In publishing their report entitled "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," which sets out a list of demands on Israel and its Jewish inhabitants, the leaders of Israel's Arab minority have ultimately shot themselves in the foot.
The timing of the report, on the heels of the second Lebanon war, is not coincidental. The Israeli establishment has known for some time now about the deliberations going on in Arab circles. Release of the report came at a time when the country was in a state of crisis, brought on by the war. Israel was perceived as weaker, and that constituted an invitation to attack everything it stands for. Again, there is a lesson to be learned. In this part of the world, Israel must radiate strength even when it is prepared to compromise.
This "Vision" paper, signed by the heads of the Arab local authorities and members of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab citizens in Israel, among others, has led to an outcry among Israeli Jews. Particularly noteworthy is the open letter by Prof. Shimon Shamir, a member of the Or Commission that investigated the shooting deaths of 13 Israeli Arabs during the riots of October 2000. Shamir is known for his call to end the ongoing discrimination against Israeli Arabs, published in the Arab newspaper A-Sinara.
"It is hard to escape the feeling that the object of your tendentious report is to rob the Jews in this country of their identity. It makes Jewish readers, even those who support your cause, feel threatened. The only road to achieving your rights goes through Israeli society. The document you have drawn up does not advance your cause; it pushes it backward."
The Council for Peace and Security has met several times to discuss the issue, including a raucous meeting with Arab delegates, which ended in threats of civil disobedience and retorts about Israeli democracy needing to apply some brakes. An internal memo of the Council for Peace and Security deemed the document totally unacceptable. "There is no recognition of the Jewish character of the state of Israel," it stated (one of the authors of the "Vision" document said he rejected the model of a "Jewish and democratic state").
The Israel Democracy Institute cautioned the Israeli Arab community that "the contents of this report could arouse the anti-democratic tendencies that unfortunately exist in Israeli society. This is a recipe for deepening the rift, and for increasing hostility, fear and mutual distrust."
A sense that Israeli Arabs are being discriminated against may have been the incentive for writing this document, but let us not confuse this with the demands that are being made. Discrimination is a subject that needs to be dealt with, also for the sake of the Jewish and democratic character of the state. But to demand a change in the Jewish character of the country is something else entirely. That issue is not up for discussion. What the "Vision" report is trying to do is send Israel back to the War of Independence. It is clearly an irredentist document. It has no room for compromise.
The "Vision" document calls on Israel to give up its existence as a Jewish state, together with its national symbols, to establish a Palestinian state that will be Judenrein, and alongside it a bi-national state in Israel's stead. Israel is portrayed as a non-democratic colonialist entity. The report speaks of the "despotism" of the Jewish majority ("the Jews must give up their privileges") and demands a "consensual democracy." We've already seen the consensual democracy the Arabs of Lebanon established for themselves, which has only brought destruction and civil war, and has adversely affected the Palestinians.
In this report, the leaders of the Israeli Arab minority are basically divorcing themselves from the state of Israel. The hopes that the Israeli-Arab community would become a bridge for peace with the Palestinians have apparently been dashed. Israeli Arabs should not be surprised if they end up losing a lot of friends.
This is not the first time this warped idea has tried to worm its way into the Israeli Arab community. The Palestinians' right to self-determination, "even to the point of separation," was discussed at the convention of the Israeli Communist Party back in 1957. The following year, there was talk of a "fighting underground." When word of this reached party members MKs Shmuel Mikunis and Moshe Sneh, Sneh warned his Arab friends not to lend a hand to the destruction of the state of Israel.
And now it is happening again. Poor judgment is leading these "visionaries" into battle. They are going to lose, and lose badly.
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