Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, August 26, 2002
The news about the arrest of 7 Israeli Arabs involved in terror is terrible, absolutely terrible. It is ruining my day.

For those who are unaware, a little background on demographics. Israel has about 6 million citizens, of whom about 1.2 million are Arabs. This Arab population includes Muslims and Christians, but does not include Jews from Arab countries, who along with their descendents constitute more than half the Jewish population of the country. Israel's Arab citizens are able to fully participate in the political life of the country; the main way in which they are distinguished from other citizens is that they do not serve in the armed forces (though Druze, Circassians, Bedouin and other ethnic minorities do so serve).

In addition to these Arab citizens, there are approximately 1 million Arab residents of the Gaza Strip, which is largely under Palestinian Authority control, and 2 million Arab residents of Judea and Samaria, nearly all of whom live under Palestinian Authority control but in territory which is something of a patchwork, partly controlled by Israel and partly controlled by the P.A. Furthermore, there are about 250,000 Arab citizens of Jerusalem who, as legal residents of the city, are able to vote in municipal elections and participate fully in the life of the city, but they are not citizens of Israel and do not participate in national political life.

Prior to Oslo, Israel's Arab citizens, by their own testimony, suffered from something of a split personality. On the one hand, they considered themselves Israelis, voted in Israeli elections, took part in the economic and cultural life of the country, etc. On the other hand, they were Arabs, had relations in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world, and had difficulty identifying with Israel as a Jewish state. I suspect that, if you had an honest conversation with your average Israeli Arab in 1985, he would have said that Israel should not be a Jewish state but a bi-national state, and that the occupation of the territories had to be ended, but that regardless he was a loyal citizen of the state and expected to be treated as such.

Since Oslo, this has changed, radically. During the "good" years, there was an increasing identification by Israeli Arabs with the Palestinian Authority. This was most pronounced in Jerusalem, where the Arab residents were not citizens of Israel, but it was a trend observed throughout Israel. The Arab population seemed to have internalized three facts.

First, that Israel had recognized the PLO and Palestinian nationalism. This meant that they, as Arabs of Palestine, were the most "legitimate" residents in Israel. Why, then, was Israel a Jewish state, and not an Arab state, or at the worst a bi-national state? Their historic critique of Israel was given a new edge by Oslo.

Second, that Israel was withdrawing from the territories in part because it was unwilling to contemplate absorbing such a large Arab population. If Israel was to remain a Jewish state, it would have to have a majority of Jews who controlled the national life. What did such a message mean for them, destined to be perennial minorities? If they were, it seemed, always going to be a distinct and separate minority in national life, perhaps they needed an outside power to look out for their interests - such as a Palestinian state?

Third, that Israel was withdrawing from the territories in part because it was weary of conflict. As in the P.A. territories, this suggested that Israel could be influenced by force. If such a strategy could be employed in the territories, why not in Israel proper?

So identification with the Palestinian Authority increased dramatically just when Oslo appeared to be working. Just as peace was supposedly dawning in the territories, Israel's Arab citizenry was becoming increasingly restive and unhappy with the modus vivendi within Israel. This resulted in a great deal of hand-wringing on the part of Israel's major political parties. Labor, Likud and even Shas (the major ultra-Orthodox party) tried to curry favor with Arab voters by promising more services, greater integration, and so forth, all with a view to buying that population's affection. These efforts failed miserably for three reasons. First, the promises were rarely, if ever, fulfilled. Second, they did not speak to the cause of alienation: the conviction that Israel's Jews intended to keep the Arab citizenry down, and that this plan could be altered by force. And third, because of a series of events that dramatically angered the Arab population of Israel.

During the "bad" years, several events happened to enrage Arab citizens of Israel. Most importantly, the forceful crackdown by the Barak government on mass Arab protests that resulted in the killing of several Arab protesters convinced much of the Arab population that Israel considered them, citizens though they may be, as no different from the Arabs of the territories. Another important event was the withdrawal from Lebanon, in which Israel disgracefully abandoned their South Lebanese Christian allies. This further convinced those Arabs most inclined towards Israel that, in the end, the Israeli government cared only about Jews, and would sell everyone else down the river. Meanwhile, of course, the P.A. was unrelenting in unleashing propaganda aimed at the Arab population of Israel, making the case that Oslo was a trick by Israel to carve up the Palestinian population into South-African-style homelands and actually increase Jewish settlement in the territories.

Which leaves us where we are today. Israel's Arab citizenry is still, I suspect, largely loyal in the sense that it would not actively collaborate with the enemies of Israel. But even this degree of loyalty is increasingly fragile. Israel's Islamic movement is growing; Nazareth is being actively Islamicized and the political support for radical Islamic groups is growing. Israeli Jews increasingly treat the Galilee as potentially hostile territory. The collapse of trust is going to have severe economic consequences for the Arab sector, far overwhelming any attempts by the government (if the government actually makes these attempts) to improve that sector's economic situation. Arab Israelis decreasingly participate in the political life of the country. The Arab parties are dedicated to the elimination of the Jewish state through legal means, and the Arab citizenry boycotted the last elections for Prime Minister (as Jerusalem's non-citizen Arabs overwhelmingly boycott the municipal elections in that city).

These trends will get much worse if proposals to withdraw unilaterally from most of Judea, Samaria and Gaza and retreat behind a wall are carried out. Israel's Arabs will have confirmation of the entire thesis outlined above: Israel doesn't want Arabs among them and, if the Arabs make enough of a fuss, Israel will flee from them. The logical response to their considerable grievances would be for Israel's Arabs to launch an intifadeh in the Galilee, demanding either the end of the Jewish character of the state or substantial regional autonomy - or, perhaps, demanding the right to vote to secede from Israel and join the P.A. on the other side of the wall.

Will they also get worse if Israel re-occupies the P.A.-administered territories on a permanent basis, and eliminates the P.A.? That depends. If the Israeli reconquest is absolutely forceful, things may die down for a time, but the problems will resurface with a vengeance not too long thereafter. Israel cannot, for any length of time, rule another people by force, and Israel's own Arabs will increasingly identify with their brothers in the territories so long as they are so ruled. The only thing Israel can do to mitigate this risk is to think seriously about post-reconquest political arrangements that could actually work long-term. As I have argued many times, the only such arrangements that are plausible involve a formal role for Jordan as the guarantor of the interests of the Palestinian population within Israel. Within that broad concept, there are two possible solutions: annex the territories to Israel and make the Arab residents citizens of Jordan, or give Jordan a formal role in the governance and security of the territories, parts of which will be autonomous Palestinian enclaves but not an independent state. Either solution would require a very close cooperation between Israel and Jordan, cooperation that would of course impinge on Israeli sovereignty and freedom of action. It would also require a degree of regional acceptance of Israel that has never been manifested, even in Jordan. I'm not saying such a solution is likely. I am saying that anything else could bring disaster - either civil war within the pre-67 borders of Israel or the forcible expulsion of much of the Arab population of the territories, and regional war.

Israel thought it could get rid of its Arab "problem" by giving up the territories. But the Arab "problem" is the problem of Palestinian nationalism, which is incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel, for both practical reasons (there is no room for two independent and viable states between the Jordan and the sea) and ideological ones (if Palestinian nationalism is legitimate, then Israel's founding was a usurpation of Palestinian rights). By withdrawing from the territories and legitimizing Palestinian nationalism, Israel has imported that nationalism into pre-67 Israel. Defeating that nationalism has therefore become all the more important.