Present but Uncounted

The Arab citizens of Israel have no place in the peace process between their country (Israel) and their people (Palestinians). They are ignored not only by the right and the government, but also by the Israeli peace camp.

The Arab citizens of Israel have no place in the peace process between their country (Israel) and their people (Palestinians). They are ignored not only by the right and the government, but also by the Israeli peace camp.

The people of the Geneva Accord spent more than two years on the talks with the Palestinian group. They did a wonderful job: All along they added more and more important personalities, expanded their ranks, developed closed topics, got assistance from experts, took into account all kinds of sectors and factors, brought in people from the right and people from the center, saw to the Jews with origins in the Muslim countries and did not forget a representative from the Russian community - but only the Arabs of Israel were invisible to them, as if they were not citizens of the state.

I presented this question to one of the senior people among them, and the answer was very odd: We ignored you intentionally, he said and added: After all, you understand the situation in this country. We are trying to enlist the people on the right and, to put it mildly, the Arabs of Israel don't attract the right. In the end, they did take a few representatives of the Arabs of Israel, whether for decoration or to fix the mistake.

Ami Ayalon also worked on the same principle. With him, too, you will not find a single Arab citizen of Israel in the leading group. The executive director of his campaign also answered the same question in the same way. And, going back in history, the veterans of the peace camp thought in the same manner. It took many years for the Peace Now people to acknowledge the Arabs of Israel, and only at the end of the 1990s did they agree to cooperate with their peace forces.

The late Yitzhak Rabin went to the White House in Washington in 1993 to sign the Oslo agreements. He took along an entourage of 15 people who represented all kinds of classes and sectors in Israeli society.

I asked him: Mr. Prime Minister, you are launching an historic peace process with the Palestinian people, so why have you not seen fit to take along a single Arab representative of the sector that constitutes 18 percent of the population of Israel? And the answer was frank and blunt: "Because we are going to sign a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization."

Indeed, the ignoring of the Arabs of Israel by the peace camp was not by chance. It was done intentionally. This shows that even these courageous people, who are so honored and respected by us, still have not digested the Arabs of Israel as part of themselves and have not internalized the slogan that they themselves used when they struggled for equal rights: "Peace begins at home."

It must be admitted that the Arabs of Israel are not standing in line in order to join the activities of the Israeli peace camp. When the peace movements began to invite Israeli Arabs to their activities we did not come en masse, and we are still far from playing the role that is destined for us in this country: being a factor for bridging and conciliating between our people and our country.

Instead, we have been dragged after those who see this status as problematic - a complicating and frustrating paradox. And we sat back with our hands folded as we watched things degenerate.

Yet nevertheless, we exist. And we have special means for influencing. Our daily contact with the Jewish people, our knowledge of the language and customs on the one hand, and the fact that we are an integral part of the Palestinian people - genetically, historically, linguistically and nationally - on the other, could contribute a great deal to mediation and bridging.

Furthermore, as citizens of the state, to whose fate we have linked our own, we have an interest and we also have a place in its future, especially with respect to the peace process, its realization and its strengthening.

The author is a journalist and writer, a commentator on Israeli affairs in the Arabic-language media abroad, including the newspaper Sharq al Awsat and the Abu Dhabi and Al Arabiya television channels.