Dec. 11, 2006
Increasingly radical, Israeli Arabs want end to Zionist vision of
By Leslie Susser
December 11, 2006
JERUSALEM, Dec. 11 (JTA) — Increasingly alienated from the Jewish
state in the wake of the recent Lebanon war, Israeli Arabs have
produced a radical document demanding cultural autonomy and the
right to veto government decisions that concern them.
The document, titled "The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in
Israel," could prove to be a watershed.
Drafted by representative mainstream organizations and not by
extremists, it constitutes an unqualified rejection of the
Zionist model of Israel as a Jewish state in which Israeli Arabs
are integrated as equal citizens with full rights.
Instead, the document proposes a model of Israel as "the state of
all its citizens," in which two ethnic groups, Jews and Arabs,
both enjoy a degree of autonomy in a binational state. That would
be next to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
that would be entirely Arab.
The rift between the Jewish majority and Arab minority in Israel
has been widening steadily for years. Pre-existing tensions
between the two communities were exacerbated by the Oslo process,
the lethal clashes between Israeli Arabs and police in October
2000 and, most recently, by the second Lebanon war.
A last-ditch attempt by moderates on both sides to draft a
conciliatory Jewish-Arab covenant collapsed in 2001. The
protocols of their meetings, released recently, show that the
main sticking point was the Arab side's refusal to recognize
Israel as a Jewish state.
The new document takes this rejection further. It has eight
chapters dealing with sensitive issues like land policy, economic
development, education and the nature of the Israeli state. The
drafters do not recognize Israel's essential Jewishness, and see
it instead as a "joint homeland" for Jews and Arabs. That paves
the way for the Arab side to demand not only individual rights
but rights as a group.
From this basic position, the drafters derive their insistence
on cultural, religious and educational autonomy. It also
underpins their demands for separate representation in
international forums and a veto right on domestic issues that
concern them as a group.
The significance is far reaching: Israel would forfeit its Jewish
character. Indeed, the drafters of the document urge Israel to
forego its Jewish symbols of state — for example, the flag with
the Star of David and the"Hatikvah" anthem, which expresses the
Jewish yearning through the ages for a return to Zion.
The new document would seem to have widespread Israeli Arab
support: It was drafted by the Supreme Arab Monitoring Committee
and endorsed by the Arab Local Authorities' Committee, two bodies
that represent a wide spectrum of Israeli Arab opinion.
Many Israeli Jews were stung and deeply disappointed by the
document. For them, the raison d'etre for the establishment of
the state was to create a national homeland for the Jewish
people. Few would be willing to consider, far less to discuss,
forfeiting its Jewish character.
In a bitter article in Ma'ariv, journalist Dan Margalit captured
the widespread frustration at the direction Israeli Arab thinking
seems to be taking.
"It's very sad and a great pity," he wrote. "We were wrong to
harbor illusions. They [Israeli Arabs] are impossible."
Israeli intellectuals point out that if the thesis of a
binational Israel were adopted, it would mean that in a two-state
solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — Israel and
Palestine living side-by-side in peace — the Palestinians would
have one-and-a-half states, the Jews only half a state.
Why are Palestinians entitled to full statehood and Jews not?
A recently published book, "Whose Land is This?" edited by
veteran Ha'aretz columnist Uzi Benziman, tells another sad story:
How leading thinkers on both sides, aware that Jewish-Arab
relations were on a collision course, failed to formulate a
common basis for dialogue and coexistence.
Between January 1999 and January 2001, 12 Israeli Jews led by
Hebrew University Law Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer and eight
Israeli Arabs led by Adel Manna, director of the Jerusalem-based
Van Leer Institute's Center for the Study of Arab Society in
Israel, made a Herculean effort to draw up a Jewish-Arab covenant
that would take the sting out of ties between the two communities.
Both sides showed goodwill and significant progress was made. But
the Israeli Jews threw up their hands in despair when the Arab
side refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, in precisely
the same way as the drafters of the new document are refusing to
Disillusionment about Jewish-Arab ties in Israel was exacerbated
by the recent Lebanon war, which underscored the huge disparity
in basic sensibilities. Many Israeli Arabs accused Israel of a
"disproportionate response" to Hezbollah attacks, and they openly
sided with the Lebanese militia, even though they often bore the
brunt of its haphazard rocket attacks.
"During the recent war, a line was crossed: Arab Israelis did not
hesitate to openly express their support for the enemy and
preferred their ties to the enemy over their obligations to the
state of which they are citizens," Benziman wrote in Ha'aretz,
arguing that the main reason for this was "their refusal to
recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist idea — a refusal that is
nourished by the foolish and evil policy of discrimination
adopted by all Israeli governments."
Arab intellectuals acknowledge that the core of the argument is
indeed over the legitimacy of the Zionist idea. Manna says even
if there were no discrimination, the Israeli Arab demand for
autonomy would remain.
The growing alienation from the Jewish state has been accompanied
by increasingly radical statements and actions by Israeli Arab
political leaders. Soon after the Lebanon war, Knesset member
Azmi Bishara led a delegation to Syria and Lebanon to express
solidarity for the Arab side in the war.
Riad Saleh, leader of the Israeli Arab Islamic Movement's radical
northern wing, declared that Jerusalem soon would be the capital
of an Islamic caliphate. Saleh often attempts to whip the Israeli
Arab public into a frenzy by warning of imaginary Jewish plots to
destroy the Muslim holy places on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
Shawki Katib, head of the Supreme Arab Monitoring Committee,
maintains that the aim of the eight-chapter document is not to
present an ultimatum, but rather to spark debate on how the two
communities can best live together.
Some Israelis take heart from this approach. Likud Party
legislator Michael Eitan, who was one of the 12 Israelis who
failed to draft a Jewish-Arab covenant, said he remains
optimistic precisely because "the debate has not yet begun."
In any such dialogue, Eitan said, the sides tend to present tough
opening positions as a bargaining ploy. If serious talks take
place, Eitan said he was confident the two sides would be able to
reach agreement within the basic parameters of Israel as a Jewish
and democratic state.
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