Arab MKs' Libya Trip a Path to Mideast Peace

Rather than pillory Arab MKs, Israel should encourage them to build more bridges with Arab states.

Hysteria gripped the right wing in the Knesset after an Arab delegation of MKs and dignitaries visited Libya. The chairman of the Knesset House Committee, Yariv Levin (Likud), hastened to adopt MK Michael Ben Ari's (National Union) request to consider denying the MKs parliamentary immunity. MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) suggested that the law be enacted preventing people who have visited an enemy state over the past seven years from becoming candidates. In other words, he wants to prevent these MKs from running for the next Knesset.

The tongues of Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, two parties that could unite under the name "the Racist Union," were abruptly unleashed as though they were dealing with an unparalleled act of treason. "This is a historic opportunity to deny once and for all the immunity and rights of the MKs who hate Israel and degrade the state," raved Ben Ari. Orlev's proposed amendment stipulates that anyone who visits an enemy state "unlawfully" will be seen as a supporter of an armed struggle against Israel. No less.

Libya is not on the list of enemy states and the MKs did not need the interior minister's permission for the trip. Libya signed the Arab League's peace initiative, holds the League's rotating presidency, and its ruler Muammar Gadhafi maintains excellent relations with the U.S. administration.

So it's hard to guess what members of the Knesset's racist bloc were more horrified at - the fear that the Arab MKs will launch an armed struggle against Israel with Gadhafi's help, or that they might serve as a bridge to acquaintance and perhaps Libyan recognition of Israel.

Israel does not enjoy abundant diplomatic ties, either with Arab states like Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace agreements with it, or Libya, which still sees it as an enemy. So every chance to invite Israeli Arab representatives, especially those in official Israeli institutions, must be seen as the opening of another window, or at least as curiosity to hear about the way things are in Israel.

Such an invitation from an Arab leader would certainly have been received with great excitement had it been addressed to Jewish officials. After all, this is what Israel's government, which is demanding gestures of normalization from the Arab states, is longing for.

The Arab MKs did not go to Libya as Israeli public relations agents or ambassadors charged with vindicating Israel's policy in the territories. That's a mission even many Jewish MKs find difficult to carry out. Their trip to Libya - or to any other Arab state - is an inseparable part of their cultural and ethnic background and their desire to explain their views and position about the Israeli reality, even if these views weren't forged in the right wing's school.

Instead of tarring and feathering the Arab MKs, Israel would do well to make them partners in molding its policy and encourage them to build more bridges between Israel and Arab states. This would at least show a readiness to make peace with the Arab population.