Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV   ■   Volume Fifteen   ■   Number 1 (85)  ■  March 2002   ■  Ariel Center for Policy Research




Israeli Arabs: To Whom Do They Pledge Allegiance?

Atalia Ben-Meir

After the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, the world looked at the Arab-Israel conflict through the prism of the David versus Goliath paradigm, Israel as David and the Arabs as Goliath. Since the Six Day War the world has continued to regard the conflict through the prism of the David versus Goliath paradigm, but has reversed the roles. This paper argues that viewing the Israeli-Arab conflict through this paradigm obscures the facts, distorts the true picture and leads to faulty conclusions.

For decades, Israeli leadership was convinced that Israeli Arabs had undergone an Israelization process, characterized by intensified involvement with the State of Israel and a diminishing Palestinian identity. Reality has upset their whole frame of reference. A survey conducted in the year 2000 demonstrated the steep decline in the identification with Israel, plummeting from 38.4% in 1996 to 11% while identification as Palestinians soared to 74% from 46.4%. In tandem with this process, the demarcation between realization of civil rights for Arabs within Israel and the national struggle of the Palestinians in the territories has gradually blurred. The ultimate result has been the adoption of an agenda that is incompatible with Israeli citizenship but congruent with the Palestinian Authority’s political and territorial goals. This agenda is reflected in the following processes, where each one and all together imperil the continued existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish-Zionist state:

  1. The accelerated growth of Islamic fundamentalism in general and in Israel in particular

  2. The Palestinization of Israeli-Arabs’ civic identity and the Arabization of their political identity

  3. Demographic trends that indicate a growing preponderance of Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, driving Palestinian territorial expansion and contiguity

  4. The concerted efforts of Israeli-Arab leadership to abolish the Jewish-Zionist character of Israel

  5. The unequivocal demand to be recognized as a national minority with national rights, such as cultural and institutional autonomy

  6. The unqualified support Israeli Arabs, citizens of the State of Israel, grant the Palestinian Authority and its territorial goals, irrespective of the jeopardy to the existence of Israel.

Islamic fundamentalism regards the very existence of Israel within the Islamic world, as an existential battle between Islam and Judaism. This problem has been compounded in modern times by the investment of holiness to Palestine and to Jerusalem. Within this worldview there is no room for accommodation; therefore, territorial concessions, regardless of their generosity, do not have the capacity to resolve this conflict.

In the 1990s the predominant political trend within the Arab community was to establish “pure” Arab political parties that propound the establishment of a Palestinian state. To this effect, Israeli Arabs formulated the ideology of “two nations two states”. Their attitude to the State of Israel resonates in the statement made by MK Ahmed Tibi: “I believe that the Palestinian people have to struggle against the occupation and it is the obligation of each Israeli Arab to say "yes’ to the Palestinian struggle.”

Another linchpin in their policy is the transformation of Israel into a “state of all its citizens” and the granting of autonomy to Israeli Arabs. These demands create a zero sum game, whereby Israel recognizes Palestinians as a national entity with the right to self-determination in a Palestinian state and autonomy in Israel, while Jews, who do not constitute a nation, have no national rights, including the right for self-determination in a Jewish state. Capitulation would disenfranchise Jews and precipitate a train of events that could lead to the fragmentation of Israel, sow the seeds of a bi-national state and encourage irredentist aspirations.

The accelerated growth of the Palestinian population constitutes both a demographic and a geographic threat. The implementation of the “right of return” will further exacerbate the situation, as repatriation of millions of refugees will demographically overwhelm Israel. This demographic dimension translates into widespread non-Jewish territorial expansion and the creation of Palestinian trans-border territorial contiguity, giving momentum to the demand for autonomy, initially cultural and institutional, and ultimately territorial and national.

Although one of the primary socio-economic disparities does indeed exist between Jews and Arabs, neither poverty nor inequality is exclusive to Arabs. Inequality and polarization are endemic to Israeli society at large, the rich-poor gap growing from year to year. The great divide is not Jew-Arab but rather ethnic and geographical. Nonetheless, Israeli governments have expended substantial efforts in the past years to bridge the gaps between the Jewish and Arab sectors, increasing budget allocations in all spheres.

The al-Aqsa Intifada within the “Green Line” has forced the Jewish citizens of Israel to make a reevaluation of the future of their relationship with the Arabs. They have begun to realize that the Israel-Arab conflict transcends territorial and equalization issues, but rather relates to the core existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, Western and modern state in the heart of the Arab world.

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