The 2006 elections will go down in Israeli history as the first elections that legitimized ripping the heart out of the Declaration of Independence - the undertaking to "uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex." True, Yisrael Beiteinu is not the first party to call for denying Israeli citizens the right to live in the state on the grounds of religion and race. Rehavam Ze'evi's Moledet was in the Knesset and was even a coalition partner in one of the right-wing governments. But Ze'evi was never invited to eat pickled herring at Yossi Beilin's table, and was never showered with a smidgen of the praise bestowed by the Meretz chairman upon Avigdor Lieberman.
In a nutshell, the principal difference in the plans of the two transfer-mongers with regard to the Arab citizens of Israel is that Lieberman is proposing border adjustments that would place them and their homes (that would instantly plumment in value) outside their state, while Ze'evi proposed deporting them from their state (and paying them suitable compensation for their homes).
With the architect of Oslo and Geneva giving Lieberman friendly pats on the back, it's no wonder serious political analysts are mentioning him, in the same breath as Meretz and Labor, as a natural partner in a Kadima-led government. And it's no surprise either that a resident of Ra'anana, who identifies himself as a veteran left-winger, had no shame in writing to Lieberman that he is the only one "who is guiding us to a situation in which the Jewish people, too, will indeed finally have a Jewish state of its own." The man, who participated in an on-line readers' forum with Lieberman on the Haaretz Web site, asked Lieberman to elaborate on how he proposes removing Wadi Ara and the Triangle region from the boundaries of Israel and turning them into a part of Palestine.
Lieberman's acceptance into the heart of the consensus is evidence not only of the moral degradation of Jewish Israeli society; Yisrael Beiteinu's popularity is also an indication of the shallowness of the political discourse. Beilin praised his transfer-monger friend for being "very intelligent, a successful politician, an excellent man of action, and a smart Jew." How does this intelligence and wisdom fit in with things that Beilin himself wrote in condemnation of the Lieberman plan? Shaul Arieli, No. 12 on Meretz's Knesset slate, would be happy to show Beilin the document that portrays Lieberman not only as a racist and evil. At best, he is superficial, too. At worst, he's deceptive.
First of all, transferring Israeli citizens to Palestinian sovereignty, totally against their will, would not stand the test of the Israeli and international judicial systems. Secondly, the Palestinian Authority has made it clear on a number of occasions that it will not be party to any plan that forces the Arab citizens of Israel to alter their status. And thirdly, tying the Arab citizens of the State of Israel to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in the territories would divert the argument away from the issue of the 1967 borders, and create a precedent regarding the willingness to relinquish additional territory within the state that is populated by Arabs. It would also invite a debate on other issues related to the same population, including the sensitive matter of land appropriation and absentees' assets.
Finally, let's assume Lieberman has his way and manages to exchange the residents of Umm al-Fahm and their land for the Ma'aleh Adumim residents and their homes. How would that change the demographic balance? Arieli calculated that the number of Arab Israelis would drop by 116,000-148,000, or a total of 8.2-10.5 percent of the Arab population of Israel, and just 2.1 percent of the population in general. This number is double that of the East Jerusalem Arabs, for whom the separation fence would perpetuate their annexation to Israel. Does this dubious demographic "gain" offset the tremendous damage that would be done to the relations between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority that remains in the country?
To avoid both eating the smelly pickled herring and chasing away the left-wing voters, Beilin must say a big nyet to Lieberman. He must exact an undertaking from the other parties not to sit at the same table as a party that seeks to turn Israel into the only democratic country in the world whose government includes a racist party.
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