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Respecting Arab rights in the West Bank would set precedent for Jewish rights to be honored
Ohad Zwigenberg
Wanted: Israeli Arab settlers
Op-ed: Building settlements for Israeli Arabs in West Bank will benefit Jewish state

Zionism is in crisis. The right-wing majority in the Knesset cannot disguise its lack of a long-term strategy to secure Israel's hold on the West Bank. It makes geostrategic sense to settle areas adjacent to the Green Line, yet settlements continue to grow scattered deep in hostile Palestinian territory.

 

These developments, far from strengthening the cause of the pragmatists within the Palestinian camp, play into the hands of its extremists. Time is on their side: As settlements grow more slowly than the burgeoning Arab population, the argument gains traction that in Israel a minority-rule system will soon be in place.

 

Whereas previously such rhetoric was voiced by Israel's enemies, these days even Israel's friends have joined the choir. And when Jewish intellectuals like Peter Beinart start to question the legitimacy of Zionism, alarm bells should start to ring.

 

It is time for Israel to craft a long-term strategy to populate Judea and Samaria - one grounded not exclusively on religious enthusiasm or on the youthful idealism of 20th Century Zionism, but on the more mature strategy of transforming foes into friends.

 

Arabs can help Zionism

 

Arab Israelis are one of the fastest growing sectors of Israeli society. Despite promising inroads into winning support from Druze and Bedouins, Israel has generally failed to advance its long-term interests within this community. Represented by hotheads like Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara, Israeli Arabs are viewed by many Israeli Jews as a dangerous fifth column.

 

A remedy to this situation must be sought. Israeli Arabs can contribute to the Zionist cause, if Israel builds settlements for them in the West Bank and Jordan River valley. This suggestion makes sense on the following 3 grounds: Firstly, it provides Israeli Arabs with affordable and quality housing beyond the Green Line, thus aligning their interests with those of Jewish settlers.

 

Secondly, by building new towns for non-Jews, Israel reaffirms its commitment to equality amongst all its citizens. Thirdly, such a strategy divides Israel's adversaries: Nowadays neither the Arab League nor Amnesty International show qualms in encouraging the eviction of Jews from their homes - be it in Gaza or in the West Bank. The picture would be different if the evictees were Arabs. After all, how could Arabs be evicted from land the world claims belongs to Arabs?

 

Reflecting diversity

 

The honoring of Arab Israeli rights in the West Bank would set the precedent for Jewish Israeli rights to be honored. Discriminating among Israeli residents on ethnic and religious grounds would be perceived as immoral precisely by those most concerned about human rights.

 

It might appear counterintuitive to settle Judea and Samaria with Israeli Arabs, yet pursuing such a policy could secure Israeli sovereignty over larger swathes of land once the West Bank is partitioned.

 

Nevertheless this settlement policy will only work if Israel assures Israeli Arab settlers they will not lose their Israeli citizenship by moving to the West Bank. The value of this assurance to Israel's image is priceless: It will make the world realize how much even Arabs cherish citizenship in the Jewish State.  

 

Israel overcame the challenges of the 20th Century thanks to the contributions of secular, religious, socialist and revisionist Jews. If Zionism starts to reflect the diversity of contemporary Israeli society, it will also overcome the challenges that our century poses.

 

 

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