The Jerusalem Post of June 24, 2001


By Jonathan Rosenblum

Arab MK Azmi Bishara got what he wanted last week: He managed to give the collective Israeli public a severe case of apoplexy. Bishara traveled to Damascus, on a diplomatic passport granted to Knesset members, in other to participate in a memorial gathering on the first anniversary of the death of Syrian dictator Hafez Assad.

There he called upon the entire Arab world to ``unite against the warmongering Sharon government'' and expressed his support for the Palestinian violence. He did so in the presence of Hassan Nasrallah, whose Hizbullah militia continues to hold incommunicado four Israelis, and heads of Hamas and other sponsors of suicide bombings targeting Israelis.

Israeli Jews were predictably furious. Proposals circulated in the Knesset for banning Bishara's Balad Party, Interior Minister Eli Yishai considered removing his passport and stripping him of his citizenship, and the Attorney-General contemplated a prosecution for incitement. Right-wing MK Michael Kleiner opined that in any sane country, Bishara would face a firing squad.

The truth is, however, that Bishara's remarks were only marginally more outrageous than those heard from other Arab MKs in recent years. Three years ago a group of Arab MKs were received in Damascus by Hafez Assad. Despite serving in the Israeli legislature and having sworn oaths of allegiance to Israel, the Arab MKs refused to identify themselves as Israelis, wished Assad victory in any future military confrontations, and assured Palestinian refugees that they would yet return to their ancestral homes.

In a speech at Bir Zeit University, last November, MK Mohammed Barakeh praised the intifada and called on Israeli Arabs to participate. He did so in the presence of Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, one of the chief instigators of Palestinian violence, and Hamas representatives.

At the time of Barakeh's speech, the police were already contemplating filing charges against at least three of his fellow Arab Knesset members for statements in support of Hizbullah. MK Taleb a-Sanaa went so far as to suggest that Hizbullah leader Nasrallah should receive a Nobel Prize for having driven Israel from Lebanon.

Meretz MK Amnon Rubenstein summed up the situation well when he noted that there is not another country in the world ``that would agree to its members supporting those who are rebelling against it.''

Even more worrisome than the statements of Israel's Arab parliamentarians is what those statements reveal about the mindset of Israel's Arab population. The politicians quoted don't even represent the most radicalized elements on the spectrum of Israeli Arab politics. That title belongs to the Islamic Movement, which already controls a number of Galilee towns, including Umm el-Fahm, overlooking the crucial Wadi Ara highway. Not by accident was Umm el-Fahm the scene of the most violent Israel Arab rioting in October. The Islamic Movement will not even participate in national elections because it does not recognize the State.

Politicians live in perpetual pursuit of votes. If Arab MKs vie with each other in the extremity of their expressions of contempt for the State of Israel and identification with her enemies, we are entitled to assume that the sentiments expressed are those of their constituents as well. That supposition is supported by every survey of Israeli Arab opinion. Five years ago, 38% of that population identified themselves as Israeli Arabs; today only 11% do so. Nearly 70% identify themselves today as Palestinians, and an almost equal number say that they would support the Palestinians in a all-out confrontation with Israel.

When a Beduin soldier in the IDF was killed last month in a training accident, not a single Moslem iman in the northern half of Israel agreed to participate in the burial rites. Itamar Marcus of the Palestinian Media Watch reports that it is no longer a rare event for Palestinian Authority officials to attend graduation ceremonies in Israeli Arab schools where the Palestinian national anthem is played.

Increasingly, verbal expressions of identification with the Palestinian cause against Israel are being translated into action. In Fall 1999, two Israeli hikers were hacked to death in a Galilee forest by Israeli Arabs. The following Spring, Arab students rioted first at Haifa University and later at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Chants of ``Death to the Jews'' were heard and Israeli flags burned and otherwise desecrated. Thousands of acres of Israeli forests have been destroyed in recent years in fires believed to have been set for ``nationalistic motives.''

Northern District police commander Alik Ron warned more than a year ago of an increasing traffic in arms from areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority to the hands of Israeli Arabs. And just before the outbreak of widespread rioting by Israeli Arabs in October, 41 Israeli Arabs, connected to two separate cells, were arrested on charges of targeting ``collaborators'' and arms trafficking.

Police suspect the possible involvement of Arabs from Abu Ghoush in the planting of a large explosive device on the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem highway two weeks ago. That involvement, if substantiated, would prove particularly frightening. Abu Ghoush has been considered friendly since 1948, and all traffic from the Jewish suburb of Telshe Stone passes through Abu Ghoush.

Given the pace of the radicalization of the Israeli Arab population, it is hard to see any way to reverse the current trends. The favorite solution of Israeli Arab politicians – the infusion of massive new spending in the Arab sector – is doomed to failure. Israeli Arabs already enjoy a standard of living far better than Arabs in any neighboring state, and yet that has not prevented them from identifying with national movements dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

To believe that infusions of massive new funding in the Arab sector will arrest current trends is to reprise one of the common fallacies underlying the Oslo process and Shimon Peres' vision of the New Middle East: the belief that economic well-being is far more important to most people than national identity. The violence since October that has effectively destroyed the Palestinian economy without dousing the enthusiasm of Palestinians for continuing their war on Israel would seem to give lie to that supposition.

Where does that leave Israel? With a hostile population in its midst that already includes a fifth of Israel's citizens and which is growing far faster than Israel's Jewish population.

The implications of this demographic time-bomb for Israel are truly alarming. Likud MK Yuval Steinitz points out in a Commentary article entitled ``When the Palestinian Army Invades Israel,'' that the arms in the possession of the Palestinian Authority are already sufficient to call into question Israel's ability to defend itself in any future war. Israeli defense doctrine has always been predicated on the quick mobilization of its reserves in the event of attack. The presence of a Palestinian army near Israeli population centers drastically threatens Israel's capacity for such rapid mobilization because the IDF would first have to fight to secure Israel's own internal highways over which that mobilization would take place.

When the threat of armed, hostile Arabs within Israel itself is added to the equation, the peril becomes that much greater. The closure of the Wadi Ara highway for two days during rioting in Umm el-Fahm in October provides a clear example of the extent of this danger.

The threat posed to Israeli democracy is no less. No democracy can disenfranchise 20% of its citizens. At the same time, to empower a hostile minority is to make a laughingstock of the old Zionist vision of Jews controlling their own fate in Israel.

That hostile minority now holds the decisive vote on the vital security issues facing Israel. If the Arab minority participates in elections and votes almost unanimously for the candidate of the Left, a candidate of the Right needs to win over 60% of the Jewish vote to win – in short, an overwhelming landslide. How serious this threat is was brought home in the waning days of Ehud Barak's government when Barak flirted with the idea of propping up his minority government by bringing into his government the ten Arab MKs who have competed with one another in voicing their support for the Palestinians.

In short, we would be very lucky indeed if the issues raised by Azmi Bishara's speech in Damascus were limited to the technical issue of political theory: How can a democracy protect itself from the incitement of parliamentarians dedicated to its destruction? Bishara, however, is just a symptom – symptom of an Arab threat within that may prove no less intractable than the threat from without.

(c) Jerusalem Post

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