As we await tomorrow's release of conclusions reached by the Or Commission regarding the causes of violence in the Arab sector in October 2000 and the behavior of police and authorities, it's enlightening to consider decisions announced last week by the ministerial panel that deals with Israel's non-Jewish sector. This ministerial committee said its decisions represent a "comprehensive plan designed to improve the circumstances of Arab citizens of the country, and to advance their status and integration in society."
Of the program's six sections, five are entirely declarative or technical-bureaucratic: standards are to be set (what a revolutionary breakthrough!) for the conferral of appropriate representation to the Arab population in state service, and for the appointment of Arab citizens to managerial boards of government companies; a department is to be established (what an astonishing surprise!) in the Prime Minister's Office to handle requests forwarded by Arab citizens; a public advisory board, which will be subordinate to the National Security Council (really!), will address the needs of Israeli Arabs, and relations between them and the country's Jewish citizens; a number of government ministers (education, culture and sport; interior; industry and trade), as well as the National Security Council, will devise a detailed plan, one that includes a timetable and an apparatus for policy implementation (how impressive!), to handle major problems faced by the Arab sector; and local Arab councils will be fused (can you believe it!) to administrative boards which run various industrial zones located next to Arab villages and towns.
One section of this revolutionary plan has some potential to bring about actual results. This involves a multi-year plan to develop communities in the Arab sector, which was originally scheduled to end in 2004, but is to be extended through 2005-2006; during this final period, "projects which were supposed to be canceled because of budgetary cutbacks are to be carried out."
In other words, on the eve of the publication of the Or Commission's findings - conclusions likely to point to the fundamental causes of alienation and Jewish-Arab tension within the Green Line - the prime minister is making a mockery of work that needs to be done in the Arab sector. He is leading the ministerial committee (which he himself chairs) toward a series of vacuous, futile decisions that are entirely devoid of any potential for dealing with the roots of the crisis. The cynicism of this approach is outrageous: the new government plan is being advertised as a major undertaking, as a significant breakthrough in the government's relations toward the Arab sector. Nor have the prime minister's aides concealed words which Sharon said during the discussions of the ministerial committee - words that convey traces of a threat. The program's success, declared Sharon, "depends upon the cooperation of the Arab sector and its leadership, and upon the way in which the [Arab leaders] create an ideological foundation for real coexistence."
For years, recommendations akin to the ones currently being circulated by the ministerial committee have encapsulated the government approach to the Arab sector. Such recommendations are never implemented; they lack the teeth needed to alter chronic patterns of discrimination. Year after year, reports formulated by Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Equal Opportunity, document hypocritical, discriminatory policies implemented by Israeli authorities toward Arab citizens. The association's last report, released two months ago, points to an intensification of trends that marginalize the Arab minority by shoving them further away from the state's resources. Last year's report attested to a drastic decline in state budgetary allocations for the Arab population. Such conclusions are illustrated by detailed statistics relating to discrimination against the Arab sector in employment, land rights, infrastructure development, planning rights, budget allocations and employment in the public sector.
Now the ministerial committee, with duplicitous sleight of hand, advertises its decision to establish committees and councils that are supposedly empowered to do something about the discrimination. The ministerial committee's one practical decision actually conveys an admission that the implementation of the famous plan to invest NIS 4 billion in the Arab sector has been waylaid.
Relations between Jews and Arabs within the pre-1967 borders are complex. Their problematic character derives, on the one hand, from the refusal of Arab citizens to accept the state's Jewish-Zionist identity, and, on the other hand, from the majority's refusal to confer real equality on the minority. If one assumes the situation can be resolved, the way to deal with this structural difficulty is to treat its genuine causes, and not to make superficial gestures.
In view of the imminent release of the Or Commission report, the prime minister should have been acutely cognizant of this fact.
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