Yesterday, I attended a symposium at the Palestine Center with Dr. Shibley Telhami (Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland) and Dr. Asad Ghanem (professor of Political Science at the University of Haifa) titled “Palestinian Citizens of Israel: Stakeholders in Limbo?”
Starting off was Dr. Shibley Telhami, who discussed the results of a public opinion poll that he conducted of Israeli Arabs/Palestinians in August 2009. In the poll he asked Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel about their media habits and their views on current issues, trying to asses what news or media sources a person frequented and how that shaped their opinions.
The first interesting point was in response to a question about which Palestinian political party Arab Israelis sympathized with most. The options included HAMAS and FATAH. I found it surprising that 43% of those asked responded “none of the above”, 14% sympathized with HAMAS, and only 6% with FATAH. This might have interesting implications for the upcoming elections in the Palestinian territories in January, and it will be interesting to see whether FATAH will be able to maintain its grasp on power.
The second interesting point from Dr. Telhami’s lecture was that around half of the Arab Israelis polled would not accept, under any circumstances, defining Israel as a Jewish state. This most likely reflects the view that if a two state solution is reached, Israel will become even more “Jewish” and the Arab/Palestinian Israelis will be further ostracized and alienated.
Next up was Dr. Asad Ghanem who discussed the issues faced by Arab/Palestinian Israelis, from a first-hand perspective. He started by emphasizing that Israel is, first and foremost, a Jewish state. And preserving its Jewishness is more important than preserving its democratic nature. Therefore, Palestinian citizens of Israel have always been, and will always be, treated as second class citizens, unequal under the law.
Second, Dr. Ghanem discussed the shift to the extreme right (even further right than the Likud) in Israeli politics over the last two decades. He pointed out that this reflects the increasing dominance of “Jewishness” and the intensification of the discrimination campaigns against Palestinians. He then expressed his fear that the current Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, might win in Israel’s next elections.
Lastly, Dr. Ghanem expressed mixed opinions about the peace process. On the one hand, he believes that Arab Israelis, although fragmented, are more optimistic and have more favorable views of Israel than most other Palestinians. He also believes they may play a larger role in the Palestinian issue in the future. On the other hand, he believes that these Arab citizens of Israel will be harmed if a two-state solution is reached. He fears that Israel will become more “Jewish” and the Palestinian citizens will be more isolated, from both their home state and their Palestinian brothers in the occupied territories.
This symposium was particularly interesting because Palestinian/Arab Israelis are often forgotten, in both Israeli and Palestinian history. But they do exist, and the problems they face are unique to their situation. We cannot exclude them from the dialogue. And in our struggle for peace in Palestinian territories, we should also fight to end the discrimination against the Palestinian/Arab citizens of Israel.