By Anson Laytner
Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strenuous efforts to have Israel recognized as “the Jewish state,” in point of fact it is and always has been a bi-national state, albeit an imperfect one. Far too many people assume that “Israeli” is synonymous with “Israeli Jew” whereas in fact Israelis—people with Israeli citizenship—include 21% who are Palestinian Arab.
Although some Palestinians live in Israel and some live in the Occupied Territories (and still others in the Palestinian Diaspora), those who live in Israel are Israeli citizens and, at least on paper, are supposed to have equal rights with Jewish Israelis. They have been part and parcel of Israeli society for over 70 years! After the recent elections, the Joint List, which is comprised of most of the Arab parties, became the third largest bloc in the Knesset.
Yet despite this fact, Netanyahu’s Likud would never consider bringing them into its coalition (nor would the Joint List ever consider joining it primarily because of the Likud’s settlement and anti-Palestinian policies). Gantz’s Blue and White party also made it clear, as it strove to appeal to right-of-center Jewish voters, that it would not accept the Joint List as a partner had it won the election.
Why is the Joint List so loathed by the right and centrist Zionist parties? The obvious answer is that the Palestinian-Israeli political parties are non-Zionist and even anti-Zionist.
But is that a legitimate objection?
Is the Joint List any less palatable than the ultra-Orthodox parties who have formed a part of every coalition government, left, right or center, since the founding of the State? Yet these parties are opposed to the Zionist nature of Israel; some even oppose the existence of the State; and some might not even consider secular Israeli Jews as Jews.
Is the opposition based on the premise that these are somehow better than those because at least the ultra-Orthodox are ethnically Jewish? The ethnic connection is a tenuous one at best and I would suggest that most Jewish Israelis would have more in common culturally with Palestinian Israelis than with ultra-Orthodox Jews.
On the surface, there seems little to distinguish the Joint List’s platform from those of far-left Zionist parties, fringe though they now may be. Its leading principle calls for an end to the occupation of all territories conquered in 1967; the dismantling of all Israeli settlements and the separation fence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem; and finding a just solution for the problem of the Palestinian refugees which assures the right of return in accordance with to UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
Other points include struggling for the full national and civic equality for the Palestinian public in Israel as a native minority, including recognition of the Arab public as a national minority with the right to self-administration in the fields of culture, education, and religion; support of workers’ rights, environmental justice, equal rights for women, and nuclear disarmament in the region.
To be sure, some of what the platform says is troubling to many Jewish Israelis and to the center-left Zionist parties, but one needs to look at the big picture, namely that the Joint List clearly endorses a two-state solution and promotes a vision of a democratic, secular Israel living at peace in the region (to the degree that such a thing is possible in such a tumultuous area).
But it is unreasonable to expect any Palestinian-Israeli party to endorse Zionism, particularly as it is now being articulated.
IF a center-left party ever succeeds in displacing the Likud and has the opportunity to form the governing coalition, it ought to work to bring in the Joint List as a partner. Doing so would deliver a strong message about the health of Israeli democracy to its own citizens, to the Palestinian people, and to the world. To get to this point, of course, would be a challenge both to the Joint List and the Zionist political parties.
But IF Israel’s Jewish/Zionist political parties embraced this idea, it could also potentially transform Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. No longer would these negotiations align along the ethnic fault line of Jew and Palestinian as they have since before the founding of the State of Israel. Instead negotiations would be between a multi-ethnic, multi-religious secular state (Israel) and a portion of the Palestinian nation still seeking to establish an independent state in its own land alongside Israel.
Palestinian-Israelis are in a unique position to serve as intermediaries. No one knows Israeli Jews better than they do and they are also part of the Palestinian nation and the Arab world.
IF Palestinian-Israelis had a place in these negotiations—which would mean that they were part of a governing coalition in Israel—the resolution to the problem of two peoples in one land might take surprising turns, from a one-state solution of some kind to a two-state solution (an option that is rapidly fading) to Trump’s so-called Peace Plan, to God-knows-what.
The only problem standing in the way of this proposal is the fact that, since Israel’s founding, no Palestinian-Israeli political party has been considered a fit partner to join a coalition government.
But one thing is clear: As long as Israel presents itself as a state only of its Jewish citizens rather than as a bi-national state with a sizable Palestinian minority, peace negotiations will be based on a faulty, undemocratic and, dare one say, immoral, premise.
Anson Laytner is a retired rabbi living in Seattle. During his career, he directed the Seattle Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Council and the Seattle chapter of the American Jewish Committee. His most recent book is “The Mystery of Suffering and the Meaning of God” (Wipf & Stock, 2019).
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.
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