(Photo ANP, 1978)

By Prof. Wolfgang Bock and Andrew Tucker

Calling Israel an apartheid state is absurd. The real threats to peace in Palestine are Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, not Israel.

Prof. André Nollkaemper (NRC, 27th May 2021) argues that “the truce between Israel and Palestine” provides the “breathing space” for the Netherlands to “reassess” its foreign policy. International law provides “a framework that imperatively indicates the direction in which a political solution must be found.” If the Netherlands is not to be “on the wrong side of history” it must recognize Palestine as a state because Israel is conducting an illegal occupation, practicing a system of apartheid, and violating the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

In the 1970’s, Europe succumbed to the Arab League threat that there will be no peace in the Middle East until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. This has since been for what it is: propaganda.

As the Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in 2020 show, Israel has longstanding and growing ties with many Arab states. Peace in the region has little to do with “resolving” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On 21st May, Israel entered a cease-fire – not with “Palestine,” but with Hamas. This shows that Israel is fighting an existential war with Iran and her proxies. It is no secret that Iran supplied the components and technological know-how for the deadliest missiles fired indiscriminately to kill Israeli’s – both Jews and Arabs. Iran supports Hamas financially. It has enabled Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border to stockpile thousands of missiles, aimed at Israel. Through Hamas, Iran is also engaged in a vicious battle for power in the West Bank, where the regime of Mahmoud Abbas has lost all legitimacy and is on the verge of collapse. Iran oppresses the peoples of Iran and directly or through proxies occupies large parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

This means the West Bank and Gaza are run by fascist dictators, dangerously infiltrated by Islamist extremist forces that are supported by Iran and other radical Islamic regimes. The Hamas Charter states clearly that Hamas – a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – is an Islamist regime dedicated to one goal only: destroying Israel, because the WHOLE region is an Islamic Waqf set aside exclusively for Muslims. Even the Palestine National Charter, as Prof. Benvenisti (Cambridge University) has demonstrated, shows the PLO remains dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

In the meantime, ordinary Palestinians are denied basic human rights by their own leaders. There are no elections, and there is virtually no freedom of expression or religion.

To suggest that International law supports recognition of Palestine in these circumstances is a naïve and selective reading of international law.

The status of East Jerusalem and the West Bank” is contested and undetermined. Opinions on the topic vary. Even the International Court of Justice in para 101 of its “Wall” Advisory Opinion in 2004 refrained from opining on the sovereign status of the territories conquered by Israel in 1967).

Let’s remember why the “occupation” began in the first place. Under the Mandate for Palestine, these territories were destined to be part of the Jewish homeland. At the same time, the rest of the Middle East was set aside for Arab self-determination. The land available for the Jewish homeland was reduced by 77% when (Trans)Jordan was created in 1922 as a state for the Arab Palestinians. All subsequent proposals to divide western Palestine into Jewish and Arab states (to appease the Arabs) were rejected by the Arab leadership. When Israel was established, it was immediately attacked by its Arab neighbors. They lost, and in the subsequent decade evicted their own Jewish populations and confiscated their property (this is why there are virtually no Jews left in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, etc).

Israel gained control of the territories in 1967 because Arab countries – in cooperation with the Arab Palestinian leadership – continued their campaign to attack Israel to wipe it off the map. Israel legitimately took control of the territories during a defensive war in June 1967. It miraculously retained control in the Yom Kippur war (1973) in which the Arabs (again in alliance with the Palestinian Arab leadership) attempted to breach the cease-fire lines. Since then, Israel has shown its willingness to trade land for peace by returning Sinai to Egypt (1979) and withdrawing from Gaza (in 2005).

But as UN Security Council Resolution 242 (November 1967) recognizes, Israel’s military administration is not illegal, and Israel is under no obligation to withdraw completely from the remaining territories, and not before an agreement is reached that includes ensuring it has secure borders. 

There is certainly blanket legal prohibition on Jews living in these territories, nor is Israel under any obligation to forcefully remove its own citizens who have legitimately settled in East Jerusalem or the territories known to Jews as Judea and Samaria.

There are also no “1967 borders”. The “Green Line” is an armistice line, agreed between Israel and Jordan in the Armistice Agreement of 1949, which states clearly these lines should not be considered borders. In 1994, Jordan relinquished the West Bank. In the Oslo Accords, Israel and the PLO agreed that the border between Israel and the area that would come under Palestinian control would be determined through negotiations – negotiations on the basis of which Israel still has the right to ensure its own security. The “1967 lines” are a starting point for negotiations, but no more than that.

Without belittling the suffering of individual Palestinians, the claim that Israel “destroys the lives of millions of Palestinians on a daily basis” is outrageous. Almost all Palestinians in the disputed territories live, as agreed in the Oslo Accords, in Area A – which is under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. Israel has no authority in Area A. The lives of the Palestinians in Gaza are being destroyed by Hamas, not Israel. In the West Bank the PA oppresses its people on a daily basis, repressing any dissenting opinions, promoting a culture of hate, and inciting mothers to sacrifice their children. While Palestinians do not yet have the political independence they want, to say that their lives are being “destroyed” by Israel is an insult to the millions being murdered, tortured and starved to death in places like Eastern Syria, Iraq, Yemen or North Korea.

To accuse Israel of “apartheid” is popular, but nonsense. Israel itself is a democracy – albeit an imperfect one. Arabs are represented in the Knesset, and it even seems likely that Arabs will join the new coalition. So to compare Israel to South Africa is absurd.

As far as the “occupied territories” is concerned: of course there are different legal regimes in Areas A, B and C, because that is what Israel and the PLO agreed to in the Oslo Accords. It is true that under the Oslo Accords, negotiations have come to a complete standstill. One can debate whether, under international humanitarian law, Israel may apply Israeli law to Israelis living in the territories. But there is no “apartheid” in the sense of a regime aimed at permanently oppressing a particular group on the basis of race.

It is high time that the Netherlands stop trying to come up with “solutions” to the conflicts in the Middle East. Ever since the early 1970s, Europe has treated the Palestinians as victims. This has only strengthened the radical leadership in their oppression of their own population and use of violence against the State of Israel.

By constantly rejecting and even attacking the Jewish State of Israel, it is the Palestinian leaders who are primarily responsible for the situation they find themselves in.

If the Netherlands and other European countries want to act according to international law, they should stop Iranian support for Hamas, and demand that the Palestinian leadership abandon its aim to “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and return to the negotiating table.

International law posits that states should only be recognized if they in fact are states. Palestine should only be recognized as a state if it has a stable leadership that governs all of the territory it claims, genuinely accepts the existence of the Jewish State, and proves that it can govern its territory independently of third states like Iran.


Prof. Wolfgang Bock is Professor emeritus of Giessen University, Andrew Tucker is Director of thinc. This is an expanded version of a commentary on an Op-ed by Prof. André Nollkaemper in NRC d.d. 27 May 2021.

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