What the Campaigns Do Not Address

Israel's Arabs are incapable of identifying with the state as it defines itself, while the Jewish majority is incapable of giving them equal standing because it continues to view them as a threat.

Another 10 days will tell whether the worrisome predictions of a radicalization of the Arab population's attitude toward the state have been realized, possibly reflected in a low voter turnout and party preferences. The series of interviews with various party heads published in Haaretz last week, in conjunction with the Forum for Civic Consensus, demonstrated the fragility of the scaffolding on which the country's majority and minority face each other.

All representatives of the Zionist parties whose positions were presented insisted on the basic principle guiding their path: ensuring the state's Jewish identity. All the Arab politicians dismissed it. This gap cannot be bridged, and it marks the eternal nature of the Jewish-Arab rift within Israel's borders. Tzipi Livni says that establishing a Palestinian state is supposed to satisfy the national needs of Israel's Arabs by enabling them to identify with it, and Amir Peretz holds that instead of dealing with ideological matters of principle, it is preferable to focus on providing a practical solution to the plight of the Arab sector. Eli Yishai sees no contradiction, democratically speaking, between guaranteeing the Jewish character of the state and imposing restrictions on family unification in the Arab sector.

At the two extremes of the Jewish parties stand Yossi Beilin, who claims Israel is capable of being both the state of the Jewish people and a state of all its citizens, and Avigdor Lieberman, who does not believe in coexistence and thinks that it is more important for Israel to be Jewish than democratic, which justifies discrimination against Arabs.

The Haaretz series shows that even the Meretz leader's way of thinking is not acceptable to Arab civic leaders: Ahmed Tibi calls for founding a "state of all its nationalities," Azmi Bishara propounds replacing the Zionist State of Israel with "a state of all its citizens," and Mohammed Barakeh demands national minority rights for Israel's Arabs, including changing national symbols such as the flag and national anthem.

It can't be claimed that the majority and minority are conducting a dialogue of the deaf; they are certainly attentive to each other, and their spontaneous conclusion for now is not to let things get beyond repair. It is hard to know how long this balance of horror will hold, but it would be a mistake to continue repressing its significance and origins.

Underlying this explosive situation is the formulation that appears in the declaration of independence: Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state. It is an identity card that contains an internal contradiction: A state that sees itself as the epitome of the Jewish people's national sovereignty cannot treat with equanimity a hostile minority living in its midst. Therefore it resorts to undemocratic means to protect its core. This discriminatory treatment is considered justified by the majority because the state's Arab citizens indeed refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise. The Arab minority reluctantly accepts the duty to obey the laws of the state, and comes to terms with its existence in view of the imbalance of power between the two, but is not capable of identifying with it and developing feelings of loyalty to it.

The difficulty is even greater: The statements by the Arab civic leaders quoted in the series indicate that even when a Palestinian state is founded, the minority will refrain from seeing it as the realization of its national aspirations; it is striving to fulfill that need in its homeland - that is, within the Green Line. They therefore call for erasing the Zionist character of Israel and turning it into a country where equal expression is granted to the national interests of its Palestinian citizens. It is a vicious cycle: Israel's Arabs are incapable of identifying with the state as it defines itself, while the Jewish majority is incapable of giving them equal standing because it continues to view them as a threat - if not a security one, then a demographic one.

This is essentially an insoluble situation, but it can be alleviated in a practical manner - by strengthening the civic common denominator of the majority and minority. The parties vying for votes in the upcoming election barely deal with this.