Palestinians in Israel Have the Same Rights as Jews

An ostracized Palestinian minority in Israel would become all the more radicalized against the state.

There is a sense that many Israeli advocates of a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians welcome the current talks between the sides. This is, to a great extent, due to their hope that the peace talks will also put an end to demands by the Palestinian minority in Israel itself for collective recognition of their own national rights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu states openly that, in his view, the negotiations are designed to prevent the creation of a binational state in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, including Israel and the West Bank. This means he wishes to head off the creation of a political entity between the river and the sea that, heaven forbid, would recognize the collective rights of more than one segment of its citizenry.

In other words, through negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu is seeking to achieve the same goal as proponents of the so-called “nation-state” law - which would define, once and for all, that self-determination in the State of Israel will be reserved for its Jewish members alone. But it is not proper or possible to deny the right to self-determination to a population with a national group identity - even if it is a national minority in a state where most of the population is part of another national group.

There were also times in the past when the Zionists themselves recognized this. “We must also fight in the Diaspora for national rights and national self-determination,” David Ben-Gurion - later to become Israel’s first prime minister - declared in 1915. This doesn’t mean Ben-Gurion was advocating for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Diaspora or that he was according equal weight to Jewish national demands in the Land of Israel and demands abroad. Ben-Gurion believed that as a population group with a distinct national awareness, it was appropriate to accord Diaspora Jews recognition in the form of collective national autonomy in the countries where they were residing, in order to ensure their individual and collective rights. He therefore made reference to “national self-determination,” in the same way that it was customary to refer to various types and degrees of collective national rights.

Of course the Jews of the Diaspora did not get self-determination in Europe, instead experiencing mass annihilation there. And even the concept of national self-determination has undergone major changes, along with a narrowing of the meaning of a national group’s right to a nation-state exclusively its own.

In recent decades, however, with the end of the Cold War and the rise of the European Union, the notion of national self-determination is beginning to regain its original, more complex, meaning against the backdrop of concrete geopolitical realities and current research on nationalism.

In a reality in which there is an overlap between a national group and a political unit - France, for example - the concept of national self-determination applies in the full political sense of the word, meaning that France is the political setting in which the French nation exercises its self-determination.

On the other hand, in countries such as Belgium, Spain, Canada and even the Russian Federation, in which different national groups live side by side, the concept of national self-determination is interpreted in its more limited sense beneath the state level. Each of these countries constitutes a place for the realization of self-determination for more than one national group, each of which enjoys various degrees and patterns of self-rule.

The population of the State of Israel is composed of two national groups: one Jewish, the other Arab-Palestinian. Despite the dreams of some advocates of partitioning the land - who would be pleased to witness the mass emigration of Israel’s Palestinian citizens to the State of Palestine on the day after the signing of the peace treaty - the binational reality would continue to exist in Israel even after a diplomatic agreement is achieved with regard to the future of the occupied territories.

As a result, it also stands to reason that any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would also take the distinct rights and interests of the Israeli citizens who are part of the Palestinian Arab nation into account. This is an indigenous national minority, deserving of collective national rights no less than the Jewish national majority. The civil and national minority rights of the Palestinians in Israel should be enshrined in the framework of a revised definition of the State of Israel, not as the site for national self-determination of the Jews alone but as a state of both a Jewish national majority and a Palestinian national minority.

If a future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians perpetuates the status of the Palestinian minority in Israel as a group without the right to its own collective national self-determination inside the country, this will result in the relocation of the Israeli-Palestinian national conflict into Israeli society itself.

An ostracized Palestinian minority in Israel will become all the more radicalized against the state - the Jewish nation-state. Its ethnocentric, oppressive approach would increase. In the process, the relationship between the state and its Palestinian citizens would be viewed even more as the relationship between the ruler and the subject, in the well known colonialist pattern.

On the other hand, if, as a result of a peace agreement, Israel will be fashioned as a state of both its Jewish and Palestinian citizens, this would promote domestic reconciliation between the two major national groups that exist in Israel; promote the mediation between the groups’ specific rights; and start the complex and gradual process of building an Israeli civil nation for which the Jewish nation and the Palestinian nation in Israel will serve as cornerstones.