed, Nelson Mandela met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Ezer Weizman and said, in 1999, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognise Israel within secure borders.” Feinberg blames Mandla’s anti-“Israel” stance on his conversion to Islam.

However, Nelson Mandla was responding to the circumstances of the early 1990s, when his friend Yasser Arafat was engaged in the Oslo Accords, and no reports on the Apartheid character of the Israeli colonial regime had yet emerged. After the failure of the Oslo agreements to produce any benefit, and after six independent reports branding “Israel” as apartheid regime, Chief Mandla is justified in adjusting his response.

Support for the armed, as well as civil resistance in Palestine, has been a feature of Chief Mandla Mandela’s advocacy. It was his grandfather, after all, who created uMkhonto we Siswe (MK, the spear of the nation), the armed wing of the ANC, when all other avenues had failed. So, at a time when Western regimes try to brand all Palestinian Resistance as ‘terrorism’, Chief Mandela has urged the factions “to come together and have joint operations” to defend their land. He also backed the call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions on the Israeli regime.

After the December 2023 conference in Johannesburg, Mandla Mandela stood alongside leaders of various Palestinian Resistance factions at Government House in Pretoria. Recalling his grandfather’s famous quote, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandla Mandela recognized that Palestinians had the “absolute right” to the land of their forefathers using all available means, including armed resistance.

Chief Mandela made it very clear that the call for a true and meaningful liberation for Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea was one that means a one-state solution for indigenous Palestinians including the inalienable right of return for over seven million refugees and their descendants, displaced since 1948.

Mandla Mandela called on South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to abandon the “two-state delusion” in favor of a single democratic state for all indigenous peoples of Palestine, abandoning separate development, racism, and apartheid in occupied Palestine.

South African veterans and leaders have a unique experience and moral authority to denounce Bantustan-like proposals that divert the Palestinian struggle from its emancipatory goals.

Tim Anderson is the author of several books on independent development and anti-imperialism. He is the editor of the Centre for Counter-Hegemonic Studies.  His books include:  The Dirty War on Syria: Washington, Regime Change and Resistance and Axis of Resistance: Towards an Independent Middle East.


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