Israel is inching toward apartheid and drifting further away from the hopes of creating a Palestinian state alongside it, former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon told The Associated Press Thursday on a visit to the region.
Ban said that throughout his three-day visit, which coincided with a spike in deadly violence in the West Bank, he encountered a bleaker reality than the one he faced while head of the world body from 2007 to 2016. He said he had seen signs, through expanding West Bank Jewish settlements and tighter restrictions against Palestinians, that an apartheid system was taking root.
“I think the situation has worsened,” Ban said. “I’m just thinking that, as many people are saying, that this may constitute apartheid.” He said he was concerned that a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was “fading away.”
Ban was in the region on behalf of The Elders, a group of statespeople that engages in peacemaking and human rights initiatives around the world. Along with the group’s chair, former Irish president Mary Robinson, he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and civil society. It was from local rights groups that he said he heard that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid.
Leading rights groups in Israel and abroad have accused Israel and its 56-year rule of the West Bank of morphing into an apartheid system that they say gives Palestinians second-class status and is designed to maintain Jewish hegemony from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
In apartheid South Africa, a system based on white supremacy and racial segregation was in place from 1948 until 1994. The rights groups have based their conclusions on international conventions like the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It defines apartheid as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group.”
Rights groups point to discriminatory policies within Israel including East Jerusalem, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Hamas terror group since 2007, and its rule of the West Bank, where it exerts overall control, maintains a two-tier legal system and is building and expanding Jewish settlements that most of the international community considers illegal.
Israel rejects any allegation of apartheid and says its own Arab citizens enjoy equal rights. Israel granted limited autonomy to the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, at the height of the peace process in the 1990s and withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. It says the West Bank is disputed territory and that its fate should be determined in negotiations.
The accusations of apartheid and Jewish supremacy have only heightened under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which is composed of parties that oppose Palestinian statehood, support settlement expansion and a hard line against Palestinian terror groups.
“It’s clear that now we have a one-state rule and in fact, it’s worse than that under the current government,” Robinson said, adding that Netanyahu, as on previous visits, declined a meeting. She said they met with President Isaac Herzog and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.
The visit comes amid the worst violence in the West Bank in nearly two decades. A monthslong Israeli crackdown has killed nearly 300 Palestinians since early 2022, while Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed more than 50.
This week, an Israeli raid on a flashpoint West Bank city killed seven Palestinians, including a 15-year-old girl. A Palestinian terror shooting on a West Bank settlement killed four Israelis, including a 17-year-old, and triggered a settler rampage through a Palestinian town that left one person dead.
While they condemned the violence, Ban and Robinson said Israel appeared to be using disproportionate force in its raids.
“I sincerely hope that the Israeli military authorities should take some deep breaths before they really take to lethal weapons,” he said. “There should be some reasonable way of controlling this.”
Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, in the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.