Mark Lavie
Journalist, analyst, author
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Let Arab parties into the ruling coalition

One day we'll look back on the old days when Arab parties were automatically excluded from government and wonder why
Jews and Arabs at the Ramla shuk (photo by Mark Lavie)

As negotiations begin toward setting up a new Israeli government after the election, it’s time to give the representatives of 20 percent of Israel’s citizens an active role.

I know it’s considered heresy bordering on treachery to suggest that the Arab parties, or at least some of them, should be invited into a ruling coalition. That’s because they are pro-Palestinian and non-Zionist.

But consider this—the Palestinian “issue” is completely off the table. The Palestinians have turned down at least two Israeli offers of a state according to their own demands. There won’t be another such offer. Even if (if, not when) the Trump “Deal of the Century” is finally released, it will make no difference, because the Palestinians will reject it. They already have, without even seeing it.

So why do we insist on putting the Palestinian issue at the top of our list of priorities, when it clearly doesn’t belong there?

And why not take advantage of this situation to ignore the views of the representatives of Israel’s Arabs on that issue, and consider the advantages of bringing them onto the government?

Here they are, in short:

  • A positive stake in how the country is run.
  • An opportunity to address the backward conditions of many Israeli Arab communities.
  • Effective silencing or at least toning down of their constant criticism.

For seven decades now, Arab-Israeli political parties have been muktseh, the Jewish term for untouchable. Many Israeli Jews consider Israeli Arabs a traitorous threat to security. Perhaps many were for the first decade or two of Israel’s existence, and no doubt there are some who still are—but there are Jews who worry me more than the Arabs do.

It’s well documented that when it comes to unemployment, Arab towns are at the top of the list, and when it comes to income and education, they’re at the bottom.

What have we done to change that in the last seven decades? Not nearly enough. So how about handing one of the social welfare posts to an Arab Cabinet minister, allocate a suitable budget, and turn them loose, with the usual oversight, to work on the problems faced by their own constituents?

Giving the Arab parties an active role in government would counter their automatic rejection of everything Israel does. Of course there would be those who keep up or even increase their outcry, but so what? Their pathetic performances have not endangered the existence of the State of Israel up to now, and they certainly wouldn’t afterward.

Oh, but what of the outrageous demands that the Arab parties would make as a price for allowing us the privilege of giving them seats at the Cabinet table? They might, heaven forfend, insist on repeal of the Jewish State Law. I’ve already written about why the law was/is unnecessary (here it is if you missed it), and nothing would change if it were repealed. Israel is and will remain a Jewish state with protected minorities that have full rights, and no law or lack of one can change that.

They might demand a commitment to negotiating a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Well, no one actually has a problem with that, and anyway, as I already said, it’s off the table, so no harm, no foul.

And they might—no, they will—demand budgets to improve infrastructure, education, and welfare in Israeli Arab communities. I can’t imagine how or why anyone could object to that.

Now let’s get practical. There was a time when non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish political parties were muktseh, untouchable, in Israeli politics—from the points of view of both the government and the parties. Just like today with the Arab parties. We got over it. The result is that mainstream Zionist parties have been forming coalitions with non-Zionist parties for decades, and no one bats an eyelash.

And of course there was the slogan of the first decades of Israeli government-forming: “No Communists and no Herut.” Herut was the forerunner of Likud. How did that turn out?

Perhaps one day we will look back on the old days when Arab parties were automatically excluded from government and wonder why.

The times are changing. These days Arab citizens vote for a wide range of parties. The 13 seats won by the Arab parties represent only about half of the Israeli-Arab voters. There are Arab doctors, nurses, university professors, business executives—not enough, but they’re out there, and no one really notices—nor should they.

That’s how it is in the Ramla shuk, the open-air market in an old, middle-class Jewish-Arab town in central Israel. I’ve been shopping there once a week for two decades. As you can see from the photo above—you can’t tell who’s a Jew and who’s an Arab. Most of the Arabs speak Hebrew, and many of the Jews speak Arabic. Ramla’s Jews are better off, as a rule, than the Arabs—but at the shuk, everybody just gets along.

That’s the natural human condition. We need to make it the natural governing condition, too.

About the Author
MARK LAVIE has been covering the Middle East as a news correspondent, analyst and author since he moved to Israel in 1972. Most of his work has been in radio news, starting as an anchor and reporter for Israel Radio's English-language news service and continuing as Middle East correspondent for radio networks including NPR, NBC, Mutual, and CBC in Canada, then 15 years with The Associated Press, both radio and print. He won the New York Overseas Press Club's Lowell Thomas Award for “Best radio interpretation of foreign affairs” in 1994. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” is a personal look at 46 years of Israeli history, and it comes to a clear and surprising conclusion.
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