Threats of the Future Vision

The binational bogeyman has emerged in order to prevent any real attention being paid to the challenge of the Arab "vision," but there is a more certain way to put off any serious discussion of the collective rights of Israel's Arab citizens: the excuse of the Palestinian state.

It isn't clear whether the leaders of the Arab public will succeed in arousing serious public discussion in the wake of the publication of the "future vision" they have presented, which includes formulated demands for a more egalitarian division of the public space in Israel. Chances are that the discussion will be limited to intellectual circles and to Shin Bet security service investigators, and the challenge that has been posed will earn the most efficient answer: It will be scornfully ignored. After all, it is hard to imagine the Jewish public allowing the Arab minority to show it, in a straightforward way, the picture of the binational reality that prevails in Israel in fact. Rather, it will reject the audacious demand for the creation of legal, political and cultural arrangements for administering this binational reality.

For 60 years, the discussion of "the problem of Israel's Arabs" has been going on in the usual runaround of "oppression and discrimination" and its remedies - "thickening of infrastructures," increased representation in public administration, construction of more classrooms - and not necessarily because of a Jewish aspiration to ignore the depth of the ethnic rift.

The Arabs themselves, apart from radical intellectuals, have not been eager to raise demands for collective equality and communal autonomy, out of fear that this would serve as an excuse for the authorities to take revenge on Arab institutions, as has indeed happened in the past.

The focus on the question of discrimination, which can be remedied with development budgets and patronizing activities undertaken by do-gooders, has enabled the Jewish majority to repress the binational tension by means of an oxymoron: "a Jewish and democratic state," and by means of academic hairsplitting on "balance and proportionality" between the contradictory values embedded in that phrase.

The challenge of the "vision of the future" is not new in its contents but rather in the identity of those who are presenting it: no longer marginal intellectuals, but rather the Palestinian-Israeli establishment itself - the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the Committee of Arab Local Council heads. It turns out that the Palestinian-Israeli collective's process of crystallization has reached the point of maturity. Its leaders have succeeded in formulating an agreed-upon position demanding collective equal rights, and this inevitably must lead to a process of questioning the Jewish hegemony over the entire public space. From the moment the demon is allowed out of the bottle, there's no returning it, and the emergence of consensual democracy that creates a new balance of collective rights is only a matter of time.

The experience of societies that are rent by ethnic disputes teaches that despite the power gap between majority and minority, a determined minority that conducts its struggle with democratic means will succeed in forcing on the majority concessions in areas that had initially been perceived as matters of principle. In the Israeli case, too, it will become clear, after an exhausting and painful process, that ignoring and oppression do not help, and then it will be discovered that the public space is capacious enough to enable the granting of collective rights to the minority, without impinging in any significant way on the majority's rights, its identity or its image.

The trouble is that the Jewish majority has been educated on the perception that there is only one legitimate collective in the homeland, and therefore it is unable to think in terms of a shared homeland, and the recognition of the existence of a neighboring national minority is too hard to bear.

Institutionalized ethnic separatism among the Arab minority is a direct result of a mistaken policy; it is not the Arabs who have created the separatism but rather the Jews. Their oppression of the Arabs and their discrimination against them are, in every area, based on clearly ethnic criteria, and the crystallization of an alienated Arab minority is an inevitable result.

Now that the Arabs have responded to the challenge and are demanding that they be recognized as a national minority, their demand is being depicted as "a declaration of war," as a call for the elimination of the Jewish state and for, worst of all, a "binational state."

The fear of "binationalism" causes people to use the term carelessly, and thus to divert and muddy the debate. First of all, there is a tendency to confuse the binational reality that already prevails in the State of Israel, in which there are two nations in a state of conflict, with a "binational" political program.

Secondly, people define the Arab demands for a consensual democracy as a demand for the establishment of a binational state like Switzerland or Canada, and then they "prove" that binationalism has failed everywhere else. However, the correct comparison is with the dozens of countries where national minorities are granted recognition of their collective, political and cultural rights, as defined in the laws of the European Union, or in the southern Tyrol, Spain, Canada, Australia and many other places.

The binational bogeyman has emerged in order to prevent any real attention being paid to the challenge of the Arab "vision," but there is a more certain way to put off any serious discussion of the collective rights of Israel's Arab citizens: the excuse of the Palestinian state. One of the reasons for the Zionist left's support for its establishment is its aspiration to iron out the contradiction between the principle of communal-national equality and the discrimination against the Arab-Israeli minority. Therefore, they hold that the desires of the Arabs of Israel "must be expressed in the Palestinian state that will arise, and not in Israel."

And indeed, there is an apparent connection between the "vision" and the situation in the territories. When it becomes clear that a Palestinian state will not arise, the documents of the Palestinian public in Israel will come to serve as the political program of all the Palestinians, in Israel and in the territories alike. This will not be the first time that the "Arabs of 1967" will learn from their brothers, "the Arabs of 1948."