South Africa’s de Klerk: Israel not an apartheid state

Former president, under whose watch segregation ended, says it’s ‘unfair’ to use term, but binational state could change that

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Former South African president F.W. De Klerk (screen capture: YouTube)
Former South African president F.W. De Klerk (screen capture: YouTube)

Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former president of South Africa who negotiated to end his country’s apartheid regime, said Tuesday that it was “unfair” to refer to Israel as an apartheid state.

“You have closed borders, but America has closed borders. They don’t allow every Mexican who wants to come in to come in,” de Klerk, who was in Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University, told Channel 2.

As opposed to the racial segregation in South Africa, “you have Palestinians living in Israel with full political rights,” and “you don’t have discriminatory laws against them, I mean not letting them swim on certain beaches or anything like that. I think it’s unfair to call Israel an apartheid state. If [Secretary of State John] Kerry did so, I think he made a mistake.”

In April Kerry had said that Israel was liable to become an apartheid state if, in the absence of a two-state solution, it chose to annex all or part of the West Bank without granting full citizenship to the Palestinians. He later retracted his remarks.

After the interviewer interjected to clarify that Kerry had stressed that Israel was not at present an apartheid state, de Klerk said that in a future scenario, Israel could only be deemed “apartheid” if it became a binational state and its binational government discriminated against Arabs.

“The test will be, do everybody living then in such a unitary state — will everybody have full political rights? Will everybody enjoy their full human rights? If they will, it’s not an apartheid state,” he said.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner also cautioned Israel that the chance to secure a two-state solution was slowly slipping away, and urged the government to act quickly.

“I’m not saying it’s the right solution for Israel, but there will come in Israel a turning point where if the main obstacles of the moment which exist for a successful two-state solution are not removed, the two-state solution will become impossible,” he said. “So, as an outsider I would say, believing that a two-state solution might be the best one, you’ll have to move fast, see the window of opportunity, jump through it — it might close.”

The former president provided insight into the tactics he had used with Nelson Mandela to reach an agreement to end apartheid, which he compared to “an economic omelet.”

“Once you make an omelet out of eggs,” he said, “you can never separate the yellow and the white again.”

De Klerk insisted that “to break a deadlock you need initiatives,” and that mutual empathy was critical in overcoming the initial hurdles. He maintained that “our biggest success was when Mandela put himself in my position, and went out of his way to understand my position, and I at the same time put myself in Mandela’s position.

“We sat down and drew a list, what do we agree upon? And the list was longer than we expected. And then slowly but surely we worked first on the easier things,” and later moved on the more divisive issues, he said.

In an apparent subtle rebuke of US intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, de Klerk stressed that “in the end, we forced ourselves — we weren’t forced by others — we forced ourselves to say: We have made such big progress, we must now resolve these most difficult ones.”

In a March interview with the Oxford Student paper, de Klerk reiterated that Israel was not an apartheid state, but that both Israelis and Palestinians “need to take certain initiatives,” including the recognition of Israel and the establishment of viable borders for a future Palestinian state.

“I think the starting point from the Palestinian side is they must acknowledge the right of Israel as a state to exist, and they must say we want to be a good neighbor to their state,” he said then. “And Israel needs to look at offering the Palestinians a geographic state of which they can be proud. So the borders are important, but also from the Arab and Palestinian side, the unqualified acknowledgement of the right of the state of Israel to exist.”

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