To maintain democracy, citizenship must be guaranteed

It’s time to put a stop to the immoral and impractical attempts to rid ourselves of the Arab citizens of Israel, and start thinking in terms of securing their bond to Israel secure – making them true partners in Israeli society.

By Yaniv Sagee

Those who thought there could not be serious peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were mistaken. The talks are on and the Israeli right-wing is feeling the pressure. The context of peace talks is also the pretext for Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s latest proposal to transfer territory and populations to a future Palestinian state in exchange for Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank. According to his plan, two heavily Arab-populated areas of Israel, Wadi Ara and the Triangle, would be transferred to the Palestinian state together with their inhabitants. The very idea is a despicable, immoral blow to Israeli society. Moreover, constitutionally, it does not stand a chance of being adopted.

Some background: Wadi Ara and the Triangle were assigned to Israel during the armistice talks held with Jordan in Rhodes in 1949. Today, roughly 300,000 Palestinian Arabs live in the villages and cities of the area. They represent a historic, ethnic minority in Israel, with their own distinct culture and dialect, like Arabs in other parts of Israel.

While the Arabs of Israel are sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle for independence, they regard themselves as citizens of Israel and are entitled to equal treatment as partners in Israeli society. The population and territorial exchange program is an attempt to “kill two birds with one stone”: it seeks to leave as many settlements as possible in the West Bank while at the same time improve the “demographic situation” in Israel by transferring Arabs to Palestine. This suggestion runs counter to the basic values of Israel as laid out in its Declaration of  Independence, which have been reinforced over the years by legislation that bars the disenfranchising anyone of their rights on the basis of ethnic or geographic origin. Israel is also a signatory to international conventions, such as the Vienna Convention of 1978, which commits it to respecting individual rights.

As the director of Givat Haviva, an educational center that fosters inter-group dialogue, I meet Arabs every day. In the conversations I hold with communal leaders, teachers, villagers and city people from Wadi Ara, I can state unequivocally that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs want to remain equal citizens of the State of Israel. That position has been proven by numerous studies conducted over the past few years. See, for example, the 2012 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel by Sammy Smooha of Haifa University and the Israel Democracy Institute. These studies also found that the vast majority of the residents of Wadi Ara and the Triangle absolutely refuse to accept their transfer to a future State of Palestine.

It’s time to put a stop to these immoral and impractical attempts to rid ourselves of the Arab citizens of Israel and, instead, start thinking in terms of making their bond to Israel more secure – making them true partners in Israeli society. Anyone who suggests that the Arabs of Wadi Ara and the Triangle be transferred to a Palestinian state reinforces the separatist message preached by Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel. It is a sure way to undermine the democratic nature of the State of Israel. Instead, it is incumbent upon Israel to do everything in its power to incorporate the Arabs into Israeli society.

Here is a prescription for keeping Israel democratic: end the occupation; see to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and build a shared, egalitarian society that would be made up of the majority Jewish and minority Arab populations. This will ensure a future that combines the nation state of the Jewish people and a viable democracy.

Yaniv Sagee is the Executive Director of Givat Haviva , a non-profit organization founded in 1949 as the national education center of the Kibbutz Federation in Israel. 

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