Opinion

Israel, a State of All Its Jewish Citizens

The Arab village of Salem, in the 'triangle' area of Arab towns on the West Bank border that would be included in a future Palestinian state according to Trump's Middle East plan, February 16, 2018.
Gil Eliahu

It’s not surprising that it was Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal that the “deal of the century” include Israel ceding Arab towns near the West Bank border to the Palestinians, turning Israeli Arab citizens into citizens of a Palestinian state, as reported by Haaretz's Amir Tibon and Noa Landau.

Such a transfer fits like a glove for someone seeking to undermine the right of Arab Israelis to vote and be elected to office. It also fits with his style of humiliation that grants Arab citizens “a right of return” to a shaky Palestinian state that wouldn’t even have its own airport. Netanyahu made the proposal as if to compensate the Palestinians for the annexation of settlements. But this is nonsense: Compensation is done with land, not people.

The logic behind the proposal is one of promoting national purity, not compensation. When a year ago TV star Rotem Sela asked “when will someone in this government broadcast to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens?” Netanyahu replied that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and it alone.” Netanyahu surely knows that a state that only belongs to some of its citizens is not democratic.

It seems that Netanyahu, like Avigdor Lieberman, seeks to resolve the contradiction between Israel being both “democratic” and “Jewish” by playing demographic tricks: If all of Israel’s citizens are Jewish, Israel can be a state of all its citizens without undermining its Jewishness. This is sick logic, because the steps needed to ensure that all Israelis are Jews are themselves anti-democratic.

The solution of two states for two peoples has long been put in shorthand as “the two-state solution.” But now there are purists insisting on the full definition.

The fear is that the problems intrinsic to Jewishness as a nationality would haunt Israel even after the partition. In her interview with Ayman Odeh published on January 13, my Haaretz colleague Ravit Hecht asked: “When you talk about two states, what do you mean? A Palestinian state and a Jewish state alongside each other, or like your colleagues in Balad: a Palestinian state and a state of all its citizens?” Sometimes it looks as if Balad’s platform is considered more of a threat to Israel than the Palestinians’ demand for their own independent state.

Netanyahu’s proposal is rooted in an obsession with purity – look at the way the African asylum seekers are being treated. It’s not for nothing that negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state provides legal grounding to deny someone the right to run for office in Knesset elections, and it’s the excuse for rejecting Balad, which objects to Jewish statehood. But aren't the anti-democratic aspirations of Zionist parties – population transfer and annexing territory without providing all the residents citizenship, for example – tantamount to negating Israel’s existence as a democratic state?

The Jews have made a historical copy of the dual-loyalty issue and pasted that burden on the Palestinians in presenting them as people torn between loyalty to their country and their own nation. But did Israel’s establishment deny Diaspora Jews the right to equal citizenship in the countries where they lived? Did they lose the right to be considered French or German, and must they accept being considered second-class citizens; that the country doesn’t belong to them? How would Israel respond if as part of the “deal of the century” millions of American Jews lost their citizenship and automatically were granted Israeli citizenship in order to preserve a Jewish majority?

No law will help resolve this issue, and whichever way the land is divided, it won’t settle the problem. In the end, the only way out of this paradox is through a leap of faith into the pool of Israeli identity and nationality.