Encountering Peace: Where do they belong?

The Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have been struggling to be recognized as full Israeli citizens.

A young Arab woman walks on a street in Nazareth, one of the largest Arab municipalities in Israel.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A young Arab woman walks on a street in Nazareth, one of the largest Arab municipalities in Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Trump-Netanyahu “Deal of the Century” has given rise to an old-new debate among Jews and Arabs in Israel regarding questions of identity and belonging or not belonging. Over the years, many Jewish Israelis have spoken about the “split identity” of the Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is a completely wrong notion and one that never really existed.
The truth is really something even more complex – the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have developed over the past 70 years a third identity – they are in fact very Palestinian and very Israeli at the same time. They are bilingual (Arabic and Hebrew) and we are not. They are bi-cultural; they know much more about Israeli Jewish culture than we know about Arab-Islamic culture. Their ultimate goals for many years have been to be fully and equally integrated into the State of Israel and to see the end of the Israeli occupation over the Palestinian people and lands conquered by Israel in 1967 so that their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza could live as free people within an independent Palestinian state.
The Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have been struggling to be recognized as full Israeli citizens. Very few Arab citizens of Israel have said in the past that they would move to the Palestinian state, if one was established. They see themselves as indigenous people living on their own land, in their homeland which is also known as the State of Israel.
Most of the Arab citizens of Israel have accepted the idea that Israel could be the nation-state of the Jewish people, as long as they could have their equal rights as citizens within that state. Some of the internal debates within the Arab community in Israel have focused on collective minority rights while the minority opinion has been (held primarily by the Balad party) that the Jewish identity of Israel must be rejected and in its place Israel should be a state of all of its citizens without a religious or national-ethnic identity base.
The suggestion within the Trump-Netanyahu proposal that the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel in the Triangle area and in Wadi Ara should be transferred to the Palestinian state poses a great challenge to the entire Arab population in Israel. Why? They are not moving from their homes; they are not being expelled – the border would move to encompass them within their own nation-state.
What could possibly be wrong with that? The discussion becomes more complex when we see that the demonstration against this proposal that was held in the city of Baka al-Gharbiya this past weekend showed demonstrators waving the Palestinian flag, not the Israeli flag.
It is easy to understand that the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have a problem with Israel’s national anthem and with the Israeli flag which contain Jewish religious symbols. But why were they raising the Palestinian flag at a demonstration in which essentially they were demanding to stay within the State of Israel?
MANY JEWISH commentators especially from the Left noted with anger and disappointment the exhibition of Palestinian flags at the demonstration. In the social media there has been an active debate among pro-coexistence and shared society activists who attended the demonstration and left it in anger and disappointment when they saw the Palestinian flags.
Some of the Palestinians citizens of Israel who were at the demonstration commented that it is time for Israeli Jews to accept them as full citizens of Israel recognizing that they are also fully Palestinian in their identity. On Makan-Voice of Israel radio in Arabic in the past days there have been many talk shows focusing on the issue. On one of the most challenging and engaging shows with radio host Iman al Qassem on Tuesday a woman from Tira commented that if the Palestinian state to be established was a real state, with genuine sovereignty, control of its borders, a real chance for economic development and freedom – then sure, why not “I would want to be part of that state – my state,” but she noted the Palestinian state to be created by Trump-Netanyahu, if it will ever be created, is really just a continuation of the Israeli occupation and control. From the Trump-Netanyahu plan – that seems to be the real vision.
From a purely objective point of view I would ask any reasonable person, would you willingly agree to transfer your citizenship from a state with a more than $40,000 per capita income to a state with less than $2,000 per capita income? It is also more than just a financial question; the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been within the Israeli state framework including all of its institutions for more than 70 years. This includes the Kupat Holim health services and hospitals, the national social security system, schools and curricula, language orientation, and more. After more than 70 years, the Palestinian citizens of Israel have become very Israeli.
Their participation in the life of the State of Israel is not only for their benefit, it is for the benefit of the entire country. A large minority of more than 20% of Palestinian Arabs makes Israeli society richer, fuller, more interesting and much more a part of this region of the world.
Real democracies with significant minorities are challenged every day to make their democracy more democratic which benefits the entire society. And in this situation, no democracy should remove its citizenship from hundreds of thousands of people without asking them if they wish to continue to hold it or to become citizens of the neighboring country. This is just one more reason why the Trump-Netanyahu proposal must be rejected.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is available on Amazon.