Emanuel Shahaf

Between President Rivlin and Ayman Odeh, an elephant

Everyone who had the opportunity to attend last week’s seminar in Givat Haviva on Arab-Jewish partnership was struck by the similarity, almost congruence of the messages delivered by the chairman of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh and the President of Israel, Ruby Rivlin. As a matter of fact one had to listen carefully to find where the two differed. If at all, it was in the clear but nevertheless non-threatening demand for national rights that Odeh expressed.

The President and the MK both presented deeply humanistic values expressing a clear understanding of the challenges but more so of the benefits and opportunities of a full Arab-Jewish partnership in Israel. The change in terminology from “coexistence” to “partnership” is no coincidence since the former term implies separation and doesn’t specify under what terms. Those may be, like they are here and now rather unequitable whereas “partnership” has a more evenhanded connotation.

The fact that the President of Israel is very much on message with regard to the full integration of Israel’s Arab population into the social and economic fabric of Israeli society is commendable and the apparent harmony with the de-facto political leader of the Arab community in Israel is welcome as well.

The only thing missing in this promising picture are the large Zionist political parties in Israel, right, left and center that usually form the governments which would have to implement Arab-Jewish partnership. They have completely missed the boat and either don’t speak up at all, have little positive to say with regard to an Arab-Jewish partnership other than giving lip-service in the party platform around election time, or else, are actively engaged in sabotaging such a development with proposals for new nationalist or divisive laws of some kind or the other. The fact that the only sizeable party in Israel (10 mandates or more) that articulates a clear and vocal agenda with regard to the partnership between Jews and Arab of the state appears to be Ayman Ode’s Joint List speaks for itself. Zionist parties with the exception of Meretz by and large have ignored the Arab population for years and thus have only received inconsequential numbers of Arab votes.

But the issue is far more significant than that. It’s not just Arab-Jewish relations that are being ignored by the Zionist parties: The elephant in the room, the ongoing occupation of the West Bank is ignored as well. As much as Israel may try, and right now it’s not trying very hard, it will never be able to live with its Arab population in a mutuallly satisfactory relationship without first winding down the occupation. And with regard to the occupation, neither Ruby Rivlin nor Ayman Odeh can be of substantial assistance: Rivlin is the President and other than making remarks about the need for a peace process he has his hands tied. And Ayman Odeh ? Being a smart politician and in the opposition, he wants to deal first and foremost with his constituency, Israel’s Arabs. That leaves the most urgent, even critical issue on Israel’s political agenda today, how to wind down the occupation before it winds down the State of Israel, completely ignored. Not a cheerful thought. Well, we always have BDS…

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".