For the first time, a workshop took place promoting Israeli-Arabs participation in Israel’s foreign policy.
The initial discussion was held last week with Jewish and Arab experts at the Nazareth Academic Institute – a joint initiative by the think tank Mitvim - The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, the Abraham Fund Initiatives for the integration and equality of Arab citizens and the Nazareth Academic Institute.
The workshop looked at opportunities for increased Israeli-Arab involvement in Israeli foreign policy in light of the changes occurring in the region.
“In the last three years, we have witnessed drastic changes in the Arab world, including increased interest in Israel in general, and in the lives of Israel’s Arab-Palestinian citizens, in particular. Arab intellectuals are showing increased interest in conducting a dialogue with us, and we should use the opportunity,” said Kamal Hassan, a policy fellow at Mitvim and a lecturer at the Open University.
Hassan told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that by participating in the foreign policy process, Arabs could improve their domestic situation.
“The Arabs in the region can learn from Arabs in Israel,” he said pointing out that with experience living in a Jewish and democratic state, they could help them in their transition to democracy.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, coexecutive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, said that the complex identity of Israel’s Arab citizens, who are Israeli by citizenship and Palestinian by nationality and culture, is an asset that could create a unique role for them in collaborations and ties with foreign elements.
“We must reject the prevalent view that denies the legitimacy of Israel’s Arab citizens’ involvement in foreign policy activities,” he stated.
Nimrod Goren, founder and chairman of Mitvim and the facilitator of the workshop said that the Arab-Palestinian public is not a significant actor in issues related to Israel’s foreign policy, and this fact is detrimental to the chances for peace and regional integration.
Goren, who is a lecturer on the Middle East at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Post that the idea at this stage is not necessarily to have Israeli-Arabs participating in large numbers in the Foreign Ministry or other government agencies, but to increase their involvement through other channels such as with NGOs, lobby groups, think tanks and as commentators.
“Israeli Arabs need to be a part of the foreign policy conversation,” said Goren.
Aya Ben-Amos, the director of public policy and communications for the Abraham Fund, told the Post that Israeli-Arabs have a dual identity, which “can serve as an asset in our view when dealing with regional issues.”
They have a deep understanding of the culture and region and can contribute to the discourse, she said.
Asked how the Israeli perspective could be compatible with the Jewish foreign policy outlook, Ben-Amos responded that the notion claiming that the Arab minority should not promote its interests in the international arena should be changed.
Furthermore, there are various interests that are shared by the Israeli society as a whole in which Arab citizens should be part of the discourse.
More sessions are planned to put these ideas into action, she said.