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Israeli Arabs a threat?
Photo: AFP
Photo: Courtesy of Haifa University
Professor Dan Schueftan
Photo: Courtesy of Haifa University
Israel's Arabs: The enemy from within?
Arab Israelis trying to destroy Jewish state, no solution in sight, says leading researcher
In 1999, when Professor Dan Schueftan's book "Disengagement: Israel and the Palestinian Entity" was published, his proposals appeared extreme; almost imaginary even. As there was no chance for securing an agreement with the Palestinians, Schueftan asserted at the time, Israel must undertake unilateral moves; that is, disengage from the Palestinians, even without getting anything in return.

 

Six years later, in 2005, the idea raised by the professor in his book turned into reality, even if partly so, when Ariel Sharon took Israel out of the Gaza Strip.

 

However, after publishing his book, Schueftan realized that even after fully disengaging from the Palestinians, one issue will remain central, painful, bloodier then ever, and unresolved: Israel's Arab citizens. "There was a need to clarify what is required of us in order to maintain our Jewish, democratic essence in the area to be left in our hands following disengagement," he says.

 

This clarification process took no less than a decade. To this day, Schueftan's study is crammed with crates filled with documents about the issue. He has collected every word published in newspapers, both in Israel and abroad. He has documented every Knesset speech and has all televised documentation from 1990 and onward. The material he gathered about Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi alone can fill a room.

 

Schueftan's thorough work and analysis effort prompted the publication of his latest book, "Palestinians in Israel." The subtitle is unequivocal: "The Arab minority's struggle against the Jewish state."

 

"On the political level, we have no option for a solution on the issue of Arabs in Israel," Schueftan asserts today. "They are unwilling to accept a solution that is less than what is perceived as the Jewish nation-state's suicide. We are dealing with an especially difficult branch of the complete rejection of the Jewish state in the Arab world."

 

'Israel's greatest dilemma' 

The 68-year-old Schueftan was born in Tel Aviv and has researched the modern-day Middle East for some 43 years now. He serves as the head of the national security center in University of Haifa and also lectures at security colleges in London. Over the years, he has become known as one who does not shy away from making unusual statements, even if not everyone likes them.

 

Schueftan's attitude, coupled with the immense knowledge he possesses, has turned him into an advisor for many decision-makers in recent decades. He prides himself on meeting David Ban-Gurion, as well as virtually all prime ministers and defense ministers since the 1970s.

 

It is precisely that proximity to Israel's top echelon that grants Schueftan considerable weight, even when the words he utters come across as extreme.


Arab Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

 

"The desirable process for preserving Israel as a Jewish, democratic state is to secure a historic compromise with the Arab world," he says. "This requires difficult compromises on the security front and in respect to our attachment to the cradle of Jewish civilization. This process raises the need to contend with a large minority of more than a million Arab citizens, who are fighting from the inside against Israel's Jewish, democratic character and identity."

 

"This will be Israel's great dilemma domestically, vis-à-vis Europe, and later vis-à-vis the Untied States as well," Schueftan says. "Even if a solution is found to the conflict with the Arab world and with the Palestinians, this will be the next area where they will try to de-legitimize Israel."

 

What are Israel's Arabs actually demanding?

 

"Recognition of the Palestinian collective as a national minority granted a recognized status, while eroding the state of Israel's national Jewish aims to the point of annulling them. The Jewish nation-state is illegitimate in the eyes of the main camp within Israel's Arab minority, even if an Arab-Palestinian state is established alongside Israel in the same land, between the Jordan River and Mediterranean."

 

And how do they intend to secure this objective?

 

"The strategy is to attack the Jewish establishment from the inside, using the democratic means of the State and of society, in the name of democracy, pluralism and human rights."

 

'Part of Arab identity'  

Schueftan claims that the use of universal messages such as "a state of all its citizens" hides a wholly different notion: An attempt to establish a bi-national state on the ruins of the Jewish state that will gradually change its demographic balance by rejecting the Law of Return and adopting the right of return. In the following phase, he says, the new demographic balance will dictate an Arab state.

 

Despite the growing integration into Israel's society and economy, Israel's Arabs are committed to undermining the Jewish state's current format, he says.

 

Is this their political position?

 

"It's not a political position, which may change, but rather, an important component in their Arab identity. As a collective, they are tried to bring about the destruction of the national Jewish enterprise. This conflict is not ethnic, but rather, national. Two peoples are fighting for the land. The Arabs feel that they are a separate people and are emphasizing it. For that reason they reject the notion of becoming increasingly Israeli."

 

"Assuming that the Jewish Majority will not be tempted to commit national suicide and assuming that the Arab minority has an interest in finding its place in this state, those who can reshape Jewish-Arab ties are members of the Arab minority. They can do so by defining their targets in a less radical way. I don't expect this to happen in the foreseeable future, because this matter is part of the Arab identity and ethos.

 

Yet their conduct does not seem any different than that of other minorities worldwide.

 

Israel's Arabs are a special case. We are not dealing with just a majority and a minority, but rather, a minority with the mentality of a majority vis-à-vis a Jewish majority with the mentality of a minority.

 

'Radicalization prompted by Oslo"

Schueftan says that local Arabs are not holding on to their Israeli citizenship based on a desire to form a joint Israeli identity.

 

"For them, the joint identity's objective is to water down the state's Jewish democratic identity. The determination not to lose their citizenship stems from the realization that no Arab regime will grant them the lifestyle they can maintain in Israel, thanks to the Jewish majority," he says.

 

This radical doctrine, Schueftan says, is not only endorsed by the older generation, which experienced the Nakba or heard about it from its parents.

 

"The younger and more educated the generation, the deeper it was educated in line with the perception that the struggle against the Jewish nation-state is part of its identity," he says. "We're reached the point where an overwhelming part of the Arab public already internalized this identity."

 

When did this process start?

 

"The infrastructure existed a while ago, but the radicalization was prompted by the Oslo process. Just when it appeared that we were willing to pay a high price in order to preserve Israel's Jewish democratic character, the Arabs in Israel woke up and asked: 'What about us?'"

 

"During the Oslo era, the Arab leadership learned to recite slogans associated with human rights and pluralism at the service of an idea meant to strip the Jewish people of its right for self-determination in its own nation state."


Oslo process a bad idea? (Photo: Reuters)

 

Schueftan says that Arab Israelis did not turn to terrorism for the most part, because they understood that the "domestic political struggle against the State's Jewish character is the only effective means still left for them."

 

Local Arabs are increasingly electing radical representatives, he says, and their elites are committed to the "more radical version of the struggle against the Jewish state."

 

"In the political arena, the radicals are almost the only ones who are given expression, and the general public is willing to reconcile itself to the unavoidable outcome – the Jewish public shapes its relations with the Arabs on the basis of the radical doctrine openly presented by the Arab leaders," Schueftan says.

 

Yet the greatest responsibility for the current state of affairs is born not by a politician, but rather, by Arab-Israeli actor and director Mohammad Bakri, Schueftan says.

 

"He's the one who granted full legitimacy to the armed Palestinian struggle against Israel and showed understanding to terrorism against its citizens," he says

 

So what does Israel have to do in the face of this grim assessment?

 

"First, we must recognize the fact that this is the reality," Schueftan says. "We must thwart their aims to destroy our national enterprise and to do this through democratic means. We have no interest in adopting means that would erode Israel's open society in a manner that hurts us more."

 

"Israel affords more freedom to sympathize with the enemy than what is granted to any minority in any democratic state, but we learned to cope with this risk," he says. "It has proven to be a calculated risk. A byproduct of this tendency is better familiarity by the Jewish public with the political characteristics of the Arab collective, in a manner that will prevent us from deluding ourselves about the nature of the struggle between the peoples."

 

Towards the end of his book, Schueftan again addresses full disengagement from the Palestinians, which he views as a must not only in order to maintain Israel's Jewish-democratic character, but also in order to prevent the Arab minority's radicalization.

 

"It's not a strategy, but rather, a policy that would minimize the damage. The main move that serves the damage control aim is a separation process, disengagement from the Palestinians in the territories via a buffer zone, and physical separation – including in Jerusalem – in order to disconnect the radical trends of the Arabs in Israel from the hinterland supporting their struggle in the territories," he says. "This process won't stop the solidarity between the two parts of the Palestinian people, but it will make it more difficult to turn elements within the Green Line into agents of the Palestinian struggle against Israel."

 

 

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