John Kerry used the word “apartheid” and all hopes for peace in the Middle East were dashed. Actually, those hopes were well dashed to begin with. It was like a Morse code convention. (That’s a joke about dashes.) With Israel expanding settlements and half the Palestinian government wanting to eradicate the state of Israel, the “peace process” is in disarray. Still, Kerry used the word “apartheid,” and people are upset. Some are calling for his head, but that’s just the false outrage of the day, because supporting our foreign policy overseas is no longer as worthy an ideal as that of getting in a cheap political shot.
Kerry was describing the options that remain now that the peace process in tatters. With so many Palestinians living under occupation, given the birth rates, there are eventually going to be more Palestinians than Jews. If you don’t give them an autonomous country, they’ll become de facto Israelis. Either you give them the vote and Israel ceases to be a Jewish state, or you don’t and you’ve got an oppressed majority. That’s quite a problem. Let’s not figure out how to solve it, though; let’s argue about the word “apartheid.”
Why is the word “apartheid” so bad? Because it comes from South Africa, and that was a society split along lines of color. That was racist. That was black and white. This is Jews and Palestinians, which is totally different.
So if you’re going to have a large body of people under your control without giving them the vote because you don’t want to alter the make-up of your state, what do you call that? Segregation? No that’s whites and blacks again. Jewish isn’t a race, it’s a religion. The Palestinians should all just convert. I bet the term “ghetto” would be frowned upon as well.
What’s the Arabic word for “apart”? One of them is “harem.” That might confuse things. The Jewish word “kadash” means to set things apart, but in a holy way, and I think one side of this problem would see that as borderline heresy when applied to the Palestinians and the other would just laugh at the irony. There is, along with a lot of other cool words derived from Arabic, the word “alcove,” which comes from “qubba” or “vault.” Qubba! It’d be fun to say! Sounds like the tenth member of the Wu Tang Clan. Do you really want an undemocratic, “qubba” state? We’d have to bring Bill Clinton back into the peace process just to get the headline “Bubba in the Qubba.”
Of course, soon enough people would be saying you can’t call it a qubba state. All it takes is for Sheldon Adelson to write a big enough check. He’s already made the term “occupied territories” verboten for Republicans. That’s our democracy in practice, by the way.
That’s the game, though. Stay one word ahead. The problem is that the reality of the coming situation in Israel and Palestine will taint whatever word we come up with.
What’s that you say? I’m laying hard into Israel and giving Hamas a free pass? No free pass for Hamas. The thing is, they’re not playing with words. They’ve made it abundantly clear that they have nefarious plans for the state of Israel.
Words can help with that, though. If you can make the subjugation of a people sound more palatable, you can lead vociferous calls for state destruction toward something less dire, something that can allow some politicians (and they will become politicians if you give them a state) to maintain a hard line while getting vaguer and vaguer as to what they’re talking about. If Fatah and Hamas pull off a merger, you can dance around the question of who we’re talking to, the moderates or the crazies. If you can get a Palestinian government to accept the right of Israel to exist while giving the nuts verbal cover, then you’ll be cooking with stew.
Is that a recipe for deception and misunderstanding? That’s what diplomacy is! Winston Churchill said it well: “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”
The only difference in the Middle East is that they’re already in hell, and they need to get out.