Zionist Jews are melting these days at the idea of cooperation between the Islamist Arab right and the messianic Jewish right en route to Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government. The royal court’s best pundits are persuading Zionist Jews that such cooperation is the realization of Herzl’s and Jabotinsky’s fondest dreams.
Take some advice from me, an ordinary Palestinian woman who dwells among her people: Don’t wait with baited breath for the speech your Bibi asked Mansour Abbas to deliver to pave the way for a government of “unity among cousins” after decades of occupation, grievance and hostility.
The conversion therapy the Palestinian-Israeli national conflict is undergoing will be painful for everyone and will ultimately fail. Turning the conflict into a religious one won’t help anyone, and we’ll all pay the price.
At the rally where Abbas’ United Arab List celebrated its electoral victory, everyone was waiting for his speech to find out where we go from here. What do we do with all the grand promises to an Arab community that’s longing for change, for solutions to the serious problems created by the Jewish nation-state, for an end to racism and the policy of discrimination against the native inhabitants of this land since Israel’s inception in 1948? How will four Knesset seats rectify the situation?
In his victory speech, Abbas informed the audience of the principles, which are slowly being realized, laid out in the road map charted by the party’s founder and Abbas’ spiritual father, Abdullah Nimr Darwish, and his supporters in Israel’s Islamic Movement. “In the first phase, he built an Islamic home, and in the second stage, we’ll build a political home for everyone,” Abbas said. “Every Arab – Muslim, Christian or Druze – will find an equal place.”
Later, he described the steps and principles required for “penetrating” Israeli society. The United Arab List’s main audience is among Israel’s Palestinian community, but his follow-up plan is intended for his cousins, the country’s Jews.
“We want to breach the human wall of the Arab community, and that has already been achieved and is progressing, thank God,” he said, citing the Christian- and Druze-Arab votes for the United Arab List as a huge achievement (even though its magnitude isn’t clear). This meshes with the Islamic Movement’s dream of leading the entire Arab community, not just its Muslims.
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As far as Abbas is concerned, the new United Arab List will be a place for all Palestinians in Israel. It’s designed to beat out the Balad party’s Palestinian national agenda and the vision of a democratic state of all its citizens. In this way, Abbas lured voters from Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party and dealt a painful blow to the Hadash party and the handful of communists who dream of an Arab-Jewish partnership and a shared Israeli left, which has led nowhere for 20 years.
The slogan “Islam is the solution,” which was etched in the public’s consciousness as a way to return to religion, has, in Abbas’ version, become “Islam is the means.” Everyone is invited to take part, and we’ll work things out from there.
Abbas entered a vacuum created by despair over the policies adopted by Israel, which isn’t doing anything to end the occupation and promote peace but sells the world a self-interested goal of economic equality between its Arab and Jewish citizens. This despair also stems from the weakness of the Zionist center-left, which didn’t storm the citadels of power at the moment of truth and excluded the Arabs in an ugly way. These were the most effective tools in the United Arab List’s campaign against the other Arab parties, which stuck to a more progressive and democratic agenda.
The next step in Abbas’ plan is, as he declared: “We want to penetrate the walls of all of Israeli society, and they must take us seriously. We will not remain on the margins and we will not agree to be outside the circle. Either citizens with equal rights – national, religious, civil – or we’ll put other alternatives on the table.”
I have no idea what alternatives Abbas has and what exactly he’ll do if they don’t take him seriously. I also have no idea what will move the Jews from their position of racist supremacy. After all, all the paths of a nonviolent struggle have been tried: education and integration, demonstrations, parliamentary and civic efforts on the constitutional and public plane.
We haven’t yet despaired of explaining our problems in Hebrew and English in Israel and around the world. And, not for a minute, have we stopped going to the High Court of Justice, where we demand our rights – from the right to buy a home from a Jew, to the resistance against revoking citizenship, to opposition against Knesset candidates being banned. What does Abbas have in his magician’s hat that we haven’t yet tried, an Islamic revolution?
“This is the test of this country now,” Abbas said. “We realize that there are reservations on the other side, disagreements, and they’re bashing each other over there …. We know who we are and who they are …. The whole time they’ve confronted us and said that the Arabs don’t want to join, that they agree to exclusion. The rules have changed and it’s in their hands now …. So only Arab power ... can achieve the change …. We are continuing in the direction of our goals, and God is protecting us step after step.”
Abbas’ true message emerges from what he has said: The United Arab List represents the mainstream of the Arab community and preserves its beliefs and traditions. The fact that no one has examined what these beliefs are is less relevant for him. The same goes for this question: If there are 1.9 million Palestinians in Israel, of which under 9 percent voted for the United Arab List, then who made this movement and its agenda king? According to Abbas, God decided which people is chosen, and He has also crowned a mukhtar for this chosen people: Mansour Abbas.
Samah Salima is a feminist activist, blogger and resident of the Arab-Jewish cooperative village Wahat al-Salam (Neveh Shalom).