One of the insights that emerged from the collapse of the Oslo process and the outbreak of the intifada in 2000 was the recognition that the Palestinian Arab community of Israel did not in fact constitute a bridge to peace with the Palestinian people, as Israeli Arab spokesmen had heralded throughout the heady Oslo years. Rather, it had become yet another obstacle to peace.
The riots of October 2000, support for PLO positions on issues like the right of return, and collaboration with the illegal "return" of tens of thousands of Gazans and West Bankers to Israel--all sent a message to Jewish Israelis that the Palestinians of Israel saw themselves and were seen by the PLO as a bridgehead for the eventual Palestinization of Israel rather than a bridge between a Jewish state and an Arab state.
To be sure, this is a crude generalization. Nor were these by any means the politics of all Israeli Arabs. But it was the Israeli Arab community's more articulate and extreme spokesmen, along with PLO leaders like Yasser Arafat, who set the tone in this direction.
Recent years have witnessed radical changes in the political scenery surrounding the Palestinian issue. Israelis have reacted to the collapse of the peace process, the intifada and the suicide bombings by opting for unilateralism. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have elected radical Islamists who reject a two state solution. Is there any role left for Israel's Arab citizens?
Indeed, there is. But it is not one they relish. When the parliamentary crunch comes, the Olmert government can count on barely 60 members of Zionist parties (including Meretz, which is not a member of this coalition) to vote for an additional phase of disengagement. The right wing will oppose the move vigorously, and the coalition's ultra-orthodox members are almost certain to defect.
That leaves ten members of Knesset from the Arab parties. They oppose settlements and favor a Palestinian state. But their attitude toward Prime Minsiter Ehud Olmert's disengagement plan is almost certain to be ambivalent: they will applaud the dismantling of settlements but oppose the strengthening of settlement blocs and their enclosure inside the security fence. They will identify with PLO and Arab state opposition to any Israeli plan that appears to annex, de facto, settlement blocs and parts of East Jerusalem to Israel. They will not identify with a plan whose declared purpose is to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish state. And they will be watching carefully how the Olmert government handles sensitive laws concerning immigration to Israel of Palestinian spouses of Israeli Arabs, following the High Court of Justice decision upholding a highly restrictive law on this issue. Their support, partial or whole, for Olmert's plan, is by no means a given. Two of them reluctantly helped rescue legislative initiatives for the first disengagement, under Ariel Sharon.
The MKs of the Arab parties are not Zionists, and their political positions render it very unlikely that they will be invited to join Olmert's government (even though Olmert has included and is courting non-Zionist ultra-orthodox parties). In the post-election hubbub of coalition negotiations, budget debates and trips to Washington, they have been largely forgotten by the Jewish public.
But Olmert is going to need them and presumably knows it. He will probably be able to claim no more than a Jewish plurality in the Knesset favoring his plan without them. Hence he will still need their votes. Olmert was prepared to pay a heavy budgetary and political price to bring Shas into his government, even though its spiritual leadership opposes unilateral disengagement. By the same token, a lot more consideration will have to be shown--despite extreme ideological differences with regard to the future nature of the state of Israel--before even a portion of the ten MKs from the three Arab parties agrees to vote for Olmert's program.
The coalition has already made an exception to the parliamentary rules and allotted the Arab parties a deputy chairmanship of the Knesset (filled by MK Ahmed Tibi). It will have to do more if it is to survive and see its disengagement program through to fruition.- Published 22/5/2006 © bitterlemons.org
In spite of the intensive--and at times brutal--efforts of the Zionist movement and Jewish armed groups to force from Palestine the indigenous population, many Palestinians remained in their homeland after the establishment of the state of Israel. For the first decade and a half after Israel was created, "emergency regulations" were used to lock these Palestinians inside their villages, prohibit them from moving through the country, deny them many jobs, and deprive them of basic rights and services. The results of these policies were two-fold. First, the population experienced a dramatic deterioration in standard of living and education, creating a dramatic gap between the human resources of the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority. Second, Palestinians in Israel were radicalized in their Arab and Palestinian identity, leading them to form Arab political parties and groups, which in turn prevented their dissolution and cultural absorption within the Jewish Israeli state.
The United Nations has criticized repeatedly Israeli government racial discrimination against the Palestinian minority. The years that followed the Israeli occupation of the rest of Palestine, i.e. the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, witnessed the heightened politicization of this minority and its increasingly important role in Israeli politics. Land Day represented the climax of these political activities. On March 30, 1976, massive numbers of demonstrators protested Israel's confiscation of their land. It is an event now commemorated annually, as a day to remind the Jewish majority and the government of Israel that the dream of a pure Jewish state is at best problematic. Another sign of their increasing politicization is the voting behavior of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are gradually moving away from voting for Zionist parties or for Palestinians affiliated with Zionist parties, to support Arab or non-Zionist Israeli parties.
Israel's treatment of Arab Israelis has always been one indicator of the attitudes of successive Israeli governments. Even today, all studies expose a wide gap in all aspects of life between Palestinians and Jews in Israel, whether in the arena of education, health, infrastructure or even basic land ownership rights.
Too, Palestinian citizens of Israel have played an important and positive role in the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians in general. Many were instrumental in encouraging Israeli leaders to open relations with the PLO, and to pursue the peace process. In addition, and as a result of being part of Israel, Arabs were able to help the Palestinians in the occupied territories in various ways. They have always been active in various forms of solidarity against the occupation, in protesting oppression against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and in uncovering the dangers of illegal Israeli activities. For example, Israeli Arab activists have been instrumental in their solidarity and support for Palestinian prisoners.
This phenomenon has made the state of Israel nervous, especially as its Palestinian citizens develop their political experience and increase in number. Some Israelis have adopted the racist perspective that the borders of Israel and the future Palestinian state should be altered in such a way that will transfer most of these Palestinians from Israel into the Palestinian state.
The Arab Israeli minority has suffered a great deal, and has its own specific needs and concerns. But it also has a positive role to play in the future of these peoples on this land. First--and especially as the Arab world becomes more open to them--Palestinian citizens of Israel can be a bridge between Israel and both Palestinians and the Arab world. Second, they are a reminder to Jewish Israelis that they are able to live in peace, within internationally accepted norms, with non-Jews. This attitude is crucial to an Israel that is prepared to live in peace and mutual respect and upon the basis of international law with its neighbors--whether they be Palestinians or other Arabs.- Published 22/5/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
VIEW OF A PALESTINIAN CITIZEN OF ISRAEL|
by As'ad Ghanem
Once again the only members of Knesset we must pity are the Arabs, and particularly those elected on the Arab national lists. They are irrelevant at two levels: that of the Knesset and its majority, but also the level of the Arab sector that they neglected and that largely ignored them in the elections. Even if we include the votes falsified or (according to press reports and rumors) bought at a high price, only 39 percent of the Arabs voted for the three Arab lists that comprised no fewer than seven parties.
Significant external factors influenced the elections to the 17th Knesset. On the one hand, Hamas surprisingly rose to power amidst the atmosphere of crisis that pervades Palestinians' lives. On the other, Israel abandoned the bilateral solution and turned to managing the conflict unilaterally, as it planned and implemented steps that can have only one outcome: perpetuating the conflict for at least several more years.
These background factors highlight the substantive changes in the lives of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. The hope that an end to the conflict would create a new reality was dashed. The expectation of equal status, at least at the civil level, was replaced by more land confiscation, legislation defining the Jewish character of the state in basic laws, the High Court of Justice's ratification of an amendment to the citizenship law that prevents unification of mixed Palestinian families from both sides of the green line, ongoing discrimination in all walks of life, house demolitions and a long list of unilateral steps that merely substantiate the lack of any chance for progress and the Israeli convictionb that the foundation of government remain Jewish superiority.
The internal disintegration of Palestinian society in Israel has deepened at all levels: social, political, community, geographic, etc. At the political level, competition is based less and less on political programs and increasingly on personal considerations of advancing this or that leader. At the community level, more than any other, the situation has deteriorated due to power struggles between diverse sects and the growing distance between Palestinians in the Negev and those in the Galilee. Problems of community violence, struggles between clans and attitudes toward women have only worsened in recent years.
The Arab parties have exacerbated these problems. Rather than confronting or changing the existing social structure, they have exploited it for political gain at the local as well as national level. As for the struggle against discriminatory policies, the parliamentary political parties are, not surprisingly, barely functional (except on Arab television screens).
The Palestinian public in Israel is more aware than ever of its marginal status in the Israeli system and its lack of opportunity to affect decision-making in the Knesset and the government. It recognizes that it is a marginal minority, devoid of influence, appended to the project of determining the Jewish nature of the country. While it sees no benefit to its interests within parliamentary politics, it does find opportunities for activity outside the parliamentary arena. This is the main factor explaining the sharp drop in Arab voting percentages.
In view of the emergence of the Olmert government with its intention of implementing further unilateral disengagement, it is distressingly likely that we shall again witness a scenario in which the establishment addresses the Arab Knesset members as an auxiliary force to be "deployed" in the event the ruling party lacks sufficient support within the coalition. Experience teaches us that when the Olmert government decides to withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and effectively anchor the Israeli apartheid regime there and in Gaza in a mini-state of fragmented enclaves, and when some of the right-wingers in Kadima revolt against even these steps, the government will always be able to rely on Arab MKs to vote for its program--just as MKs Baraka and Bishara voted for compensation for the Gaza evacuees in the previous Knesset.
Then, too, Arab MKs declared they had won the day, saved the peace and contributed to Palestinian interests. Then, too, they ignored the bitter truth: that these steps delay the peace and in fact bury the option of a historic reconciliation between the two peoples for many more years at least. And they ignored the price to be paid by the common people on both sides--those who really want a historic reconciliation rather than the illusion of peace.- Published 22/5/2006 © bitterlemons.org
As'ad Ghanem is head of the Government & Political Philosophy Department, School of Political Science, University of Haifa.
VIEW OF A PALESTINIAN CITIZEN OF ISRAEL
Israel was established on top of us
an interview with Issam Makhoul
bitterlemons: How do you expect the various Arab parties in the Knesset, and your own party, the Communist party (which has Jewish and Arab representatives), to engage with the new Israeli government?
Makhoul: We still don't have a body of work with which to judge this new government. We believe that the government of Ehud Olmert is a continuation of the government of Ariel Sharon--let us say that this government is "Sharonist" and without Sharon, it will be even more Sharon than he himself. We are witnessing policies that have depleted wheat in Gaza, continued the shooting in Nablus and Qabatiya, authorized more assassinations, and clearly has no interest in the political process.
We believe that this government, through its policies and tendency toward unilateralism, is trying to dismiss the Palestinian people from a fair solution. It wants the Palestinian people to engage in the struggle, and not in the solution. We reject this attempt completely.
bitterlemons: It is fair to say that in the coming days, the government will engage issues deeply touching the lives of Palestinians citizens of Israel. First of all, there is the issue of the citizenship law.
Makhoul: The decision that was handed down by the High Court this last week legitimized the refusal of citizenship to the spouse of an Israeli citizen who is from the occupied territories. This is a law built on a kind of racism that Israel has never openly expressed before, in that it distinguishes clearly between the rights of the Israeli citizen and the Arab citizen. This is the first time that the High Court has legitimized a law that is racist at its core.
This shows that "security" or "demography dangers" are more important in Israeli criteria than democracy. This law is not only a danger for the Arab citizen, but also for the country itself and its institutions. The creation of the citizenship law is the beginning of the creation of an apartheid regime, like that in South Africa, in a real way rather than merely comparatively. This battle is one that is joined, not only by Arabs, but also democratic Jews. Even the head of the court and four other judges criticized the majority decision, calling it "racist and dangerous". Later, the head of the court said he thought the law would fail [before the court] if it is extended.
We will fight this on ever level, among the public and in legislation, and if there is not a clear decision [to rescind the law] by Israeli officials, then we will fight it in the courts outside this country.
bitterlemons: Another issue that this government will certainly face if it indeed tries to draw Israel's final borders is the idea that Israel's Palestinian citizens should be drawn out of the map.
Makhoul: This idea comes right out of hell and the most racist and fundamentalist minds. It is to say that the Arab citizens are a danger to demography, and thus they should be stripped of their citizenship. We say, we did not come here as immigrants, Israel immigrated to us and was created on top of us.
If Israeli had been created in Uganda as was suggested, then we would not be demanding citizenship from this state, but because the state of Israel was created in the Triangle, in the Galilee, and in the Negev, we are defending our citizenship rights in our country. We will not accept any solution that tries to change the borders to get rid of half a million Palestinians in Israel. We are a part of the Palestinian people, but our presence in these areas is part of the solution of the June 4, 1967 borders. These borders are not the core of the Palestinian-Israeli problem, but they are a chance for a solution.
bitterlemons: Can you speak some about the problems that are faced by the Bedouin in the Negev, where they are under new pressure to leave their lands?
Makhoul: There are some 70,000-80,000 Bedouin citizens in the Negev who were living on their land for tens of years before the creation of Israel. Israel was established and drew maps that did not show these communities, and to this day Israel acts as if these communities do not exist. Israel does not provide them with water, electricity, roads or schools and as such is forcing them to live as people lived 100 years ago.
There is now an escalation of the situation, as Israel is trying to force them from their land, and is annulling the evidence that they have that this is their land and was passed down from generations, in order to pass the land to Jewish ownership. They are creating settlements of 5,000 dunams, for example, and establishing on them dog pounds and animal preserves. The state is even creating Jewish settlements for one person alone. The government has sprayed poisonous chemicals on the Bedouin's lands, in order that they can no longer live there.
These people are living in fear of destruction, and there is a new effort to get them to move from their lands to towns and cities to live on a dunam or half a dunam, despite their custom of living in open spaces.
bitterlemons: Is there any addition issue of importance that we didn't touch on?
Makhoul: I would like to say to the Palestinian people [in the West Bank and Gaza] to take care of each other, and don't allow the Israeli occupation to generate problems and divide you, especially in Gaza. There is a need for a democratic force on the ground, which distances itself from divisions and corruption and can fight the battle against racism, in order to implement a just peace and the rights of the Palestinian people.- Published 22/5/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Issam Makhoul is general secretary of the Israel Communist Party and former member of the Israeli Knesset.
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