In the past few years, we have seen a sharp rise in violence against Israel's Arab population, which we can tack onto a long list of crimes against Arabs. Taken together, these incidents are reminiscent of dark periods in other countries, like the United States during the 1960s and South Africa under apartheid.
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In Israel, the increase in violence is related to the campaign for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state and the weakening of the Arab leadership in the country. Signing the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the sole representative of the Palestinian people removed Israel's Arabs from the Palestinian consensus, and the demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state removed them from the Israeli consensus.
U.S. President Barack Obama's recent demand that the chairman of the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state means Israel's Arabs must consider new methods of struggle. They can, for example, turn to the international courts to obstruct recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. They can also request that Israeli Arabs be added as a party to the Oslo Accords, or even request a seat for them in the Arab League.
The violence against Arabs is a product of racism and discrimination, which have become mainstream in Israeli society. These attitudes have increased in the past decade, especially after the events of October 2000, which led to the rise to power of extreme right-wing Israeli political parties that see Arabs as a fifth column and wish to make their citizenship contingent on a pledge of allegiance on their part.
The increase in racism and discrimination in Israel is mainly the result of a growing demand among Israeli Jews for an ethnocratic definition of the state. This is clearly shown in the research of professor Sammy Smooha from Haifa University, who found that 80 percent of Jews believe that a condition of citizenship for non-Jews should be a declaration of loyalty to the state as a Jewish and democratic entity and that 63 percent of Jews see the Arabs' high birthrate as a demographic threat. In other words, every Arab baby is thought to undermine the Jewish definition of the state.
There is no dispute that the Arab population in Israel received Israeli citizenship by force at the hands of a brutal military regime. The coercion may have ceased in the 1960s, but this is no reason to exclude the Israel's Arabs from peace talks, and this is no reason to prevent them from taking every measure to achieve equality.
However, the ineffective use Arabs make of the Israeli parliament – with its isolationist approach and multiplicity of parties – has led to marginal, insignificant Arab representation in the Knesset, party quarrels that have atrophied the umbrella High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and the weakening of the position of the Arab leadership.
Signing the Oslo Accords with the PLO as the "sole representative of the Palestinian people," while ignoring Israel's Arabs, is a historic injustice as well as a blatant failure by the local Arab leadership, which failed to leverage its struggle for civil equality into a seat at the table. This is a badge of shame for the Palestinian leadership, which consistently fails to take Israel's Arab citizens into account in diplomatic agreements.
Obama's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the silence of Israel's Arab leadership and Arab parties requires Arab citizens to take steps to build a new Arab leadership and examine their parliamentary methods: Is a strategy of isolation and the existence of multiple parties appropriate for dealing with all the challenges and threats they face?
After more than 60 years of struggle, Israel's Arabs must understand that that if they want to improve their position, they have to assume positions of influence. The violence and discrimination against them will not cease as long as they are a weak population with a weak leadership. To gain influence, they must look for ways to connect to the liberal stream of Jewish society, which advocates the separation of religion and state.
Demanding a seat in the Arab League is the only guarantee that Arab states will take the position and the future of Israel's Arabs into account in any comprehensive diplomatic agreement in the Middle East. Israel's Arab population should take advantage of its assets before it is too late. It can act as a mediator between Israel and the Arab states to normalize relations in accordance with the Saudi Initiative on Arab-Israeli peace and demand in return the rejection of an ethnocratic definition of the state.
As an immediate measure, the local Arab leadership should turn to the international courts with a request to be included as an integral part of the Oslo agreements and a party to them.
The writer, an accountant and economist, holds a master's degree in Political Science and Business Administration.