The recent affair concerning the criminal investigation of MK Azmi Bishara, the Israeli Arab Balad party chairman who has left the country, has spawned a multitude of journalistic reports and commentaries. Palestinian political commentator Hassan al-Batal went as far as to write that the lawmaker "could have become the Palestinian Herzl," referring to the founder of Zionism.
The Arab media as a whole have applauded him. A journalist from the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed a young woman from southern Lebanon, who predicted that Bishara would one day become president of the Palestinian state. He reminded her that Bishara was a member of the Israeli Knesset, and that he belonged to the Palestinian Christian minority. She was unfazed, insisting that he was the best choice precisely because of his intimate knowledge of "Zionist fascism."
The Nazareth-based newspaper Hadith Al-Nas ran an article predicting that Bishara would not become another Mahmoud Darwish, the Arab-Israeli poet who left Israel in the 1970s. The article did not seek to slight Bishara; it just suggested that he would not leave the country as he himself said in one of his interviews.
The comparison to Darwish was not incidental. Darwish was born in 1942 in the village of Al-Birwah near Acre, which was demolished during Israel's War of Independence. He grew up in a nearby village and worked for the communist newspaper Al-Ittihad until he left Israel in 1971. He became a prominent activist for the Palestine Liberation Organization and has been for many years one of the Arab world's most notable poets. His work achieved renown following the 1967 Six-Day War, owing in part to an editorial by the renowned Syrian poet Nizar Kabbani in a Lebanese literary magazine.
Kabbani addressed the "poets of the occupied lands" with an apologetic tone. While he and his colleagues wrote of sunshine and love, he wrote, they had failed to heed the plight of the Arab poets who were under the yolk of the Israeli occupation. This was how the Arab media and literary world learned of Arab artists in Israel, such as Samih al-Kassem, Emil Habibi, Tawfiq Ziad and Salem Jubran - all of them communists like Darwish.
Darwish was beyond a doubt the first to break through the siege surrounding the relatively small and isolated Arab minority in Israel. Others followed - and not only figures from the literary world. One of them is Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, who won international support for his recent struggle against the excavations near the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, as well as for his efforts regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
MKs Ahmed Tibi and Mohammed Barakeh are well-known figures in the Arab world, due to their frequent appearances in Arab foreign media outlets. However, keen observers might have noticed that while they have been presented as lawmakers, Bishara is considered to be a thinker, an Arab nationalist.
These details assume special importance in light of the possibility that the Arab-Israeli minority could in the future become a key factor in the regional dispute. The map is simple enough to decipher: If Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail to reach an agreement based on a two-state solution, the only alternative would be a single-state solution. There is no other prospect.
This single state would not be a "secular democratic nation," as the PLO advocated in the past, nor would it be a state of all its citizens, which is the cause Bishara has set out to realize. The strong Jewish majority would not allow that. The only option remaining would be an apartheid state, whose first signs - and possibly more than just that - are already visible in the West Bank and in Gaza.
In this case, the struggle in store for the Arabs of the occupied territories would be directed to achieving equal rights and equality within the State of Israel. This would include establishing full unity between them and the Arab Israeli minority - a unity that does not exist today. If that happens, then who knows what will occur: Azmi Bishara could very well go down in history as the "Palestinian Herzl."
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