By AMNON RUBINSTEIN
Last month's decision by the Supreme Court ruling that the government may not establish national budgeting priority regions if these discriminated against the Arab sector was lambasted from different directions, with some critics even claiming that it was a post-Zionist decision.
But the truth is that there is nothing new in this decision; on the contrary, it is a repetition of previous ones by the Supreme Court.
Moreover, unlike some other recent decisions by the court, this ruling does not clash with the government's policy because the government itself accepted the principle of equality toward the Arab minority when it endorsed the findings of the Lapid committee, which came in the wake of the Or Commission.
The decision to give equal funding to Arabs is based on two elements: The first is the recognition of the Arab collective right to equality, in addition to the right to equality of the Arab citizen as an individual. The second element is based on Israeli interests.
The first basic element, collective rights, does not run counter to the collective and national right of the Jewish public to a state of its own.
Supreme Court President Aharon Barak used a metaphor to illustrate this point. Israel is a house whose keys have been given preferentially to Jews; inside the house, however, full equality must prevail. The Law of Return is the key to the house; once inside, however, equality is given to all that dwell in it. This last decision by the Supreme Court corresponds with this analogy.
To counter this view some claim, and quite rightly too, that equal rights necessitates equal obligations - including that of army service. Indeed, there can be no doubt that equal rights ultimately involve and are associated with the fulfillment of equal obligations. The question is which should come first.
SO FAR the general rule has been "fewer rights for Israeli Arabs in return for fewer obligations." In order to turn this rule around to "full rights for full obligations" it might be wise to start with the matter of rights, and only after that chapter has been completed to demand the fulfillment of full obligations - initially by means of volunteering for army or police service, and ultimately the gradual imposition of the requirement of military service for all.
Equality is also indisputably an Israeli interest: The incitement by some of Israel's Arab Knesset members - which serves the purposes of Syria and Hizbullah, but not of Israel's Arabs themselves - may fall on attentive ears, among other reasons, because of the discrimination and inequality that Israel's Arabs still suffer.
The truth is that in every place where full equality has been introduced by determining criteria in law - such as in Israeli social security and health insurance - bitterness and resentment at the inequality have disappeared. In fact, those ministers who have introduced a measure of equality in the services provided to Israel's Arabs have won considerable personal popularity too.
True, the national and religious conflict continues to persist in full force, and no budgetary equality will make it go away. Budgetary equality will not eliminate hatred of Israel of the kind we saw expressed viciously and cynically in the responses of Arab MKs to the recent sad events in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
But Israel has an interest in advancing the Arab population economically, in giving it opportunities for higher education, developing the talents of its sons and daughters and empowering its women because this will also improve Israel's own economy and the quality of its society.
THIS KIND OF equality in the allocation of funding and resources means transferring large-scale government support from Jews to Arabs. A transfer of this kind is painful and politically difficult. The solution is a gradual transition over a predetermined time period - I think 10 years is an appropriate time frame - and the attainment of international aid and funding in order to realize the goal with a minimum of pain. But it is a worthwhile and fitting effort.
Even if it is impossible at this time to bridge the ideological, nationalist and religious abyss between Jews and Arabs, an economic, scientific and technological, ideology-free common denominator can be found.
Who knows? Perhaps after the economic and technological disparities between Jews and Arabs have disappeared the ideological differences may also dwindle, and we will live to see Jews and Arabs become full partners in a truly democratic society in the framework of a Jewish state.
The writer is president of The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
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