2010-2020: A Decade of Repair

At the end of this decade, most Jews now understand that some 17 percent of Israel’s citizens identify as Arab Palestinians – and they are not leaving the country.

THE EVENTS OF OCTOBER 2000 SHATTERED THE veneer of “co-existence” and laid bare the frustration, distrust and, especially, marginalization and alienation felt by the Arab- Palestinian citizens of Israel. It has taken a decade for Arab-Palestinian citizens and the state to gather the understanding needed to build a different sort of relationship between the Israeli Jewish majority and the Arab-Palestinian minority. It will take no less than another decade to rebuild the relationship.
Initially, the Jewish public was shocked by the Arab Palestinians’ radical new stance. Many Jews despaired. Nationalistic sentiments took center stage, fanned also by the brutality of the second intifada’s suicide bombers following the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations at Camp David in the summer of 2000. Over the decade and especially over the last two years, we have been witness to an increase in racist discriminatory legislation against Arab citizens, although at least some of this legislation has been blocked by a few of our more reasonable politicians.
At the same time, we are also witness to developments that may prepare Israel for the next decade, the decade of repair (tikun): A Paradigm Shift: Until 2000, Arab-Jewish relations were viewed primarily through either the prism of humanitarianism or the prism of state security. But the Orr Commission, established to investigate the causes of and responses to the events of October 2000, presented a new paradigm. Equality, economic integration, fair representation and similar civic-centered goals, the Orr Commission emphasized in its conclusions, are not merely expressions of sympathy or good will, but rather serve the state’s interest and thus promote a genuine Zionist and Jewish agenda.
Arab-Palestinian Initiative: In December 2006, a group of 38 Arab- Palestinian leaders and intellectuals, all citizens of Israel, published the Future Vision Papers, in which they outline a new framework for dialogue with the Jewish majority. The papers state clearly that Arab- Palestinians view themselves as a minority seeking group rights as an indigenous people and offer suggestions for ways to implement these rights. As a Zionist Jew, I read these papers with great resentment; yet I also know that the writers have laid down the foundation for a new form of dialogue and we must not reject their initiatives.
Knowledge and Expertise: Academic and advocacy organizations have developed knowledge and expertise that is finally making its way into the corridors of power. In the early 1990s, NGOs had to struggle even to prove that discrimination exists. Today, more and more government officials are attending conferences, responding to the uncomfortable findings and policy papers, and cooperating with the organizations and the academics to develop mechanisms for the implementation of equality-oriented policies.
Acknowledgment and Commitment: In June 2008, at the first Conference on Israeli Arab Issues organized by the Prime Minister’s Office, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged that all past governments had wrongfully discriminated against Arab citizens and declared his commitment to righting this wrong. This was an important first step; a few months later, Olmert formed the Authority for Minority Economic Development, which is now the responsibility of Minister Avishai Braverman. On March 18, the Cabinet resolved to allocate 800 million shekels ($225 m.) over four years to 13 large Arab communities, to be administered by the Authority for Minority Economic Development. The resolution further instructs Braverman to prepare a master plan for a comprehensive, multi-faceted policy of integration of Arab-Palestinian citizens, to be prepared by June 2011 and to be implemented over the following decade.
American Jewish Community: In July 2004, a group of Jewish leaders gathered in New York to discuss the role of American Jewry in helping to improve relations between Israel and its Arab-Palestinian citizens. The meeting led to the establishment, several months later, of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Arab Issues in Israel. Hosted by the Joint Distribution Committee, the Task Force now includes some 90 organizations in the US and the UK. Bringing in Diaspora’s wisdom and recognition of the importance of relations with non-Jewish communities, the task force also serves to open new channels in the internal Jewish debate.
At the end of this decade, most Jews now understand that some 17 percent of Israel’s citizens identify as Arab Palestinians – and they are not leaving the country. Yet too many Jews still do not feel the urgent need to offer Arab-Palestinian citizens a fair and equal citizenship.
Over this same decade, Arab-Palestinian citizens have come to understand that the Jewish sense of collectivity will not evaporate or diminish and that the Arab Palestinians’ newly-adopted harsh style of discourse has made it difficult for Jews to embrace the concept of equal citizenship. Furthermore, Arab-Palestinian leaders realize that in order to benefit equally from the state’s resources, their municipal leadership must fundamentally improve local governance.
The past decade has not been time wasted. But it will become time wasted if the lessons that we have learned and the understandings we have reached are not harnessed for trust-building between the Jewish majority and the Arab-Palestinian minority. Numerous issues must be solved over the next decade: housing, planning and lands; integration of the largely isolated Arab economy into the state’s economic life; radical yet sensitive solutions to the problems of the Bedouins in the Negev; systematic development of good local governance; social enhancement of Arab-Palestinian society; providing youth with the opportunity for higher education; and last – but certainly not least – elimination of all shapes and forms of racism against Arab Palestinians of Israel.
All this – and so much more – should be included in the comprehensive new policy that must be developed over the next decade. There are numerous obstacles, from pure racism in some to desperate pessimism among others. Yet this is a major cornerstone of our Zionist enterprise. This is The Zionist challenge of the coming decade.
Consultant Shalom (Shuli) Dichter served (1998-2008) as coexecutive director of Sikkuy, The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality.