It is possible that the Israeli public has never been presented with such starkly different approaches to the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as we are by two current leading figures from the Arab Israeli community.
On the one side, we have the all-too familiar rejectionism of Sheikh Raed Salah, recently released from prison after serving 17 months on charges of inciting terror and for membership in a proscribed organization. Salah, the head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, was charged with celebrating the murder of two Israeli policemen trying to keep the peace on the Temple Mount. He has in the past accused Israel of being part of 9/11 and helped spread the conspiracy that Jews were told to stay away from the World Trade Center twin towers, has used blood libels in his sermons and expressed pride about using the swastika to taunt a Jewish schoolteacher.
Salah’s views on Israel place him in an eternal, religious-based battle with Israel, whose finality will only be the elimination of the Jewish state. He clearly sees Jews as enemies and is prepared to believe and spread the worst lies about Jews.
Salah is the classic example of an anti-Zionist who hates the Jewish state because he loathes Jews, and not the other way around, as some apologists would have it.
On the other side we have Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamist Ra’am Party, a member of the current government and someone who is taking unprecedented steps to work with and in the Israeli leadership, not against.
Moreover, his recent comments show that he has truly crossed the Rubicon.
“The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state. That’s the people’s decision and the question is not about the identity of the state. It was born that way and that’s how it will remain,” Mansour Abbas said at a recent conference. “There is no doubt that we are on the verge of a new era, and I say this cautiously and hope that the process will succeed and that the partnership at the coalition level will set a trend for further partnerships in the economy, in industry and more.”
It is one thing to seek accommodation with Israel and even work with its decision-makers and opinion-shapers to further the Arab community’s interests. The virulently anti-Zionist Joint List does this every day, though largely behind closed doors.
It is quite another thing to fully recognize the legitimacy and endurance of the Jewish People’s national self-determination and right to sovereignty in its ancestral and indigenous homeland.
This right has been the crux of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and before that between Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel. The violent rejectionism of the Jewish People’s quest to assert that right, even in the most minimal terms, is what drove the initial pogroms against Jews, from the attack on Tel Hai in 1920, up until the ‘lone wolf’ attacks we witness on an all-too-worrying basis over the last few weeks.
This conflict will not end until the rejectionists accept defeat and recognize the legitimacy and permanency of the Jewish State.
Let’s not forget that this is the same Abbas who once said: “Since 1948, when all of the land of Palestine was occupied by the Zionist movement gangs, and this state was established, our people have been expelled from our land.”
However, this Abbas is no more because he has accepted that this worldview will not be victorious. It has been defeated.
Mansour Abbas has demonstrated that this can be achieved in a peaceful manner in a way that benefits both the Israeli Arab community and wider Israeli society.
Nevertheless, for the process that Abbas mentions to succeed and win the battle for hearts and minds in the Arab community against those like Salah, Israeli society, especially its leaders, have to embrace it. They have to show that there is a significant carrot for those who follow Abbas and reject Salah.
The defeat of Salah, and those who have slammed Abbas, like senior Palestinian Authority officials, is not just a victory for the Ra’am leader and his followers, but for all of Israel.
Hopefully, Mansour Abbas represents a large public, and support for him grows. There is no doubt that as this public grows, so will the rejectionism by the forces that oppose recognition and cooperation.
At the same time as embracing Abbas, Israeli leaders should increase the pressure on his and our opponents. There has to be a clear message to rejectionists that it will not be rewarded. Those like Raed Salah should be sitting in jail for more than a year and five months for incitement to violence. Inciting Palestinian leaders should not receive gifts in the form of the construction of 1,000 housing units in Area C of Judea and Samaria, and financial assistance.
Abbas has shown through act and deed that, as far as he is concerned, the conflict is over, the Jewish State will be preserved. We must understand the path that Abbas has taken, and ensure that more Arabs, on both sides of the Green Line, understand that the conflict is over and violent rejectionism will be defeated.
This will then be a win for all.
The writer is a member of the Board of Directors of the Middle East Forum-Israel which leads the Israeli Victory Project; he is also a former adviser to Israel’s prime minister.