Israel is long overdue to undergo the same racial reckoning and transformation that the United States underwent in the 1960s and South Africa passed through in the 1990s. The dual system of law that prevails in the occupied West Bank and favors Jewish settlers to the detriment of Palestinians is unacceptable in the 21st century. Israel's settlers must decide if they will abide by international law and leave the occupied territories or stay on -- as offered by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad -- provided they live under Palestinian law.
Two states with security and rights for Israelis and Palestinians is within our grasp today. We must be dogged in our determination to achieve this outcome with the utmost speed. Delay plays into the hands of rejectionists and those who would use time not to advance peace but to further settle the West Bank and East Jerusalem, rendering impossible a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.
If a Palestinian state becomes impossible and Palestinians appear consigned to a permanent apartheid-like reality then many of us who overcame daunting odds in South Africa will feel obliged to throw our support to one state based on equality for all. Let us, then, determine to make two states for two peoples work during the Obama administration.
I have no doubt I will be castigated for my plain speaking on behalf of Palestinian rights, Israeli security, and an end to the Israeli occupation. The rhetoric surrounding this conflict is ferocious. Mary Robinson, who on August 12 was awarded with the Medal of Freedom, is currently being vilified by organizations such as AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Zionist Organization of America for vigorously speaking out on behalf of Palestinian human rights. She deserves better and the White House is right to defend her from proponents of a fantasized Israel that reputedly can do no wrong.
She is not alone. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Adviser David Axelrod are also under attack. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu derided them as "self-hating Jews." Israeli settlers regularly refer to President Obama as a "kushi," a vicious and derogatory term for a black man. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the great moral leaders of our time, has been accused of "anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slurs" by the Zionist Organization of America and last week the ADL's Abraham Foxman referred to him as an "Israel basher." This language is the tip of the iceberg. The anti-Semitism label is so overused it is in jeopardy of losing power as a meaningful term.
The willingness of the White House to award Robinson and Tutu with the Medal of Freedom leaves me to wonder if the Obama administration is sending such organizations a message that Obama will not be intimidated and will stand firm in advancing America's national interest in a settlements freeze and, more broadly, in a just Middle East peace.
This week's overheated pro-Israel rhetoric exposes the zealotry of the speaker or organization, but the routine invocation of such labels also serves to intimidate many good people from involving themselves in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Far too many people who were outspoken advocates on behalf of ending apartheid in South Africa have taken to the sidelines in this dispute lest they be accused of being anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic, or self-hating Jews. The terminology is cruel and painful to those on the receiving end even though most know the term is employed only as a political weapon to silence. I believe the silencing tactic has worked to delay Palestinian freedom.
President Obama was right when he declared in his Cairo speech, "Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights." As he suggested, it was nonviolence that carried the day and advanced rights and justice in South Africa and other struggles.
I would only add that the seeds of a mighty and transformative nonviolent struggle are indeed already visible from the West Bank to the Gaza coast. I have met with Palestinians and Israelis who regularly put their lives on the line to assert nonviolently the injustice of Israeli expansionism and home demolitions. Must we wait for a humanitarian boat of the Free Gaza Movement to be fatally rammed or a Sharpeville massacre in the Palestinian village of Bil'in before we highlight the nonviolent courage of Palestinians and Israelis protesting Israel's siege of Gaza and the land-grabbing barrier that illegally seizes Palestinian agricultural land in the West Bank? Too many young people, most of them Palestinian, have been killed and maimed in Bil'in already.
Israel's ill-advised attempt to establish demographic facts in East Jerusalem by throwing Palestinian families out of their homes does not advance long-term Israeli interests, but leads more and more people around the world to question whether Israel is honestly interested in making peace with its Palestinians neighbors.
Israel must make the choice in the weeks ahead whether it intends to continue ruling over the Palestinians indefinitely or will step back from the dual system of law and apartheid it appears poised to embrace under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
John Dugard is a professor of law, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the chairman of the Independent Fact Finding Committee on Gaza.