The Current Discussion: Israel's real "existential question" is whether or not to disenfranchise its Arab minority, says Fareed Zakaria in his column this week. Is he right?
This particular issue - especially the description of Israel as a "Jewish state" - almost torpedoed the 2007 Annapolis conference. Palestinians adamantly refused to recognize the state established on Palestinian land as a Jewish state, because 20% of that state's citizens are non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs.
But former President George Bush would not budge, calling Israel a "Jewish state" as he spoke in favor of an independent Palestinian state (which he promised would be realized before his term was up.) While this was not the first time that a U.S. senior official has referred to Israel as a religious entity, Bush's insistence on the description despite Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas's demands that this term not be used reflected a total U.S. acceptance of the Israeli position. Calling Israel a Jewish state goes directly against the general U.S. principle of separating politics from religion and counters the democratic values that the U.S. is trying to export to the rest of the world, including the Arab region.
After seeing such support from the U.S., Israeli ideological leaders from hawks to doves have raised the level of their public propaganda, pushing for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of the state of Israel. It started with the foreign minister Tizpi Livni, who said in a talk to high school students that once the Palestinian conflict was resolved, citizens of Israel would not be allowed to talk about their national aspirations. She later backpedaled from those racist-sounding remarks, but right-wing candidate Avigdor Lieberman did not. His election campaign, which came as the Gaza assault was taking place, included a call for Palestinian citizens of Israel to take a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state and to serve in the army or complete some type of public service.
As Palestinian citizens of Israel have repeatedly said, they didn't come to Israel - Israel came to them. Making non-Jewish citizens swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state is obviously unacceptable. Palestinian citizens of Israel are also angry with Lieberman's call for them to serve in the Israeli army, fighting against their fellow Palestinians, while Orthodox Jews are exempt from military and other forms national service.
The new Obama administration, as it weighs its position on the upcoming Durban II conference on racism, will also be forced to take a position on the rights of the Arab minority in Israel and the undemocratic demands that are being forced upon them as part of the package of a two-state solution. Palestinians living in Israel support the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. But they feel that this should not negate their decision to stay living where they are and to continue demanding rights equal to those their fellow citizens of Israel enjoy, be they Jews or followers of any religion or even non-followers of religion.
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