The government is meeting today to discuss the Lapid Committee's recommendations on the formulation of a new policy vis-�-vis the Arab sector, and is planning to handle the issue with a make-up kit instead of sophisticated tools used in a surgical operation. The government has a tiger in the basement, and it being advised to pet it as if it's a kitty.
The Lapid Committee was set up as part of the government's facade that it intends to seriously implement the recommendations put forth by the Or Commission, which bravely exposed the status of the Arab sector, the problem inherent in its twin identity: Israeli citizenship and Palestinian nationality - its expectation for equality of rights that clashes with the Jewish-Israeli perception that they are a hostile minority. The Or Commission sought to prod the government to fundamentally alter the relationship between its Jewish and Arab citizens. It directed the government, among others, to act toward equality in rights for the Arabs and to grant them land.
The Lapid Committee ignored the goals set by the Or Commission and opted to bypass the writing on the wall. There is a strong stink of lack of seriousness from the recommendations of the Lapid Committee. It is revolting to recognize that even after the events of October 2000, in which it became clear beyond any doubt that communication breakdowns, misunderstandings and mutual fears contributed irreparably to lethal results (13 Arabs and one Jew killed), the government still does not get that the first condition for mending the gap is cooperation and expressions of consideration and goodwill.
The homogeneous makeup of the committee (only Jewish ministers) determined the initial attitude of the Arab sector: its representatives refused to appear before the committee (except for one meeting between the committee chairman with the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee). Thus an opportunity was missed to establish a new basis of trust between the government and a dejected public, comprising a fifth of the country's population.
In the proposals presented to the government this morning, there is not a single practical proposal capable of contributing to altering the situation at its root. Once more it is proposed to "prepare blueprints" for plans in the Arab sector, and to have the Arab sector's problems dealt with by a special ministerial committee.
The new proposals are insulting: setting up "an authority for furthering the minorities in the Prime Minister's Office," declaring "a day of tolerance," holding a week of "learning about the `other'" in schools. In return for this cosmetic handling of the problem, the committee is demanding that Arab youth be conscripted to a mandatory national civil service, a demand that has so far not been presented to the ultra-Orthodox, a sector that also exists in isolation and is removed from the core of Israeli society.
Were the Lapid Committee serious in its intent to alter the standing of the Arab minority, it would pave a practical path to bridging the evident contradiction in the Jewish identity of the state and its self-description as a democratic state that views all its citizens as equals. For this, the committee was required to deal with the crux of the matter: recommend that laws discriminating against the Arab population are changed (including the Law of Return, the law of citizenship, and laws granting special status to the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund). It would specifically order that lands be allocated to the Arab sector; would recommend to Ariel Sharon to immediately include an Arab minister in his government; and would set regulations that would at once incorporate Arabs in decision-making roles in the civil service (including the Israel Lands Administration, the public planning authorities, and the large state-owned companies).
The necessary conceptual change needed to bring about a revolution in the Jewish-Arab relations will not be achieved through slogans, and destructive prejudices will not be dissolved by gimmicks. Action is necessary - immediate, serious and practical. Otherwise the tiger will break out of the basement.
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