It is fairly obvious that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is messing around with US President Barack Obama, when on the one hand he declares that he is interested in peace while on the other he is doing his utmost to thwart a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not the way to deal with Israel's key ally, to the extent that after nearly two years in office Netanyahu is running rings around Obama while encircling Jerusalem with more illegal settlements.
Palestinians are losing hope rapidly about the prospect of establishing a viable independent state due to Netanyahu's demands which are impossible for the Palestinian leadership to accept. He is always ready with another demand – such as the paradoxical requirement for the PLO to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – whenever the process appears to be moving forward. As with previous delays, he takes advantage and gives the go-ahead for yet more settlements across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, ignoring international law, the 2003 Road Map and the weak opposition of his American allies.
Moreover, US and Palestinian leaders have seen this game played by Netanyahu in the past. Although he should be stopped in his tracks, it looks as if the United States is ready to make the same mistakes as President Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross, where Ross played the same central role as a lawyer to defend Israel and the Palestinians in the occupied territories were left to worry that if they did not participate in this charade they would be blamed for the failure of the negotiations which, in fact, were leading them nowhere.
However, time does not favour Israel. The two-state solution as proposed by the international community to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is looking ever more unlikely to come to fruition; each passing day of the occupation and expansion of settlements sees to that. Indeed, even mainstream commentators are now talking of a single-state solution, with one democratic, secular country based on "one person, one vote" for all citizens regardless of ethnicity or faith, situated between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel must, therefore, choose between ending the occupation and accepting an independent Palestinian state on land occupied in 1967, or facing demands for such a democratic state.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized and implied manner as much when she told the Brookings Institution at the beginning of January, "The long-term situations resulting from the occupation endanger the Zionist vision of establishing a democratic Jewish state in the Promised Land for the Jewish people. Israel should not reach the point where it has to choose between the two elements in this dream – Jewish identity or democracy. But today this day is approaching."
Indeed that day is approaching and Israel will have to choose between its territory and apartheid, but it is more difficult than Mrs. Clinton suggests, not least because the Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel – we live in our historic homeland, don't forget will not accept a Jewish state that diminishes or removes our rights. A democratic state is not a problem, but a Jewish state defined by ethnicity and, this dependent on racial discrimination, is unacceptable.
The Israeli government was elected democratically by half of the population and is led by politicians of whom many are immigrants who were allowed to migrate to our country only because they are Jews; the Netanyahu government does not represent a majority of people in the country. Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians who see their legitimacy eroded daily, while millions of their fellow Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, without equal rights, without citizenship, without the ability to choose those who will make the decisions that will decide their fate.
It is time for Palestinians and Israelis alike to change direction and stop talking about an extended "peace process", which has been dying for the past 19 years while Israel continues to colonise the land belonging to the supposed future Palestinian state. Support for basic principles such as civil rights, equality and tolerance for all religions and people are the keys to progress, not a huge bribe from America in return for decades of breaking the law.
As long as Israel is strengthening laws that enhance its isolation and at a record pace under Netanyahu's coalition government – it must be clear to the American negotiator that the Israeli Prime Minister is not serious about peace. As such, American leaders must exert concerted pressure on Israel to adopt equality and call Israeli politicians to account if and when they impede the key values of democracy.
This new way forward will divert the dialogue away from endless negotiations to the restructuring of civil society, a revolutionary change to legitimise equality and civil rights. Non-violent revolutions changed South America and ended apartheid in South Africa, and can do the same thing for the Israelis and the Palestinians. Reform in civil society or active rebellion in the status and rights of the Palestinians means an end to Israel's immunity for the crimes it commits; an end to racial discrimination by landlords and rabbis; an end to the ban of building permits for Palestinians. Equality is the key and Israel must be defined as a state for all, not as a "Jewish state".
Barack Obama's administration can help by changing its role from a funder and supporter of isolationism in Israel proper, and racial discrimination in the territories occupied in 1967, to one which supports and strengthens civil society in a non-racial state built upon equality and freedom. If the US is unable or unwilling to do this, then Europe can play its part by demonstrating its concern about the Palestinian minority in Israel and insist on basic rights for them, ending their decades-old oppression by the state of Israel.
Efforts have started in this respect with rumblings about Israel's accountability for its policies of segregation and racial discrimination. International action such as the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign are gaining momentum, with the recognition that the "peace process" has been replaced by the Israeli government's policies of racial discrimination and further expansion into the occupied territories.
Only when Israel grants equal rights and freedom for all of its citizens and those who live under its occupation will it have real security and peace. With an investment in all of its people it can move forward; the current path endangers the lives of Jews and Arabs alike.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton should lead on this road of equality and freedom, which did, after all, produce results for the United States and South Africa, instead of wasting more unproductive hours trying to protect a state that is still determined to promote the rights of Jews at the expense of others.
Dr Ahmed Tibi is the leader of the Arab Nationalist Party in Israel and member of the Knesset
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.