Whether the news on the circumstances behind MK Azmi Bishara's stay outside Israel suggests that something bad is brewing between him and the authorities, or whether it signals difficulties that allegedly emerged between him and his party, or yet, whether it hints at a change in his personal preferences regarding his role as a public figure - the headlines are all falling on fertile ground.
The growing tension in relations between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel contributes to a script in which an opinionated Knesset member like Bishara appears as someone who is in no rush to return to Israel, in order to defend himself against allegations regarding his conduct.
It is not clear whether Bishara found himself in the shoes of the poet Mahmoud Darwish, who in the 1970s, tired of the harassment of the authorities and opting to leave the country, joined the ranks of the PLO, and lived as a Palestinian exile in neighboring countries. His uprooting did not prevent him from being considered the Palestinian national poet who, among other things, wrote his nation's Declaration of Independence.
Or perhaps it is more appropriate to describe Bishara's situation as a case in which his political rivals set him up. Or maybe it is more valid to compare his condition to that of Sheikh Ra'ed Salah, who was charged in June 2003 with a mound of serious violations that eventually fizzled into a plea bargain of minor scope. Whichever it may be, Bishara's case highlights the crossroads that relations between Jews and Arabs inside the Green Line have hit.
The turning point was in the formulation of position papers by leading organizations of the Arab community ("Ten Points," "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," a proposed constitution and the "Haifa Declaration," which has yet to be officially published). The documents are being woven like an orderly ideological and political doctrine challenging the current character of the State of Israel - the way it views itself, the structure of its government, and its Zionist identity. In practice, these documents lay the ideological foundation for the uprising of the Arab Israelis against their state.
This is a mutiny that, for the time being, is being carried out through entirely legitimate means - submitting petitions to court, developing position papers, initiating research, rallying public opinion. But it paves the way for radicals to act by illegitimate methods. And there have been precedents, including individuals in senior posts in the Jewish community, who violated the law due to ideological motivations (for example, Israel Beer and Markus Klingberg, who spied for the Soviet Union).
A survey of the Adenauer Foundation Program for Jewish-Arab cooperation at Tel Aviv University shows that only a minority (15.7 percent) of Arabs in Israel have heard of the Vision document, and very few have read it (5.5 percent). However, its substance is acceptable to the vast majority: 68 percent support the establishment of an elected representative national body for Arab Israelis; 86 percent support the return of refugees living in Israel to their original villages; some 40 percent would like to see Israel transformed into a "state of all its citizens."
The Jewish majority must deal with these documents on its own terms. In contrast with the Palestinian-Arab discourse on the history of the conflict, there is a just Israeli version that presents the efforts of the remnants of a small nation to hold on to its homeland and reach, without success, a compromise with its Arab neighbors.
From this Jewish position will emerge the red lines that will make the parameters of a possible compromise clear to the Arab minority: the 1967 lines as the border between the Palestinian national state and the Zionist state of Israel; the Jewish majority cannot meet the expectations of the Arab minority to transform Israel into a binational state.
The Jewish majority is also finding it increasingly difficult to bear the ideology and conduct of Azmi Bishara, which the Jews see as often slipping into illegitimate zones of support for enemies of the state. This was the case in Bishara's travels to Lebanon and Syria in recent years, and also during the Second Lebanon War.
Arab MKs have an important function in representing their constituents, on the one hand, and conducting themselves within the rules of the game of a democratic state, which is also their country, on the other. Those among them whose inclination or beliefs will lead them to cross the lines will find themselves in the same place as Bishara.
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