b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    December 10, 2007 Edition 45                      Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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Palestinian citizens of Israel and a renewed peace process
. The most to lose        by Ghassan Khatib
At the Annapolis conference, US President George W. Bush dealt a severe blow to Palestinian aspirations for equal social, economic and national rights in Israel.
  . A profound perceptual gap        by Yossi Alpher
The Palestinian leadership is not nearly as vocal as the Israeli Arab mainstream in rejecting Israel as a Jewish state.
. I don't trust this government        an interview with Ahmed Tibi
We don't support any coalition. We support a positive peace process.
  . The 1967 borders are not the core of the conflict        by Issam Makhoul
Israel never was, and never will be, an exclusively Jewish state.

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The most to lose
by Ghassan Khatib

Two recent developments have brought to the fore the issue of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Last week an Israeli human rights organization published the results of a survey showing that racism against the Palestinians of Israel is growing. At the Annapolis conference, meanwhile, US President George W. Bush dealt a severe blow to their aspirations for equal social, economic and national rights in Israel.

In general, Palestinians in Israel--a sizeable minority of 20 percent composed of both Muslims and Christians--have been supportive of the peace process since it started. They strongly supported, through their Knesset members, the Israeli parties or leaders who needed parliamentary support for their engagement in the peace process. These legislators in some cases even provided safety nets for such Israeli leaders against the threats of right wing opposition parties. On many occasions, Palestinian citizens of Israel mediated between the Palestinian leadership, when it was still in exile, and Israel in a way that facilitated confidence between the two sides. At the same time they have consistently resisted opposition to the peace process both in the Palestinian and Israeli spheres.

There have been two recent occasions when certain political ideas provoked the community. The first was when certain Israeli think tanks and later politicians proposed to shift the borders of any final agreement to include parts of populated Palestinian areas in Israel and include them within the Palestinian state. This was a suggestion borne of a desire to rid Israel of its Palestinian citizens. It was strongly rejected, and without much argument the idea was dropped and is very rarely heard now.

The second is the recent shocking announcement by President George W. Bush in his opening speech at the Annapolis conference in support of the Israeli concept that Israel is a Jewish state. This announcement--in the face of Palestinian, Arab and Israeli Arab opposition--is perceived as a threat that could dramatically marginalize the position of the Palestinians in Israel.

This is especially significant in view of the already marginalized status of the Palestinians of Israel, a status inflicted by the discriminatory policies of the Israeli state and its Jewish majority. Last week, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel issued its annual report that warned of a rising racist attitude of a majority of the Jewish citizens of Israel, especially among the younger generation, against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Annapolis has little impact on anything apart from this, including on the Palestinians of Israel. Definitely it has little impact on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general. Within a political context, Palestinians in Israel have considerable interest in political progress between the Palestinians and Arabs on the one hand and Israel on the other. The failure of Annapolis to achieve any political progress and the subsequent failure to ensure the commitment of the parties to the tenets of the roadmap, perfectly illustrated by the failure of the US to prevent Israel from issuing tenders to build new houses in settlements on occupied territory, will reflect negatively on many aspects of the conflict but perhaps especially on the interests and general situation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, caught, as they are, at the heart of the conflict.

The deepening of the hatred and hostility against them that will result from the failure to ensure progress at Annapolis will deepen the agony the Palestinians in Israel face in terms of discrimination by the Israeli state and the Jewish majority. Hence, of all interested parties, the Palestinians of Israel perhaps stands to lose the most as a consequence of the adoption by Washington of the Israeli demand to be recognized as a Jewish state.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel could play an important role in the future. They are part of the Palestinian and Arab people but also consider themselves citizens of the state of Israel. They can with good cause claim to be able to understand the situation and mentality on both sides. This puts them in a position to play a constructive role in building relations between the two sides. On the other hand, if they continue to be marginalized and discriminated against, and if their economic and social situation continue to deteriorate, this will only contribute to the radicalization process that has afflicted them over the last few years.- Published 10/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.

A profound perceptual gap
by Yossi Alpher

One of the most disturbing byproducts of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that began in Oslo in 1993 is the emergence of a profound perceptual gap between the Israeli Jewish majority and the country's Arab citizens regarding the future of the state of Israel. In looking at the Israeli Arab response to the current renewal of peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO, that gap appears to be broader than ever.

It is not easy to recall that just a few years ago the Israeli Arab community presented itself, and was looked upon in at least some Jewish quarters, as a "bridge" to peace between Israel and the Palestinians represented by the PLO. Today it is part of the problem, not the solution.

Worse, parts of the Israeli Arab community appear to have adopted more extreme or more strident positions than those of the Palestinian leadership with whom Israel is negotiating. Witness, for example, the militant stand of parts of the Israeli Arab Islamist movement regarding Israel's right to exist, and their "ownership" of Muslim advocacy regarding the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif issue. In particular, note the Israeli Arab mainstream's position, as enunciated in a series of position papers published in the course of the past year, rejecting Israel's identity as a Jewish state. While the PLO/PA leadership in Ramallah refuses to acknowledge, as part of a peace process, that Israel is a Jewish state, it is not nearly as vocal as the Israeli Arab mainstream leadership in rejecting that position.

Herein lies the primary expression of the broadening of the perceptual gap regarding Israel's future status--and the primary negative link between a renewed peace process and the Arab citizens of Israel. In Israeli Jewish eyes, a very problematic dynamic developed in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere over the past seven years. It featured Arab insistence at Camp David on hard-line positions regarding Jerusalem and the right of return, the outbreak of the second intifada and particularly the suicide bombings, and revelations regarding the informal "return" to Israeli Arab towns and villages of some 100,000 West Bank and Gazan Palestinians. These and related developments persuaded the Israeli Jewish mainstream that the late Yasser Arafat's goal, inherited and adopted by President Mahmoud Abbas, is eventually to "Palestinize" Israel.

As the Israeli mainstream increasingly perceives it, the Palestinian concept of a two-state solution means a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside a state called Israel that is inhabited by Jews and a growing number of Palestinian Arabs who will, through natural population growth coupled with official and unofficial return, eventually be the majority. The notion of Israel as a Jewish state, embodied in the articles of Israel's creation and particularly UNGA Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, contradicts this direction.

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah can finesse this issue while it discusses matters like security and territory with Israel, even at the cost of postponing resolution of the right of return and Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif questions. Meanwhile, however, the mainstream secular leadership of the Palestinian citizens of Israel has in effect given notice that it can accept nothing short of Israel itself, within the 1967 borders, becoming a bi-national state. Then it expresses bewilderment and anger at the growing popularity among the Israeli Jewish majority of initiatives, taken against the backdrop of an emerging peace process, to move the green line 1967 border so that the Wadi Ara and little triangle regions with their large Arab populations become part of a future Palestinian state, or proposed laws to demand loyalty oaths from Israeli Arabs.

I most emphatically do not support those initiatives. But I am trying to understand where they come from. When FM Tzipi Livni suggests that a two-state solution could offer Israeli Arabs a Palestinian national identity, she is not trying to be provocative in a negative sense. Rather, she is responding to what many Israeli Jews perceive to be a growing need of Israeli Arabs to identify with Palestinian nationality even as they remain Israeli citizens and a national minority in a Jewish state. Israeli Jews didn't invent this idea: Palestinian citizens of Israel did.

In an ideal situation, an Israeli-Palestinian peace process designed to create a two-state solution could generate innovative solutions for the national aspirations of Jews and Arabs throughout Israel/Palestine--solutions that could stabilize and crystallize the evolution of the UNGAR 181 vision of "Arab and Jewish states in Mandatory Palestine". But this requires not only a greater measure of tolerance toward non-Jews inside Israel on the part of the Israeli Jewish majority. It also requires a radically different approach on the part of both the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Absent that approach, and with or without a successful peace process we are headed toward greater tension between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.- Published 10/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

I don't trust this government

an interview with Ahmed Tibi

bitterlemons: How do you assess the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process following the Annapolis summit?

Tibi: Nothing surprising has occurred. From the very beginning we knew we are only initiating final status negotiations thanks to international involvement. This is not much more than a step in the right direction. There were no negotiations in Annapolis and that's why I believe it was a non-event. Things in the Middle East are relative and that's why some Palestinian leaders look positively on the agreement to initiate final status negotiations, but on the ground the Palestinians' hard life, suffering and humiliation has not been relieved.

That the international community is accompanying this process is also a positive thing. But the withdrawal of the Israeli government from Olmert's original intent to talk seriously about core issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders and settlements is a negative development that reflects coalition considerations.

bitterlemons: From 1993 to 1999 you were an adviser to Yasser Arafat. Can you compare then and now in terms of the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Tibi: I took part in the Madrid conference and was a spokesman for the Palestinian delegation at Wye River. There and at Camp David we had negotiations; here we have a startup. So I'm not optimistic that we'll settle the final status issues by the end of 2008. If [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert can't convince his defense minister, Ehud Barak, to remove roadblocks, I'm not sure he'll be able to convince his coalition to go forward on the core issues.

As for the comparison between Arafat and Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], no two people are alike. Arafat was a symbol and was charismatic; Abu Mazen is chairman of the PLO and president of the PA, he is authorized to negotiate and is capable. If the vision of two states collapses, the international community will press for a bi-national state.

bitterlemons: In Arafat's day the Palestinian citizens of Israel were perceived as a bridge to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Have they now become part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

Tibi: Nobody is dealing with us as a bridge today. The statements of Deputy PM [Avigdor] Lieberman and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, talking about the Palestinian state as the national solution for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, are creating a problem. They place question marks over the policy of this government toward the Arab minority in Israel. Those ministers behave toward us as non-citizens who can be moved about like chess pieces. We can't accept that. We want our national identity in parallel to our citizenship, to give it real content. Meanwhile Livni is willing to tell Arab citizens, you can move if you wish to an independent Palestinian state. This is not the way a government should deal with its citizens. We are not immigrants to this county, Lieberman is. We are indigenous.

bitterlemons: The position papers and draft constitutions published during the past year by mainstream groups of Palestinian citizens of Israel, rejecting Israel's identity as a Jewish state, are cited as having contributed to attitudes like that expressed by Livni.

Tibi: I'm not sure this was the trigger for her position. Livni comes from the Likud; she's originally a rightist. I'm not sure her ideology changed on the way from the Likud to Kadima. There is no trust between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority in Israel. Arabs are being treated as enemies, not as core citizens. They are marginalized. The definition of Israel as a Jewish state is perceived as deepening discrimination against non-Jews. Both the majority and minority in Israel have a responsibility to repair relations, but the majority has more tools to do this. Instead we are neglected and pushed away. Look what is going on in the Knesset with anti-Arab legislation.

bitterlemons: For Olmert to succeed in a peace process, he may need the support of some or all of the 10 members of Knesset who represent Arab parties. Would you join his coalition if the issue ever came up?

Tibi: No, we don't support any coalition. We support a positive peace process. Here we mean my Knesset faction with its four mandates, but also in general the majority of the 10 members of Knesset. If there is any move toward withdrawal from occupied territories or a genuine peace process, we will not be an obstacle. I won't let Lieberman bring down the coalition. If my vote becomes the deciding one, I will support a peace process.

bitterlemons: But suppose you were invited to join or officially support the coalition.

Tibi: The constellation is possible, yet I don't trust this government as willing to go forward.

bitterlemons: Are the Arab members of Knesset trying to mediate in the dispute between Fateh and Hamas?

Tibi: We tried to do so two months ago. We met with Abu Mazen and tried to meet with Hamas in Gaza but were forbidden to enter the Gaza Strip by the [Israel] Defense Ministry. The [Hamas-Fateh] split is causing real damage to the Palestinian cause. I cannot accept the situation created by the military coup in Gaza. We should return to the status quo ante.- Published 10/12/2007 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ahmed Tibi is deputy speaker of the Knesset and a leader of the Arab Movement for Change. He has been a member of Knesset since 1999.

The 1967 borders are not the core of the conflict

by Issam Makhoul

Annapolis marked a departure for Israeli and US policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel, with US support, is seeking to replace the traditional understanding of the conflict as one that can be resolved by upholding Palestinian rights with one where Israeli rights take center stage. This has serious consequences for the Palestinian people in general and the Palestinian minority in Israel in particular. Israel is not only trying to replace Palestinians on their land, but replace them as the victims of the conflict.

Indeed, Annapolis can be seen as the crowning victory of one Israeli school of thought on the conflict over another: the "school of demography" has beaten away the "school of geography". Thus the project of a Jewish state now takes precedence over the project of Greater Israel, and the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been placed at the heart of the conflict.

The aim now for Israeli diplomacy is to extract international, Arab and Palestinian acquiescence to the Zionist project of an ethnically almost pure state. Israel wants to transform the conflict from an issue of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people for self-determination, security and national existence--rights that have been violated every moment of the past 60 years of occupation--into one that will place as a priority the security of Israel and its "Jewishness". In return for giving up their rights and acceding to this racist ideology, Palestinians will be allowed an improvement in their living conditions.

This "concept change", which is coupled with the dominant Israeli discourse of demography, is evidenced first by the conditions placed on the political process, i.e., the attempt to force the Palestinian side to recognize the "Jewish state" of Israel. But the stone aims to kill more birds than one.

It has been devised to eradicate any right of return of Palestinian refugees, as called for by UN resolutions, to the homes and lands from where they were evicted by claiming that the right of return would jeopardize the demography of the "Jewish state". By the same token, it seeks to evade any Israeli responsibility for the Nakba.

For Palestinian citizens in Israel, the "concept change" is an attempt to undermine their struggle to stay on their land as well as their struggle for equal civil and national rights. Finally, the "concept change" exposes Palestinian citizens of Israel to the very real danger of population transfer.

The focus of the Israeli state and its dominating elites on the "Jewishness" of the state comes at a time when formerly dominant discourses of labor, agricultural innovation, social solidarity and the kibbutz have disappeared, and exposes the underlying racist nature of this state, based as it is on the dispossession--not only of land but of rights--of one indigenous ethnic group, the Palestinians, by another immigrant one. It also exposes the hollow nature of Israeli democracy, which is pushing out its Palestinian citizens. Finally, it is based on the fallacy that the idea of ethnic division is based on the partition plan of 1947.

That plan, which legitimized the concept of self-determination for two peoples in two states, was never one of perfect ethnic division. Indeed, the "Jewish" state that would have been created would have been comprised of a population of whom 40 percent would have been Palestinians. Furthermore, the partition concept also entails that Israel's legitimacy depends on the fulfillment of the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Israel never was, and never will be, an exclusively Jewish state. This was not intended in the original partition plan, it did not happen in 60 intervening years of Israeli attempts to undermine the national rights of the Palestinians and will not happen by decree of international law. Israel is a state with a majority Jewish population and a large minority Palestinian one that insists on its equality and civil and national rights in this state. The minority did not suddenly appear here. Palestinians were living on their homeland when Israel suddenly appeared.

The demographic rhetoric now prevalent in Israel with its emphasis on forcing Palestinian citizens of Israel and Arabs in general to safeguard a Jewish majority by legitimizing the "Jewishness" of the state is a direct challenge first to the Palestinian citizens of Israel--who suffer enough from racism and discrimination as it is--as well as Palestinian rights generally. It is a measure of the decline of democracy in Israel and threatens the very concepts of equality in the country and peace in the region. Israel uses this rhetoric to prevent a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, whether in its broader context or with regard to the quarter of a million Palestinians who were internally displaced and have been prevented from returning to their lands and villages. Finally, the rhetoric is used to whip up fear among Israel's Jewish population, further distancing them from an understanding of the conflict that can lead to a just resolution.

The peace process, as launched by Annapolis, is thus trying, within the discourse of the 1967 borders, to extract a "solution" that ignores the very core of the conflict. The 1967 borders can constitute a solution but only if other Palestinian rights, including the right of return according to UN resolutions, are also upheld.- Published 10/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Issam Makhoul is a former member of the Knesset as a representative for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality.

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Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons.org and yossi@bitterlemons.org, respectively.

Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.