Israel's Arabs and Jews must redefine their relationship

Opinion: Despite deep-rooted animosity towards each other, Israelis of both sectors must create a social contract to change long-held paradigms that have proven to be nothing but obstacles for peace and prosperity for all

Michael Milshtein|
While the relationship between Israel and its Arab citizens has been spotty ever since the establishment of the state in 1948, the last two years have proven that this somewhat undefined relationship cannot continue as is.
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  • In the past, the Arab population was content with being a silent sector. Today though, many members of the community want to have a real say in the country’s decision-making process, despite being painfully aware of the fact that Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state.
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    שוטרים בהפגנה נגד האלימות באום אל פחם
    שוטרים בהפגנה נגד האלימות באום אל פחם
    Police forces clashing with protesters during a demonstration against violence in Um al-Fahem
    (Photo: Police PR)
    This shift in the Arab sector means that Israel must review the framework upon which the state’s relationship with its Arab population is based.
    First, Israel must abandon past paradigms - such as the notion that Israel's Arabs are actually an enemy within - that not only torpedoed any viable solution of coexistence, but also led to the radicalization of relations between Arabs and Jews.
    A social contract in which the Arab sector consents to submit to the authority of the state in exchange for protection and rights is a necessity in the current climate.
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    הפגנת יהודים וערבים נגד האלימות המשטרתית באום אל פחם
    הפגנת יהודים וערבים נגד האלימות המשטרתית באום אל פחם
    Arabs and Jews protesting against police violence in Umm al-Fahem
    (Photo: Nadav Abas)
    The Arab population is growing increasingly frustrated for three main reasons:
    1. The rising tide of violence and crime in predominantly Arab communities
    2. The disappointment with Arab political parties that have insisted on adhering to past agendas and slogans that make it hard for members of the community to integrate and influence
    3. The rigidity demonstrated by the Jewish political establishment towards the Arab citizenry
    The aforementioned contract must ensure that the Arab sector has full civil rights, such as representation in government institutions and freedom of opportunity, in exchange for full civic obligations.
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    ההפגנה בעקבות הירי בנערים
    ההפגנה בעקבות הירי בנערים
    Protesters demonstrating in Jaljulia against the violence in Arab society
    Young Arabs can be integrated in a myriad of civil services, including the police - a move that would both strengthen their connection to the state and provide a solution to the prevailing detachment many of them feel. At least one-third of all 18-24 year olds in the sector do not work or study.
    More importantly, the contract must enshrine the legal status of Israel’s Arab citizens. A possible solution could be the formal recognition of Arab citizens as a minority group, including the possibility of granting the sector autonomy in culture and education.
    This solution would enable Arab society to fully integrate in Israel’s society, in exchange for dropping all demands to change the very identity of the state, something that has proven to be an obstacle to establishing normal relations between the two sectors of society.
    4 View gallery
    ההפגנה בכיכר השעון
    ההפגנה בכיכר השעון
    Protesters demonstrating in Jaffa against violence in Arab society
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    And while the next government will face many strategic issues, normalizing the relationship with the Arab sector must take precedence due to the volatile situation prevalent among that population.
    Staying the current course or ignoring the current issues completely will potentially cause the situation to escalate to dangerous levels.
    Both societies must understand that despite deep-rooted animosity, we all must change our behavior towards and views of the other, for the sake of peace and prosperity for us all.

    Michael Milshtein is the head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University
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