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Moment of Truth

In the wake of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public praise for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “unprecedented” attitude toward continued Israeli settlement expansion, Saeb Erakat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, calmly rolled out a verbal bombshell at a November 4 press conference in Ramallah.

Erakat noted that now may be “the moment of truth” for the Palestinian leadership and raised the possibility that “the two-state solution is no longer an option and maybe the Palestinian people should refocus their attention on the one-state solution, where Muslims, Christians and Jews live as equals.”

This statement just might signal a turning point in the long, frustrating search for peace with some measure of justice in Israel/Palestine.

Throughout the long years of the perpetual “peace process”, deadlines have been consistently and predictably missed. Such failures have been facilitated by the practical reality that, for Israel, “failure” has had no consequences other than a continuation of the status quo, which, for all Israeli governments, has been not only tolerable but preferable to any realistically realizable alternative. For Israel, “failure” has always constituted “success”, permitting it to continue confiscating Palestinian land, expanding its West Bank colonies, building Jews-only bypass roads and generally making the occupation even more permanent and irreversible.

In everyone’s interests, this must change. For there to be any chance of success in any new round of negotiations, failure must have clear and compelling consequences which Israelis would find unappealing — indeed, at least initially, nightmarish.

The Palestinian leadership, with or without Mahmoud Abbas. should now announce its willingness to resume negotiations with Israel but only on the express and irrevocable understanding that, if a definitive peace agreement on a “two-state basis” has not been reached and signed by the end of 2010, the Palestinian people will have no choice but to seek justice and freedom through democracy — through full rights of citizenship in a single state in all of Israel/Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race or religion and with equal rights for all who live there, as in any true democracy.

The Arab League should then publicly state that the very generous Arab Peace Initiative, which, since March 2002, has offered Israel permanent peace and normal diplomatic and economic relations in return for Israel’s compliance with international law, will expire and be “off the table” if a definitive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has not been signed by the end of 2010.

At this point — but not before — serious and meaningful negotiations can begin. It may already be too late to achieve a decent two-state solution (as opposed to an indecent, less-than-a-Bantustan one), but a decent two-state solution would never have a better chance of being achieved. If it is, indeed, too late, then Israelis, Palestinians and the world will know and can thereafter focus their minds and efforts constructively on the only other decent alternative.

It is even possible that, if forced to focus during the coming year on the prospect of living in a democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens — which, after all, is what the United States and the European Union hold up, in all other instances, as the ideal form of political life — many Israelis might come to view this “threat” as less nightmarish than they traditionally have.

In this context, Israelis might wish to talk with some white South Africans. The transformation of South Africa’s racial-supremicist ideology and political system into a fully democratic one has transformed them, personally, from pariahs into people welcomed throughout their region and the world. It has also ensured the permanence of a strong and vital white presence in southern Africa in a way that prolonging the flagrant injustice of a racial-supremicist ideology and political system and imposing fragmented and dependent “independent states” on the natives could never have achieved.

This is not a precedent to dismiss. It could and should inspire.

JOHN V. WHITBECK, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of “The World According to Whitbeck“.

 

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