The Status and Future of Israel’s Palestinian Minority

VOL. 36


No. 4
P. 73
Special Documents
The Status and Future of Israel’s Palestinian Minority

A. National Committee for the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities in Israel, “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” Haifa, December 2006 (excerpts). ............................................. 75

B. Adalah,“The Democratic Constitution,” Shafa ‘amr, Israel, 27 February 2007 (excerpts). .......................................... 86

C. MADA al-Carmel—The Arab Center for Applied Social Research, “The Haifa Declaration,” Haifa, 15 May 2007. ........................... 94


D. Ariel Sharon, “Democracy and the Jewish State,” 28 May 1993 (excerpts). ............................................................... 100

Within the space of a few months in late 2006 and early 2007, three far-reaching documents, all dealing with the status and future of the Palestinian minority in Israel, were issued by leading Palestinian bodies in the state. The timing was not coincidental, for all three initiatives, which were several years in the making, were responses to the same stimuli: a steady deterioration in the situation of the Arab minority, and a push within the Jewish majority for the adoption of a formal constitution emphasizing the “Jewishness” of the state.

The constitutionalizing movement was spurred by the massive October 2000 protests by Palestinian citizens of Israel in solidarity with the just-launched al-Aqsa intifada. The unarmed protests, whose main victims were Arab citizens (13 shot dead by Israeli police), had fueled the conviction among the Jewish majority that an irrevocable and unbridgeable divide existed between the two communities, taking anti-Palestinian sentiments to new heights. Such feelings had already been on the rise, a product of the Jewish majority’s sense of threat that can be traced to the 1992 Knesset elections that brought Yizhak Rabin to power by a narrow margin thanks to the “Arab vote.” Alarmed by this development—and at a time when PalestinianIsraeli peace negotiations were in full swing—the center-right Jewish parties made it a strategic goal to curtail the political power of the Palestinian citizenry with the aim of preventing “concessions” in peace negotiations not based on a purely Jewish vote. Since that time, dozens of new laws have been passed in the Knesset that discriminate against Palestinian citizens, ranging from limiting political activism to virtually banning family unification.

The preoccupation—verging on obsession since October 2000—with the strategic and demographic threat posed by the Palestinian citizens to Israel as a Zionist Jewish state resulted in several initiatives, including the drive to endow Israel with a constitution for the first time, replacing the scattershot Basic Laws. The first such initiative, the Kinneret document, drafted under the auspices of the Rabin Center and signed in October 2001 by leading Jewish religious and secular figures representing a wide Zionist political spectrum, focused almost entirely on the Jewish identity of Israel, de- fined as a “Jewish and democratic” state. These same elements are prominent in the “constitution by consensus” spearheaded by the Israel Democracy Institute, whose November 2004 draft also emphasizes the “Jewish and Democratic state” definition without any mention of the Palestinian identity of the Arab citizens, who make up almost 20 percent of the population. The absence of Palestinian input in the constitutional debate only increased the level of frustration within the community, which saw in this exclusion yet another example of the Jewish majority’s refusal to engage in an open dialogue regarding their status.

The task of finalizing a constitution rests with the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee. Whether or not a constitution will ultimately be adopted, the constitutional debate, and the release of drafts whose principal aim is transparently to safeguard the exclusive dominance of the Jewish majority, very much set the stage for the initiatives presented below. Though each of the three Palestinian documents is distinctive, all make essentially the same demands. Above and beyond recognition as a national homeland minority with collective rights, and self-administration in their own community affairs, the basic demand is for a genuine, inclusive, consensual democracy with equal rights for all citizens of the state. These demands are not new; indeed, they are encapsulated in the call for “Israel as a state for all its citizens” launched more than a decade ago by the now-exiled Palestinian leader and former Knesset member Azmi Bishara and his party, the National Democratic Alliance. What is new is the fact that the ideas have so much permeated the political thought of broad segments of the community so as to have been mainstreamed and crystallized into formal documents intended to spark a communitywide debate and introspection on the way forward. Also highly significant is their provenance: the “Future Vision” project was initiated by the High Follow-Up Committee for the Arabs in Israel, the top leadership body of the Palestinian community, and issued by the National Committee for the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities (Councils) in Israel. Adalah is the community’s premier legal defense organization, and MADA is its leading research institution. While the documents were the product of extensive debates and consultation within limited groups, they stop short of being consensual in that none was made available to open public debate in the drafting stage. Nonetheless, they are all on the table now, and all make a point of emphasizing their intent to serve as a starting point for communitywide discussion. The documents also represent a resounding confirmation of the passage from reactive to proactive political action, and of the growing trend within the community to “get their house in order” with the aim of pressing ahead with a clear agenda for change.

For the most part, the documents were either ignored by the Israeli Jewish public or greeted with hostility, suspicion, and accusations of subversion and of undermining state security. Yet the documents appear more reformist than radical; the calls for restitution are measured, and the emphasis is on inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. All call for a dialogue with the Israeli Jewish public, and all ultimately aim at a just reconciliation between the two peoples. MADA’s statement in presenting its own document well summarizes the common intention:

We [hope] that the Haifa Declaration, the Future Vision, and the Democratic Constitution [will] serve as foundational texts for institutions and members of the Palestinian minority, in their effort to assert their national identity, national rights, and their right to democracy and equal citizenship. . . .[and] that the Declaration can spark a democratic, open, and constructive dialogue within our society and with the Israeli-Jewish society, one that might enable us to work together toward building a better future between our peoples. This, we believe, might lay the foundations for creating a society based on justice and equality for all citizens and inhabitants of the State of Israel.

At the heart of all three documents is the contradiction between Israel’s identity as a Zionist Jewish state and genuine democracy, as well as the status of the Palestinian community within the state. The issues of Jewishness, democracy, and the status of the Palestinian citizens also preoccupy Israel’s Jewish majority, though from a very different angle. These themes were addressed with remarkable frankness by Ariel Sharon in an op-ed written in 1993, which is why JPS thought it would make a fitting “appendix” to these documents, as well as a cautionary note as to why the Palestinian community’s vision of a truly shared homeland will be difficult to achieve.

Jamil Dakwar, a member of JPS ’s Editorial Committee, contributed substantially to the compilation of this section and to writing the introductions.