What Is Israel, Exactly?

In the "Jewish state" that is Israel, about 1 in 5 citizens actually is not Jewish, but rather an Arab allowed to stay after Israel's creation in 1948. In all but name these are Palestinians, and have generally lived peacefully within Israel's democracy.

But official discrimination against these Israeli citizens has risen over the years to the point that a government commission on Monday made this recommendation: "The treatment of the Arab sector is the most important and sensitive internal issue on the agenda of the state."

The report was primarily focused on police responsibility in the killing of 12 Arab Israelis and one Palestinian in northern Israel during pro-Palestinian riots tied to the start of the latest intifada two years ago. The riot shocked Jewish Israelis, who long have feared their Arab citizens could someday be a fifth column.

The three-member commission, led by a supreme court justice, hinted at Israel's underlying problem of trying to be both a pluralist democratic state and a safe haven for Jews. A regular denial of basic civil rights to Arab Israelis, especially in land claims, illustrates an identity crisis for Israel, especially if it must maintain control over millions of Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Discrimination against Arab Israelis is further illustrated by a new law that prevents them from bringing Palestinian spouses into Israel.

If the road map peace process collapses without creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state, Israel may end up with a situation like apartheid South Africa: Four or five Palestinian cantons with nominal self-rule but ultimate Israeli control.

All the more reason for the Israeli government to take the commission's recommendations to heart and begin to treat its Arabs as citizens with equal rights, and not an alien tribe with second-class status.

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