Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Conflicted feelings of Israeli Palestinians

Israeli Arabs aka Israeli Palestinians or Palestinian Israelis have always had a complicated identity. They are the remaining remnant of Palestinians who did not leave or were not expelled when the state of Israel was created in 1948. And for most of their existence they have been the only Arabs in the Middle East with genuine democratic rights. So it might not be much of a stretch when the Israeli Democracy Institute's annual survey for 2012 found that although 74 percent of Israeli Arabs felt that they were being discriminated against, 45 percent were still proud of being Israeli. So for many of these 45 percent--at least 19 percent--there is a perception that even with discrimination it still pays to be an Israeli. I think we can thank the Arab Spring for this realization. Incidentally, 58 percent of Israeli Jews did not think that Arabs were discriminated against in Israel.

Since the Arab Spring began in the winter of 2010 in Tunisia and Egypt, it has received much coverage in the international media including Israel's media. So Israel's Arabs have seen how their fellow Arab brethren have been struggling to enjoy the same rights that Israeli Arabs have enjoyed since military rule was ended in 1966. Over the last decade there has been a heightened perception of discrimination and nationalism among Israeli Arabs as a result of the failure of the Oslo process and the outbreak of the Al-Aksa Intifada. At the start of this Intifada a number of Israeli Arabs were shot by Israeli police as they participated in the Intifada by holding violent demonstrations. In 2006 Azmi Bishara, an Arab MK was accused of treason during the Second Lebanon War when it was alleged that he was providing targeting information to Hezbollah. He fled abroad and then resigned from the Knesset.  There was a perception in Israel, probably accurate, that at least the leadership of Israeli Arabs was alienated from the Jewish state.

Despite this Israel's Arab population has resisted any moves for population exchanges in which Arab villages in the Galilee along the northern border of the West Bank would be transferred to a future Palestinian state in compensation for Israel annexing the settlement blocs on the West Bank's western edge. These Arabs perceive that there are definite advantages to belonging to a functional democracy, something that they fear Palestine will not be when it becomes independent. 

Since the most recent elections, Israel's democracy has been under threat from parties of the Right that challenge the notion of equal rights for Israel's Arab minority. Israel is largely composed of Jews from Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Muslim world--lands that were not democratic when they immigrated to Israel. As a result many do not really have a notion of liberal democracy as understood in the West. The values of liberal democracy in Israel are largely championed by immigrants from English-speaking countries such as the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia and by Israeli academics who are from the veteran established sector whose parents immigrated from Russia and Eastern Europe before Israel became a state.  Democracy in siege societies like Israel--Northern Ireland comes to mind as a ready example--often comes under threat because of the perception that it is a luxury that the country cannot afford.

Israel became a democracy both because Jews were tired of being ill treated in autocracies and in order to identify with the West, which was seen as Israel's diplomatic protector. The Jewish Yishuv/Israel in turn had Britain, France, and the United States as its principal allies. So it is not surprising that Israel's elite has seen the value of democracy--this is as true among veteran figures on the Right as on the Left. Now that Israel's Left has shrunk and democracy is under fire, its supporters should willingly look for allies among the Arab sector in order to defend it. 

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