The winds of peace and reason that have been blowing between the State of Israel and the Arab Gulf and moderate Sunni Arab states are quickly drawing closer to Israel’s Arab citizens, many of whom are coming to see that, for decades, they have been held hostage in the service of the Palestinians.
For years, and under both left- and right-wing governments, Israel has made genuine efforts to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. These efforts did not bear fruit. Palestinian recalcitrance prevented any kind of resolution to the conflict.
This recalcitrance was led first by the terrorist Yasser Arafat and then by Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Abbas, both Palestinian Authority presidents. Over the years, a fictitious and bizarre theory was established, according to which there could be no peace accords with Arab states absent a solution to the Palestinian issue. Israel’s government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, succeeded in disproving this theory, thanks in large part to unrelenting effort and the exposure of the Iranian threat to the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Israel’s Arab citizens are entitled to equality, just like every other citizen. Minority rights are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. Despite the sometimes justified criticism of its rulings and decisions, the Supreme Court and Israel’s governments throughout the years have made remarkable efforts to ensure equality, but these efforts have not been fully realized and there are signs of discrimination against the Arab sector.
The greatest obstacle to realizing these rights is the political leadership of Israel’s Arabs, a leadership that convinced many Israelis that their allegiance lies with the Palestinian narrative, even when it leads to terror attacks. Arab states have recently declared that the Palestinian narrative is a sham; the time has come for Israel’s Arabs to admit the same.
Many Israelis identify Israel’s Arabs with the activities of former Joint Arab List Knesset member Hanin Zoabi, members of the now-outlawed Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch, who incite against Israel at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islamic State recruits and those lawmakers who smuggle cell phones to security prisoners.
Most Israeli Arabs do not take part in this kind of hostile activity. I doubt if there are any among them who are willing to give up their lives in Israel to move to the P.A. or some other Arab state. No one who has gotten a taste of democracy would ever exchange it for despotism and oppression.
A historical revolution is now underway; Israel’s citizens from the Arab sector are beginning to wake up. Mansour Abbas, chairman of the Ra’am Party and now a member party of the Joint Arab List, has wisely and bravely internalized the trap his voters are in and has decided the time has come for Israeli Arabs to worry more about themselves and less about the recalcitrant Palestinians.
There is no doubt in my mind that, should he persevere, a great many of Israel’s Arabs will support him, and the treatment of this sector will undergo incredible change. I do not doubt that support for him will ultimately lead to an agreement with the Palestinians as well.
Dr. Haim Shine is a faculty member of Israel’s Academic Center of Law and Science, and a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.