- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is toying with the Obama administration, professing an interest in peace while doing his utmost to stymie a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is no way for Israel to treat its leading ally. Nearly two years into office, Mr. Netanyahu is running circles around President Obama and encircling Jerusalem with still more illegal settlements.

Palestinians are rapidly abandoning hope for a viable and independent state. Mr. Netanyahu’s requirements are calculated to be impossible for Palestinian leaders to accept. The Israeli prime minister is always prepared to put in place another demand - such as the self-effacing requirement that the Palestine Liberation Organization recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Meanwhile, he uses delay to further colonize the West Bank and East Jerusalem, disregarding international concerns, the 2003 road map and the feeble requests of his American ally.

But American and Palestinian leaders have seen this game previously from Mr. Netanyahu. This time, they ought to call him on his antics. Instead, the U.S. seems prepared to make the same mistakes as President Clinton - with Dennis B. Ross playing the same central role as “Israel’s lawyer” - and Palestinians in the occupied territories are terrified that if they don’t play along with the charade they’ll be unfairly blamed again for ruining negotiations (going nowhere).

But time is not on Israel’s side. The two-state solution is the optimal solution proposed by the international community for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet each passing day of occupation and deepening settlement activity on the land intended for a Palestinian state makes it more difficult to implement the two-state vision. Instead, another possibility is emerging: one state adhering to the democratic principle of one person, one vote for all citizens between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel should decide either to end the occupation and accept an independent Palestinian state on the land it occupied in 1967 or face a movement backing one democratic state for all.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton implicitly acknowledged the emerging possibility of one state earlier this month at the Brookings Institution. “The long-term trends that result from the occupation are endangering the Zionist vision of a Jewish and democratic state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Israelis should not have to choose between preserving both elements of their dream. But that day is approaching.”

Of course that day is approaching, and of course Israel will have to choose between limiting its territory and apartheid. But the matter is more difficult than Mrs. Clinton suggests because we Palestinian citizens of Israel - living in our historic homeland - will not accept a Jewish state that limits our rights. A democratic state, yes, but a Jewish state that is by definition discriminatory, no.

Democratically elected by half the population and led by politicians, many of whom are immigrants whose leading credential for office is that they are Jewish, the Israeli government does not represent a huge segment of the state. The 20 percent of Israelis who are Palestinians increasingly face racist legislation, while the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation do so without equal rights, citizenship or the ability to choose those who make the decisions that ultimately control their lives.

For Palestinians and Israelis alike, it is time to change direction and stop focusing on extending a moribund and mislabeled 19-year-old “peace process” while Israel is relentlessly colonizing the land of the second state. Support for fundamental principles such as civil rights, equality and tolerance of all religions is the key to progress, not enormous American gift packages rewarding Israel for decades of law-breaking. So long as Israel advances laws that promote segregation - and at a record pace under Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government - it should be clear to American negotiators that the prime minister is not serious about peace.

Instead, American leaders must exert concerted pressure on Israel to embrace equality and be prepared to call out Israeli political leaders who thwart such sensible ideals.

This new path forward is one that shifts the dialogue away from unachievable negotiated solutions and focuses on reforming civil society - the revolutionary change of legalizing equality and civil rights. Nonviolent revolutions transformed the American South and apartheid South Africa and can do the same for Israelis and Palestinians.

Civil society reform - or a virtual revolution in the standing and rights of Palestinians - would mean ending the near-impunity for Israeli soldiers who use young Palestinian children as human shields because they see them as lesser beings, punishing landlords and the rabbis egging them on for discrimination in refusing to rent to Palestinians and ending practices denying building permits to Palestinians while accelerating those to Jews. In short, we are calling for equality. Israel should be defined as a state of all its nationalities instead of as a “Jewish state.”

The Obama administration could help by changing its role from enabler and funder of Israeli segregation within the 1948 borders and Israeli apartheid in the occupied territories of 1967 to one of helping strengthen civil society by clearly backing a non-racial society based on equality and freedom. If not, our situation could still be transformed if European governments suddenly were seized by concern for the oppressed Palestinian minority in Israel and insisted on basic rights for Palestinians that have been suppressed for decades by Israel.

Efforts are shifting in this direction as the international community is beginning to question Israel’s segregationist and apartheid policies. BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) gains momentum each day with the recognition that the “peace process” has been replaced by a discriminatory Israeli government intent on further expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Only by providing equal rights and freedom to all of its citizens and to all those under its rule will Israelis find long-sought security, peace and strength. When we invest in all our people - and not segregationist settlement housing and ever more arms - we will be on the right path forward rather than the current dangerous one that overlooks basic investments such as firefighting and thereby imperils Jews and Palestinians alike.

Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton should get on this path of equal rights and freedom, one that has worked wonders for the United States and South Africa, instead of investing more fruitless hours trying to protect an exclusivist state still determined to secure superior rights for Jews and inferior rights for Palestinians.

Ahmad Tibi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

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