Representatives of the Arab community agreed from the beginning, and as a compromise among the diverse views, to support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The representatives agreed that the creation of a Palestinian state would resolve the Palestinian demand for a state and self-determination and devoted their energies to Palestinians in Israel, in particular their problems and future in that state.
The most controversial issue, and the one that triggered the strongest reactions among the Jewish media, is the relationship of Palestinians citizens of Israel with the Jewish majority and the state. It was clear to the representatives of the Arab community that there was a need to clarify the situation and present an alternative, taking into account that the group sought to change the situation by promoting a profound change in the Israeli regime and citizenship.
From our point of view, Israel cannot be characterized as a democratic state. It can be defined as an ethnocratic state such as Turkey, Sri Lanka, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia (and Canada forty years ago). These states have engaged their minorities in a very limited and unequal way in their political, social and economic affairs, while a firm policy of control and censorship guarantees the hegemony of the majority and the marginalization of the minority. The ethnocratic paradigm provides tools for understanding societies that prefer one group over others and the dynamics of domination between different ethnic groups.
The principles of an ethnocratic system include:
1. Control by an ethnic group of the state system.
2. Ethnicity (and religion), and not citizenship, regulate the distribution of resources and powers and undermine the role of the “nation” (i.e., citizens in general).
3. A political process and system based on ethnic groups.
4. A permanent state of instability.
We demand that Israel stops to be an ethnocratic regime and adopts a system based on consensual democracy; a system that embodies the presence of two groups; Jews and Palestinians. Such system would guarantee fair resource distribution, shared decision-making and participation.
With regard to our future relation with the state of Israel, we call upon the state to:
• Recognize the Palestinian Arabs in Israel as an indigenous and minority group.
• Acknowledge that Israel is the homeland of both Palestinians and Jews.
• Acknowledge the rights of minorities in line with international conventions. It should recognize that Palestinian Arabs in Israel have a special status under international law as an indigenous cultural and national group and are entitled to full citizenship rights in Israel.
• Refrain from adopting policies and schemes which privilege the majority. Israel must remove all forms of ethnic superiority at the executive, structural, legal and symbolic level. Israel should adopt policies of corrective justice in all aspects of life, in order to compensate Palestinian Arabs for the damage inflicted on them by the policies of ethnic discrimination which have benefited the Jews.
Reactions to this document have so far not included a reasonable alternative proposal for involving the Palestinians in Israel as equals within the state. Most of the responses from the Jewish majority accuse the Palestinians in Israel of undermining Israel’s foundations as a “Jewish and democratic” state. In fact, they completely ignore the blatant abuse of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel under the present regime.
The responses of Israeli journalist Tommy Lapid, professor of law Amnon Rubinstein and historian Professor Alex Jacobson are illustrative of the reaction of those representing the Zionist consensus. Their well-known nationalist readiness to recognize the right to self-determination of a single group and to disregard the pluralistic reality is anchored in the extreme form of nationalism which was represented in the 20th century by Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and others, and ultimately led to disasters of historic dimensions. This Zionist model ignores the compromises reached, for example, in Spain after Franco, in Belgium and in Canada since the Quiet Revolution, when a pluralistic reality facilitated solutions based on mutual recognition, the right to self-determination and self-rule for more than one national or ethnic group within a single political framework.
At the other end of the spectrum, among the Palestinians of Israel themselves, there are those who propose a different platform and do not see the need for a compromise that can be accepted by the majority of the Palestinian citizens. Representatives of the Islamic movement, part of the socialist Abnaa al-Balad Movement, and some intellectuals who were involved in drafting the document, are now demanding its cancellation. They insist that it is “not representative”, as if “representative” meant that every single party must accept it, although the document protects the right to criticism of those who disagree.
The vision advanced in the document responds to its Palestinian critics with a centrist platform. It also offers an alternative to the Israeli right, most prominently represented today by the Minister of Strategic Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman. I believe that an egalitarian existence within a democratic state is the only alternative to the extreme nationalism he represents.
I believe this document should be considered a historic event in the annals of the Palestinians in Israel and their relationship with the Jewish majority and its regime. This is the first time a representative national body of Palestinians in Israel has prepared and published a principled document that describes both the existing situation and the changes needed across a broad spectrum of Arab life: relations with the Jewish majority, the legal situation, land, social and economic issues, the status of civil and political institutions, etc. The document was written by activists from all political streams among the Palestinians in Israel (including some who later opposed the positions adopted). It delineates the conditions necessary for defining the future relationship between the majority and the minority in the state of Israel.
In my view, the document is based on three principles that have constituted the foundations of human, social, political and cultural development for at least the past two centuries. First is the principle of human rights: the document addresses the fundamental rights of the Palestinians in Israel to economic and social development, women’s and children’s rights, the right to live without violence, etc., and demands their realization. The second principle is the principle of civil equality: the basic democratic right to equality before the law and the annulment of laws, structures and symbols that alienate the Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure Jewish superiority. The third principle is the right of communities to self-determination, including the right to manage specific areas of life autonomously, such as education, cultural and religious affairs.
In order to realize these principles, the drafters of the document demand the implementation in Israel of a consensual system. This system would replace the existing liberal system that is exploited by the Jewish majority and that, indeed, constitutes a “tyranny of the majority:” in the name of liberal democracy, the majority takes draconian steps against the Palestinian minority and its fundamental rights.
Dr. As’ad Ghanem is head of the Department of Government and Political Philosophy at the School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa, and chair of the executive committee of the Ibn-Khaldun Association. He participated in the drafting of the document “The Future Vision of The Palestinian-Arabs in Israel.”