The war in Gaza has been going on for four months now, and it may seem like finding a peaceful solution is impossible. Even before the October 7, 2023 attack on southern Israel by Hamas-led forces, many analysts were already declaring the idea of a two-state solution dead. As a student of political violence and conflict, I believe that the unprecedented scale of violence in Israel and Gaza is creating an equally unprecedented urgency to find a solution, not only to the current violence, but to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The fall of apartheid South Africa
In 1948, the white nationalist Afrikaner National Party was elected to govern South Africa, a country that had already been controlled by a white minority colonial government. The National Party formalized policies of racial segregation in a system known as apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning “separation” or “separation.” Apartheid classified people by race, with whites at the top, Asians and people of mixed ancestry at the bottom, and blacks at the bottom, inferior with greater restrictions and fewer rights, for example, to live or work where they wanted.
Apartheid caused deep poverty and indignity for black communities, quickly spawning social movements that South African police attempted to violently repress. The collapse of apartheid policies in the early 1990s is blamed for often to a combination of South African resistance and economic pressure exerted by international boycotts. However, there was another important factor: South Africa’s “border war” in Namibia and Angola. Since 1948, South Africa had imposed its apartheid policies on a neighboring region it occupied after World War II, then called South West Africa, which is now is Namibia.
Like black South Africans, the people of southwest Africa resisted apartheid. Beginning in the 1960s, the South African Army began employing local militias in southwest Africa to combat a Namibian independence movement. Shortly afterward, South Africa attempted to expand its control over neighboring Angola, which was in civil war after gaining independence from Portugal. The war in Southwest Africa and Angola became an indicator of the ongoing Cold War and the fear of the Western countries to the spread of communism.
The United States supported the South African Army and pro-Western militias, while the Soviet Union and Cuba supported independence fighters. Cuba would eventually send 30,000 soldiers to fight on the ground on Angola’s side. By the 1980s, the conflict was developing into a broader war, threatening to bring the United States and the Soviet Union into direct conflict. South Africa found itself forced to mobilize its reserve troops and white South Africans began to protest. It was becoming clear that not only the war, but the country’s brutal apartheid system was not sustainable, giving credibility to those who wanted a democratic solution. The mutually destructive war had no clear end and no military solution. South Africa and the enemy armies were also running out of money to continue fighting. This stalemate pushed Cuba, Angola, and South Africa to sign a peace agreement in 1988, and South Africa withdrew its forces. The war with Namibia continued, but not for long. South African Prime Minister PW Botha resigned in 1989 after losing the support of his own far-right party over his failure in the war and his inability to impose the order. In 1990, Namibia declared its independence. That same year, the new South African government began rolling back apartheid policies, paving the way for historic elections in 1994 that were won in a landslide by anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
South Africa’s participation
Its border war is different in many ways from Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. But there are also similarities that can offer guidance. A path to two states? It is a situation that many analysts have long understood to be unsustainable, as It has repeatedly given way to extreme fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. However, with the United States and other powers firmly backing Israel as a strategic ally, few could see realistic possibilities for change. I believe that this violence, along with the threat of a broader war breaking out, is upsetting the once remote idea of a significant change in the region.
International pressure is growing for a ceasefire and a two-state solution. The United States, the European Union and China express their support for a two-state solution, and Saudi Arabia has made it conditional the possibility of a historic agreement with Israel. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that a two-state solution is the “only path” to peace. Pressure is also mounting in Israel, as people continue to protest for the Israeli government to reach an agreement. agreement and take alive 130 hostages who are still captive. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval ratings are falling. Israel’s economy is contracting. The Israeli government is increasingly divided over the war effort, and Netanyahu is losing support in his own far-right party. Major obstacles remain to achieving a two-state solution. There is also a growing international consensus that a two-state solution is the only acceptable outcome of the current violence. In my opinion, the conditions developing in Israel and Gaza are beginning to reach a breaking point, similar to the conditions in South Africa that were formed before the defeat of apartheid. Benjamin Case is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Labor and Democracy, Arizona State University.
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