A Dramatic Shift

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, announced last week that it is considering proposing a new state constitution calling for a supranational regime in all of "historic Palestine."

Eran Shayshon
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Eran Shayshon

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, announced last week that it is considering proposing a new state constitution calling for a supranational regime in all of "historic Palestine." Although its statement makes no direct reference to the issue of borders, the proposal essentially undermines the principle of the two-state solution and promotes the idea of one binational state for Jews and Palestinians. Adalah's proposal signifies a change in the organization's position, and may mark an emerging trend among Israeli Arabs.

Last year, Adalah published its draft of a "Democratic Constitution," one of several papers issued by Israeli Arab organizations that have come to be known as the Vision Documents. Taken collectively, these statements openly challenged the Jewish character of the State of Israel while accepting the framework of the two-state solution. The Vision Documents' stated goal was to spark public discourse concerning the future of Israeli Arabs. The Jewish population in Israel, however, has remained largely indifferent to the documents, while the reaction of Jewish politicians and commentators was negative at best.

The fact that no concrete dialogue has ensued between the two camps, however, only partially explains the dramatic shift in Adalah's position. What really alarmed the organization was the recent renewal of political talks between Israel and the Palestinians, especially as subjects for discussion have included issues relating to Israel's Arab citizens, such as the idea of swapping populated lands, and the claim by senior Israeli officials that a future Palestinian state would solve Israeli Arabs' national demands. Moreover, the Israeli demand of the Palestine Liberation Organization that it recognize Israel's Jewish identity has been fiercely rejected by most of the Israeli Arab leadership and, as surveys show, public too. All these developments have contributed to a collective sense of unease among Israeli Arabs, and a concern that their destiny is being negotiated without their participation.

Whereas the Vision Documents were largely intended to engage Israel's Jewish public, the new Adalah proposal is directed primarily at two different audiences. First, considering that in the past year, Israeli Arab organizations have become more active in expressing their views regarding the "outstanding issues" between Israel and the Palestinians (such as Jerusalem and refugees), the latest statement may be intended to constrain the PLO's ability to maneuver in the political process. In fact, Adalah's proposal contradicts the PLO's official position, which calls for negotiations with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution.

Adalah may be signaling to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, therefore, not only that Israeli Arabs may not necessarily accept an agreement signed by Israel and the PLO, but also that a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders will not fulfill their demands for self-determination, and that the political fight will continue.

Adalah's second message is geared toward the international community, which has become more critical in recent years of Israel's policies vis-a-vis its Arab citizens; it is that only a one-state solution, based on "one man, one vote," is moral, just and achievable. Furthermore, because leading international figures consider Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to be the Palestinian "dream team" for negotiations, if they fail, it is implied, this may raise doubts regarding the very viability of the two-state solution.

In recent years, Israeli Arab organizations have frequently compared Israel's policies toward its Arab minority and the Palestinians to the South-African apartheid regime. Adalah's promotion of a one-state solution takes this comparison a step further: The organization publicly aligns its constitution with the African National Congress' 1956 Freedom Charter, which demanded the transformation of South Africa into a state for all its citizens, and was incorporated into the South African constitution in 1996.

Therefore, Adalah's statement may confront Israel with a political conundrum: If it reaches an agreement with the PLO, the deal's legitimacy would be questioned by Israeli Arabs challenging the PLO's status. However, if negotiations fail, the until-now accepted framework of a political process based on a two-state solution will be challenged, bringing the one-state alternative to the fore.

Israel needs to formulate guiding principles regarding its relations with Israeli Arabs and the future Palestinian state. First and foremost, Israel should consider the spectrum of diplomatic, legal and political relations it wishes to allow between these parties. Israeli positions in the current round of negotiations would set the degree of these associations, on matters such as dual passports, the right to vote and to be elected to the Palestinian parliament and the issue of family reunification.

On the domestic level, Israeli Arabs' demands of the state have both legal- nationalist and socioeconomic dimensions. The legal-nationalist aspect, as it appears in the Vision Documents, threatens the Jewish character of Israel and therefore is too high a price to meet. Nonetheless, this does not relieve Israel of the need to seek a dialogue with the Israeli Arab leadership in order to find a formula enabling the integration of the Israeli Arab and Jewish communities. Finally, Israel should strive to bridge the socioeconomic gaps between the communities, in order to meet the socioeconomic demands of Israeli Arabs and quell at least some of the causes of unrest among them.

Eran Shayshon is a senior analyst at the Reut Institute for Policy Planning, in Tel Aviv.



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