Arab Israelis See Slow Progress One Year After Party's Historic Joining of Government

Bedouin villages aren't getting recognized and the crime problem is only improving slowly, issues that perhaps can’t be solved with Israel's right-wing partners, experts say

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas speaking with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset last October.
United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas speaking with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset last October.Credit: Noam Moskowitz/Knesset
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

History was made a year ago: An Arab party crowned a right-wing prime minister. To get the United Arab List into the government, the other coalition parties promised to fight crime and provide new budgets for Arab towns and villages while improving planning and construction, especially in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south.

But over the past year, problems have come up again and again, including the battle to renew the emergency regulations that apply Israeli law to the West Bank settlements. This spring has also seen clashes with the police at the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old City and a wave of shooting, knifing and ax attacks by Arab Israelis or Palestinians.

Against this backdrop, many government decisions – for example, consent for Jews to visit the Al-Aqsa compound on the Temple Mount – have gotten the United Arab List and its chairman, Mansour Abbas, in trouble as alleged enablers.

“Essential differences linked to identity and the needs of both sides can't be swept aside,” says Prof. Amal Jamal of Tel Aviv University's School of Political Science.

According to Jamal, Arab Israelis' expectations of the United Arab List's involvement in the coalition were low from the start, but most supported the presence of a large Arab party in the government.

“The problem is the right-wing parties requiring the Arab parties to give up their main demands of achieving equality in the country,” Jamal says. “Now that the experiment with the UAL is running aground because of ethnic issues, another attempt could be rejected for many years to come.”

Muhammed Khalaily of the University of Haifa's School of Political Science says that while surveys show 66 percent of the Arab community supporting participation in the coalition, this doesn't come at any price.

According to Khalaily, when the coalition agreements were signed, the United Arab List promised that the issues dear to the Arab community would be thoroughly addressed, but this hasn't happened.

“A few decisions by the government were made, funding was earmarked for [the community], and it began to flow partially,” he says. “But the right-wing parts of the coalition, which are already at the height of an election campaign, have hobbled many of the decisions, frozen budgets and not allowed implementation.”

The unrecognized Bedouin village of Abu Talul in the Negev last year.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

In contrast, Ala Ghantous, until recently a consultant to the committee of Arab mayors, believes there has been significant progress in crafting plans to address the Arab community's problems.

But Ghantous, who helped get the United Arab List's coalition agreement signed, says many members of the government haven't come to terms with the fact that an Arab party is on board.

According to Ghantous, after the current government, there's no telling if the benefits that the United Arab List has won for the Arab community will be continued.

Analysts say that one obstacle is the appointment of Ayelet Shaked as interior minister, someone responsible for critical issues for Arab society such as local government, planning and construction.

Enaya Banna-Jeries, the head of the Arab Center for Alternative Planning and an adviser to Arab local governments, says Arab politicians are more frequently being included in the policy debate, “but planning and construction policy is set mainly by Shaked, and that blocks a lot of plans, decisions and budgets.”

She notes the Interior Ministry’s decisions that favor Jewish Israelis, such as the expansion of the city of Harish near Haifa, the founding of the southern city of Kasif as an ultra-Orthodox town, and the expansion of admission committees' powers in certain communities. “But regarding the Arab community, everything moves slowly or not at all,” she says.

The unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south will always be a key problem in Arab society. Hussein al-Rafay`a of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages says that when the current government was formed with the United Arab List on board, this issue was expected to be addressed. After all, the party's electoral base is in the Negev.

The villagers were especially optimistic at the beginning of the current government’s term; Said al-Harumi of the Joint List of Arab parties was appointed chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. But he died two months after the government was sworn in.

“Unfortunately, today it seems that everything is stuck,” Rafay’a says. “The sudden passing of al-Harumi left us orphans. Even the debate on recognizing six unrecognized villages is creeping along. They're talking about processes and changes for the better, but everything is moving slowly.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaking to legislators of the Yamina party. The Arab community sees her as an obstacle.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Rawia Aburabia, a lecturer at Sapir Academic College's law school, agrees with Rafay’a. “The temporary solutions that the government offered are crumbs that don’t begin to address the unrecognized villages' distress,” she says.

Still, Aburabia sees potential in the Arab vote and its ability to bring down a government. “We must translate this potential into political power and use it without giving up our national principles,” she says.

Another key issue is the fight against crime and violence in Arab society. Though there have been fewer murders in the Arab community this year, the rate at which these crimes are solved is still lower than in the Jewish community.

Last week, Haaretz found that there have been 33 murders in the Arab community this year, compared with 47 in the same period last year and 126 for the full year. The decline shows successes by law enforcement in fighting crime in Arab towns and neighborhoods.

Still, out of 33 murders, the police have solved only eight, or 24 percent.

Criminologist Walid Haddad says the Public Security Ministry's figures don't reflect an improvement in people’s sense of personal security. According to Haddad, research in the community shows that 75 percent of Arab Israelis don't feel safe, while 60 percent of Arab Israelis living in mixed cities feel no improvement in this regard.

“The issue of personal safety depends first and foremost on the Arab community's faith in law enforcement, where there is still a large gap,” he says. “Any incident with an ethnic aspect only exacerbates this feeling.”

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