Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that have been in the works for nearly two decades are back to square one. There are many reasons for the failure of the negotiations, but one of the key reasons is that Israel has moved the goalposts.
In the past negotiations between the two sides, the most important demand of Israel was for the Palestinians to recognize Israel's right to exist. But the hardline government of Benjamin Netanyahu is now demanding that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Like Christianity and Islam, Judaism is an Abrahamic religion. All three have similar roots and traditions. But, secularism -- separation of religion from governance -- is and will always be a fundamental pillar of democracy. A democratic government is neutral when it comes to religion, and it does not use it as a way of discriminating against any of its citizens. Thus, a "Jewish state of Israel" cannot be democratic, just as the "Islamic Republic of Iran" cannot.
A "Jewish state" is also in contradiction with respect for human rights, for which equality of all citizens is a fundamental pillar. There are about 1.7 million Arab/Palestinian citizens in Israel that are already treated as second-class citizens, in the sense that they are denied the same rights as the Jews. Accepting "Jewish state of Israel" is tantamount to recognizing an apartheid regime, as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter noted in his book "Peace, Not Apartheid." It is simple: If one is not a Jew, one cannot enjoy the same rights as the Jewish citizens of Israel. Segregation and differential treatment under the law based on race is the definition of apartheid.
One can also view this from another perspective. Unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism is a tribal religion, the religion of the Israelite tribes. In the Old Testament, God promised the Israelis the Promised Land. Becoming a Jew means joining the tribe and enjoying the same rights as the tribe's members. The Palestinian people belong to another "tribe" and thus cannot enjoy the same rights.
Every Jew enjoys the right of "returning" to Israel with full rights as a citizen of that country, but the Palestinian inhabitants of the same land, now occupied by the state of Israel, do not have the same rights.
Demanding recognition for "Jewish State of Israel" seems to be part of a long-term strategy of Netanyahu. The ultra-nationalist and ultra-orthodox that are his allies in Israel reject a Palestinian state and believe that over time, and after a few generations, the issue of forming a Palestinian state in only 22 percent of the historical Palestine will die of "natural causes." They consider the West Bank, and even Gaza, as part of the "Promised Land" that must be controlled by Israel.
If this view becomes the official policy of Israel, then there would be no room for the two-state solution, in which case millions of Palestinians will be living in an official apartheid state. There would be no way that the Palestinians will be allowed to be "free and equal citizens" of such a state, because they outnumber the Jewish citizens and their rate of birth would outpace that of the Jews and, thus, they can democratically come to power. Inevitably, the sitution would then become similar to South Africa where the recognition of the rights of the majority black population by the white minority ended the apartheid regime.
Thus, the ultra-nationalist/orthodox have only three choices: accepting the two-state solution; accepting a single democratic state whose citizens are all truly equal, or forming a Jewish state in all of historical Palestine that will be an apartheid regime. Much convincing evidence tells us that extremist Israelis prefer the third option.
Why is such a view gaining traction? One important reason is that the composition of the Jewish population has dramatically changed over time, as a result of 1.5 million Jews immigrating to Israel from the former Soviet Union, many if not most of whom are ultra-orthodox and ultra-nationalists." One of them, Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and a minister in several Israeli governments told Bill Clinton, as the former U.S. president recounts in his book, "My Life," that "they had come from the world's largest country to one of its smallest ones, and didn't believe in making Israel even smaller by giving up the Golan or the West Bank."
Another right-wing member of Netanyahu's cabinet is Naftali Bennett who leads The Jewish Home Party, which opposes a Palestinian state. Some of Israel's political parties, such as Yisrael Beiteinu, advocate "transferring" the Palestinians to Jordan. And, now that the latest round of negotiations with the Palestinians has failed, Bennett has urged Netanyahu to officially annex all the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Another extremist Israeli, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, is Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Following Lieberman's point of view, the Israeli cabinet approved a bill in October 2010 according to which the Arabs living in Israel must swear to an oath of allegiance to "Jewish and democratic state of Israel." Lieberman has suggested in the past an exchange of populated territories -- territories populated by both Arabs and Jews -- between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, another thinly disguised suggestion for forcing the Arabs to leave Israel, and "no loyalty, no citizenship." At one point Lieberman was a member of the Kach, a hysterical group that advocated mass expulsion -- "transferring" -- of Arabs from Israel.
In a recent appeal signed by several former national security officials of the United States, including Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, Secretary of State John Kerry was urged to reiterate the U.S. rejection of Netanyahu's extreme positions, including the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state unless there are explicit guarantees of equal rights for all non-Jewish citizens.
Israeli extremists cannot have it both ways: no two-state solution and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. For any state or international organization to grant such recognition would be tantamount to blessing the very apartheid structure of governance the world rejected in South Africa.
No one has said it better than former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in an interview on 26 December 2003:
Above all hovers the cloud of demographics. It will come down on us not in the end of days, but in just another few years
We are approaching a point where more and more Palestinians will say: 'There is no place for two states between Jordan and the sea. All we want is the right to vote.' The day they get it, we will lose everything. I shudder to think that liberal Jewish organizations that shouldered the burden of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa will lead the struggle against us.
This article was translated from Persian into English by Ali N. Babaei.