By Haaretz Editorial
The issue of the Arab citizens of Israel has returned to the headlines. This
is partly due to the release of the book "Whose Country is This?", which
chronicles the failed attempt to develop a new pact between Jews and Arabs,
and even more so to a series of new documents setting forth demands formulated
by various Arab groups.
There is no need for a sweeping rejection of these demands; they include
legitimate ones for equal rights, along with unacceptable ones for
fundamentally changing the identity of the State of Israel as the state of the
Jews. The inclusion of both types of demands in the same documents is actually
a serious mistake, since it reinforces the prevailing suspicion among the
Jewish population that demands for equality are nothing but a stage leading
toward the goal of undermining the Jewish character of the state.
It is fitting to say something about the timing of these documents as well,
which came out precisely during a period when the Jewish population in any
case feels it faces an existential threat from a coalition of Arab and Muslim
countries and organizations. It is not clear whether those who developed the
documents intended them to go public specifically now, but in any case it
would have been appropriate for them to take the timing into account. As it
stands, the timing is liable to lead to emotional and harsh negative reactions
that will actually weaken the standing of Arabs in Israel instead of
The response to the new demands must therefore focus on a clear separation
between equal rights and the question of the overall character of the state.
The status quo with regard to the state's Jewish character must be maintained,
meaning that the Jews don't need to demand that the Arabs formally recognize
the Jewish character of the state - and so there is no need to despair of the
failure of the pact, which apparently stemmed from the Jewish attempt to
demand such recognition. In addition, all Arab demands regarding such a change
must be rejected.
On the other hand, when it comes to civil status, it is fitting not only to
advance the equality of rights and resources, but also to take an additional
step that has a chance of changing the trend of radicalization spreading among
part of the Arab population and its political representatives. This means
ending the boycott, which exists in practice, of Arab parties in Israeli
coalitions and governments. The Arab parties must be invited to coalition
talks like every other party, and the positions they present will be what
determines whether they participate in the government.
Such a move has two advantages: the removal of the primary symbol of the
policy of excluding Arabs from public life in Israel, and the creation of an
incentive to Arab parties to moderate their positions. As long as they are
ineligible from the outset, the Arab parties have no reason for moderation.
Those who research the Arab sector have repeatedly noted that the Arab public
is generally more moderate than its current political representatives. The
possibility of Arab parties joining the government can therefore generate a
fruitful debate within the Arab public, between a discourse of militant
identity and a pragmatic approach that deals with individual and sectarian
life within the state. In such a situation, it is possible that the parties
now in the Knesset might become more moderate, or else over time, new
political frameworks will be established that will express the desires of the
Arab citizens more faithfully and more effectively.
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