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August 11, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 721

Israeli Arab Leadership Jockeys for Central Role in Palestinian Leadership

August 11, 2011 | By L. Barkan*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 721

Introduction

Since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the Palestinian leadership has weakened. Another factor in that weakening is the political crisis that it has experienced in recent years – as a result, inter alia, of the stalemate in negotiations with Israel, the ongoing intra-Palestinian schism even after Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement, and Al-Jazeera TV's accusation that the Palestinian leadership has compromised on the Palestinian issue. In light of this, the leadership of the Israeli Arabs – dubbed the "inside Palestinians" or "the '48 Palestinians" by this leadership – is now striving to become an integral part of the Palestinian people, and particularly to join the national Palestinian leadership, while challenging the Palestinian Authority (PA) over concessions it accuses it of having made in the negotiations with Israel.

This shift is evident in statements and articles by Israeli Arab public figures – a number of which have been translated and published by MEMRI – and in events they have held over the past year. For instance, on July 28, 2011, MKs Muhammad Baraka, of Hadash, and Taleb Al-Sane', of the United Arab List-Arab Movement for Renewal (Ra'am-Ta'al), took part in a session of the PLO's Central Committee in Ramallah to discuss plans for the Palestinians' bid in the U.N. for recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Addressing the committee, Baraka expressed support for the move and criticized the "racist discrimination" to which the Israeli Arabs were subjected. PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas praised Baraka for his "firm positions on, activities for, and positiveness regarding the national cause."[1]

At a November 2010 rally in Umm Al-Fahm, held by the Balad (National Democratic Assembly) party on the anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, speakers underlined the status of the Arab Israelis as an integral part of the Palestinian people and as the "strategic reserves" of the Palestinian enterprise. They also criticized the PA's political and security management and lavished praise on "the heroic leader, the shahid Yasser Arafat."[2] Following the announcement of renewed negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel in September 2010, members of various Arab parties and movements in Israel voiced similar views, discussing their positions on the Permanent Status Agreement with Israel, calling for the Palestinians to withdraw from negotiations under the present circumstances, and challenging the continued existence of the PA.[3]

In August 2010, Israeli Arab MK Hanin Zou'bi (Balad) called "to rebuild the PLO so that it includes us [the Israeli Arabs] as a source of authority in everything having to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are an integral part of the Palestinian people, and as such, an integral part of the general source of national authority."[4] The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which is not active in Israeli political life, has developed in a similar direction; from its traditional focus on defending Jerusalem against "Judaization," it has expanded its activity to include a broader political discourse of the overall Palestinian cause, while identifying itself with Hamas and criticizing the PA.[5]

The Israeli Arab leadership's bid to restore itself and its public to the heart of the Palestinian people and leadership, and for status equal to that of its counterparts in the West Bank, Gaza, and in exile, follows a long history of marginalization and even ostracization as collaborating with Israel. While the campaign is still in its early stages, if it does produce practical results – such as an Israeli Arab right to vote in the planned PLO National Council elections – it may alter the very essence and direction of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, shifting its focus from the outcomes of the 1967 Six-Day War and the territories occupied by Israel since then to the conflict's starting point, i.e., prior to 1948, and all its consequences.

The Israeli Arab leadership has formally declared that its aim is the establishment of two states – Palestine and Israel – on the 1967 borders, while demanding that Israel be defined as a state for all its citizens. However, if the Israeli Arab leaders gain a central role in the Palestinian leadership even as they remain leaders and MKs in Israel, the geographical focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be expected to shift to the 1948 borders.

The following document is divided into two parts. The first will present Israeli Arab leaders' reactions to the condemnatory documents revealed by Al-Jazeera TV in January 2011 regarding negotiations between Israel and the PA, including reactions expressed at a rally held later that month in Baqa Al-Gharbiyye and an article on the matter by MK Hanin Zou'bi. The second part contains excerpts of interviews, articles, and lectures by Arab MKs regarding the negotiations between Israel and the PA; the effect of the recent revolutions in the Arab world on Israel-Arab relations; the Israeli Arabs' protest movement against what they call Israel's "racist" policies against them; the events of this year's Nakba ("Catastrophe") Day (May 14-15, 2011); the conflicting Israeli and Palestinian narratives; and other matters.

I. Responding to Al-Jazeera's Claims, Israeli Arab Public Figures Criticize PA's Concessions in Negotiations with Israel

Baqa Al-Gharbiyye Hosts "Unwavering Palestinian Principles Rally"

On January 29, 2011, a rally, called The Unwavering Palestinian Principles Rally, was held in Baqa Al-Gharbiyye, in response to the documents revealed by Al-Jazeera TV. Several prominent Israeli Arab figures attended, including members of Arab political parties in Israel and leaders of the Islamic movement. Speakers at the rally criticized what they described as concessions made by the PA during negotiations and stated that the Palestinian leadership had forsaken resistance in favor of negotiations. One speaker expressed support for acts of resistance – like those carried out by Hamas – as a supplement to the negotiations. Speakers called upon the Palestinian leadership to resign, stressing that Israel could not drive out the Israeli Arabs, who were defending the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and said that they refuse to become a "marketable commodity" in the negotiations process.

The rally was attended by MKs Hanin Zou'bi and Jamal Zahalka from the Balad Party, who did not speak. Absent were figures known for their support of PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas.

One of the speakers, Balad Party secretary-general 'Awad 'Abd Al-Fattah, explained: "The purpose of this popular assembly, attended by most of the national and Islamic forces [in Israel], and called 'Preserving Palestinian National Principles,' is to create unified Palestinian public opinion that would exert pressure on the Palestinian leadership and to prevent it from continuing its series of concessions; to resist the path of perpetual agreements and negotiations; and to open the door for Palestinian National Movement [activity], and [to create] a unified national authority. This assembly on the 'inside' [i.e.,within Israel] is meant to show that we, the 'inside' Arabs, are part of the Palestinian people. Our matters are placed on the negotiating table without our approval or our opinion, even though we have political delegates and leaders."

On January 28, 2011, a day before the rally, MK Hanin Zou'bi published an article in the Israeli-Arab weekly Kul Al-Arab on the same topic.

Following are excerpts from speeches at the rally and from Zou'bi's article:[6]

No Agreement without Resistance

Balad Party chairman Wasil Taha criticized the fact that over the course of two decades of negotiations with Israel, the PA leaders had taken up negotiations as a way of life, while abandoning the path of resistance and relinquishing the principles of the Palestinian revolution. Taha called for combining resistance to the occupation with negotiations that adhere to the Palestinian principles: "What have the negotiations given us after almost two decades? Some [PA officials] call it chatting [with the Israelis], [but others] call it renunciation and a great concession on the part of the Palestinians [to] the Israelis. The information exposed by Al-Jazeera TV is not new, at least not to me... The danger is that some leaders defend these exposed documents, and what is even more dangerous is that some of those leaders are the ones calling the negotiations 'chatting' with the Israelis. If this is the case, why are they called negotiations? Are they chatting about matters crucial to us? And why are officials being selected for negotiations? I have yet to see a single world leadership other than the Palestinian leadership that appoints special officials [solely for the task of] negotiations. Their chief negotiator [Saeb 'Erekat] wrote the [2008] book Life Is a Negotiation. He actually believes that life is a [matter of] negotiating and bargaining...

"This method, in which 'Life is a Negotiation,' serves those who wanted and still want to make negotiations an end [unto itself] and into meetings [limited to] chatting, in which the Palestinians make one concession after another... I do not know of any revolution that negotiated for 20 years, other than our revolution, thanks to its yielding leaders. We place the fundamental blame for the failure of negotiations on the Israeli side, because, from the onset, it presented a strategy that would thwart [the negotiations]. From the onset, it has built, colonized, acted with violence, killed, and declared war in various places – in Gaza, Lebanon, and in the Arab homeland... The Palestinian side procrastinated for ages until it resolved to cease negotiations as long as settlement [construction] continued. This is a good position, but it [came] very late..."

Taha warned about Israel's method of negotiation: "Israel wants to fulfill its will and its goals through diplomacy and by establishing facts on the ground, and we in the Balad [Party] have warned of this. We have said that our Palestinian people accepts positions that no one else would. During the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, we said that [the Israelis] would besiege it after the withdrawal, because they would consider it enemy territory. We also warned that they would consolidate settlement in the West Bank, as indeed they did. We must know that the Israelis employ a special strategy in negotiations and [operate according to] the principle of 'What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine and yours'...

"We say to our brothers in Fatah that whoever considers resistance to be an obstacle to an agreement is wrong, because no agreement can be reached without resistance. We turn to our brothers on the other side, in Hamas, and say to them that negotiations do not present an obstacle to resistance to the occupation, as long as they adhere to unwavering principles and [hold fast to] the resistance and the rights of the Palestinian people..."

Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa – A Muslim Waqf that Cannot Be Relinquished

Speakers at the rally addressed the various issues dealt with in the Permanent Status Agreement, as described by Al-Jazeera TV, including Jerusalem, the right of return for refugees, and the future borders between Israel and the Palestinian state. Hammad Abu Da'abes, head of the Islamic Movement's Southern Branch, stressed that the Al-Jazeera document leak revealed the Islamic ummah's refusal to relinquish Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. He claimed that Al-Jazeera TV was innocent of the charge of conspiracy leveled against it by the PA: "The Palestinian leadership responded to this new/old information regarding its concessions at the negotiating table, exposed in these new documents, [by saying] that it was a plot by Al-Jazeera TV. We declare that there was no such plot on the part of the channel – this is not what is important. This is about a nation... that refuses as a whole to forego a single grain of soil in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa; [a nation] that sees them as a fortress and as landmarks, culturally and historically, which belong to the nation as a whole. These are a Muslim waqf [religious endowment], and nobody may relinquish even a tenth of a grain of their soil. This is the movement of a nation... that says, day in and day out: 'We refuse to be dictated to in our time of weakness, crumbling, and schism...'"

The head of the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch Raed Sallah called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem: "The Israeli existence in Jerusalem is invalid, [based on] occupation, and [the Israelis] will never have a right to [a single] stone in occupied Jerusalem or to [a single] grain of soil in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. What is the just solution to the issue of occupied Jerusalem? There is only one solution – the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation..."

No Refugee Will Give Up the Right to Return to His Homeland

Speakers at the rally stressed that the Palestinian leadership must not relinquish the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Hammad Abu Da'abes claimed that had there been a referendum, no refugee would have given up his rights: "The Palestinian refugees paid a heavy price... They were forcibly exiled, compelled to leave their cities, villages, and homes, after [other] Palestinians were killed, wounded, tortured, and expelled. No Palestinian leader is entitled to waive their rights with the stroke of a pen. He must not neglect the rights of even a single refugee who wishes to return to his homeland. If a referendum were held among all the refugees, wherever they may be, not a single one would waive... his right to return to his homeland.

"We heard [in the documents revealed by Al-Jazeera TV] about 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 refugees who would return over [a period of] 10 years – not to their birthplace, but to the future divided Palestinian state. These things are not even acceptable to those Palestinians who were not exiled, so how could they possibly be acceptable to those who were exiled, and who have been holding on to their house keys for more than 60 years?..."

Raed Sallah described the Israeli Arabs as the defenders of the Palestinian right of return: "Who are we? What defines us?... We [are those] who defend the rights of the refugees, the right of return; who are planted here in the Galilee, in the Triangle, in the Negev, on the Carmel [mountains], in the coastal cities – Acre, Haifa, Lod, and Ramla... In this dusty air, full of fog that obscures vision, we say with crystal-clear vision from this rally of principles: Oh, Palestinian refugees everywhere, we are waiting here for you... waiting for [the fulfillment] of the right of return, Allah willing... We [are] the defenders of the Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic rights in occupied Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy places, chief among them occupied Al-Aqsa Mosque..."

Categorical Objection to Land Swaps with Israel

Speakers at the rally expressed their absolute objection to population swaps between the settlers and the Israeli Arabs, stressing that no one has the right to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli Arabs, and that no one can expel them from their land. Raed Sallah said: "Our existence in Baqa Al-Gharbiyye is an inseparable part of our existence in Umm Al-Fahm, Nazareth, Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, and Rahat... Whoever doesn't like it should [try to] expel us... This is the message that we embrace today and will continue to embrace tomorrow, and we will pass it on to our children and grandchildren... We did not come from [another] planet to this earth...

"Just as no tyrant can move our land, he cannot banish us from it. The strength of our existence lies in the strength of the existence of our land. We say to all the tyrants: Learn a lesson from your predecessors. How many tyrants have tried to drive us off our land? The tyrants are all gone and we remain here on our land, in our homes, and in our holy places. Oh, Israeli tyrants... you will go and we will remain here on our land... We will remain as long as the hyssop and the olives remain…"

Wasil Taha emphasized the deep connection borne by the Palestinians to all of the 1948 and 1967 territories: "The Palestinian Nakba, which began in 1948, continues,... sometimes through violence against our people, sometimes through acts of massacre – beginning in Kafr Qasim, and continuing with massacres on the 'inside' [i.e. within the 1948 territories], in the Palestinian diaspora, in Gaza, and in the West Bank, even before 1967." He said that the Palestinian homeland, which was occupied by "the Zionist gangs," who had emptied it of its residents, as well as the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, "are in the hearts of all Palestinians despite the occupation. The occupation did not and will not succeed in removing this homeland from within us. We all dream of liberty and independence for the Palestinian people, even though attempts are made to prevent it from us and to distort it... From Baqa Al-Gharbiyye, [which Israel] has made a target, we declare that no Palestinian or Israeli has the right to propose [population] swaps in the framework of [land swaps] with the settlers. We are staying here on our land. We have been and will continue to be steadfast, and all these plots will collapse in the face of popular awakenings."

Hammad Abu Da'abes said: "The policy of population swaps and the removal of the Arab residents of this country from their cities and villages is dangerous and unacceptable. We, on the Palestinian 'inside [i.e. within Israel], do not agree to become part of the public auction between [then foreign minister] Tzipi Livni and the Palestinian negotiator..."

In the same vein, Raja Aghbariya, head of the Abna Al-Balad ("Sons of the Village") group, said: "We live in our homeland, on our soil. We will defend our existence here by any means, and those who try to undermine our existence will regret it... We are not against the Jews, but against the Zionist sovereignty over Palestine..."

Arab National Party member Muhammad Kana'an stressed that no one has the right to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli Arabs: "We must stop this immorality, these concessions, this crumbling, and this betrayal of the blood of the brave martyrs and prisoners and of all those who sacrificed their blood in the Palestinian struggle... The Palestinian Authority has no right to negotiate on behalf of the 'inside' Arabs. We will not let 'Abbas and his gang negotiate in place of this people, who has been standing fast on its land for more than 60 years..."[7]

Arab Democratic Party chairman Mahmoud Mawasi said: "We are not a commodity to be bargained over. We are the people of the soil and the homeland... No one has the right to speak on behalf of the 'inside' Palestinians. They have a representative body that speaks for them [i.e. the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee]. The 'inside' Palestinians will remain on their land, and the Nakba will not happen again."[8]

Security Coordination with Israel Is a Disgrace

Hammad Abu Da'abes criticized the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel: "The security coordination, the assassination of leaders, and the [Palestinian Authority's] boasting that it arrested thousands [of Palestinians] – these things are a disgrace and a shameful scandal. No Muslim or Arab should ever forfeit the life of his Muslim Arab brother to satisfy [the non-Arab or -Muslim], whoever he may be. If security coordination is necessary, it should be between Palestinians in [the different] parts of their homeland, so that they can defend themselves from Israeli plans. Have you seen an American or European leader who forfeits the lives of his people to satisfy another nation?... We have seen no such thing, except in the case of the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel..."

The Palestinians Need a New Leadership

Speakers at the rally called upon the PA leadership to resign, to hold new elections among Palestinians worldwide, and to reorganize the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to include all the Palestinian factions. Hammad Abu Da'abes said: "Those who cannot bear the burden of the [Palestinian] cause, and who fail to make any achievements, must be pardoned, but they must clear the field for the following generations, who are, in fact, heading towards establishing the Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic right to this holy land..."

Balad Party chairman 'Awad 'Abd Al-Fattah said: "In light of the current balance of power, which is shifting in Israel's favor, and in light of the weakness and exhaustion of the Palestinian leadership, we believe that the latter cannot remain in charge, not only of the [greater] issues of the refugees, Jerusalem, and the borders, but even of our smallest issues. We refuse to be bartered over at the negotiating table, which tips this way and that. We call... upon our people and its vital forces to launch new influential initiatives to awaken our people, and to draw inspiration from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in confronting oppression, occupation, and the colonialist enterprise."

Raed Sallah called to hold Palestinian elections worldwide: "I say to all the Palestinian people that in order to go forward, we must open the door to every Palestinian anywhere in the world, and hold general elections to include all the world's Palestinians, so they can elect their leadership, which will stand up to the challenges of Israel and America, and will emerge victorious, Allah willing."

Wasil Taha called to rebuild the PLO by including all factions in it: "From here, from Baqa Al-Gharbiyye, we call on our people to unite, end the schism, and rebuild the PLO upon a solid foundation encompassing all factions, thus creating a true source of authority for our people and our homeland..."

Muhammad Kana'an asked why the Palestinian election of Hamas was not accepted: "[President] Obama said that the Egyptian people have a right to choose [their leadership]. What about the Palestinian people, who have already chosen? Why is their decision to elect a different leadership not respected?..."

Article by MK Hanin Zou'bi: Oslo and the Negotiations Have Derailed the Palestinian Struggle

Another critic of the Palestinian Authority was MK Hanin Zou'bi, of the Balad Party. In an article in the weekly Kul Al-Arab following the leaking of documents by Al-Jazeera TV, Zou'bi claimed that the Oslo accords and the resulting negotiations had become the ultimate authority for the Palestinian leadership, thus derailing the Palestinian struggle. She wrote: "The Oslo [Accords]... established the concept of 'country' instead of the concept of 'justice.' This logic succeeded, and, over time, begat a path of negotiations that is completely disconnected from historical rights on the one hand, and the legitimacy of international resolutions on the other. This path of negotiations has completely diverted the struggle of the Palestinian people... Instead of the negotiations serving as a means to [attain] life and freedom, they have become [a mode of] life in themselves. 'Life Is a Negotiation' (the title of Saeb Erekat's book) means that the Palestinian struggle leans on the chief negotiator instead of the chief fighter, and that the struggle is anchored in the logic and goals of the negotiations as the ultimate authority, instead of vice versa...

"When the Palestinian leadership doubts its ability to continue the struggle, and loses the strategic Arab dimension, its people becomes the largest strategic resource. But 'Life Is a Negotiation' transforms the people into a burden and a source of 'security chaos,' as [our] 'chief negotiator' has said."

Zou'bi criticized the Palestinian leadership for its response to the leaked documents, and for pointing the finger at Al-Jazeera TV instead of focusing on the danger facing the Palestinians: "The debate these documents triggered – and, even more importantly, shut down– unfortunately indicates not only the sorry state of the Palestinian Authority, but also the sorry state of the Palestinians in general. The problem with the Palestinian Authority is not just the content of these documents, but also [the Palestinian Authority's] attempt to foster Palestinian public opinion that considers these documents a 'plot' by Al-Jazeera TV meant to eliminate the Palestinian Authority... The Palestinian tragedy is in the feeble response to the documents, the fear to take to the streets, and the inability [to understand], politically, that the exposure of these documents requires planning towards a new phase in the history of the Palestinian struggle.

"The Palestinian people should have taken to the streets, not in support of or opposition to Al-Jazeera TV, since the latter is not a political factor... Fatah, Hamas, and [all] those in between should have taken to the streets together. Fatah – in order to respond to and discredit the charge that it has made concessions [vis-à-vis Palestinian principles]; Hamas and others – to protest such concessions or the potential thereof. But Fatah did not emphasize these principles and, even worse, there were those who attacked Al-Jazeera TV crews. Hamas and others did not [take to the streets] because the Palestinian Authority oppressed them,... not in order to defend 'the regime' – since there is no regime and no country – but in order to defend the possibility of returning to negotiations.

"If the documents weren't enough to convince everyone that the Palestinian principles and the Palestinian people are in danger, then the response to these documents should be. Obsessing about Al-Jazeera TV, Qatar, who leaked [the documents,] how, why, and why now – instead of focusing on Sheikh Jarrah, the Temple Mount, Gaza, the siege, and the 'inside' [Arabs] – should convince anyone [of this danger], and so should the people's fear of taking to the streets and its shameful and great silence in the face of potential concessions. [Even] if the Palestinian Authority escapes the blame for these documents, it cannot escape blame for its response to them... In the first two days [following their publication], the Palestinian Authority displayed its best reaction, when dozens of official statements and responses were issued, none of them denying the truthfulness of the documents' content... Only after three days was a response strategy established: one of denial."

Zou'bi went on to claim that the exposure of Palestinian concessions in the negotiations will heighten the Palestinian peoples' awareness of political moves, and bring about a demand to make the struggle, not negotiations, the ultimate authority: "The fact is that in [former Israeli prime minister Ehud] Olmert's time, to which the documents relate, settlement [activity] in certain areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem was in full swing, and the Palestinian negotiator ignored it. The explanation, [as reflected] in the documents, is that there was an understanding that the settlements in Jerusalem are part of Israel, and that the settlement blocs [in the West Bank] will be substituted for sand hills in the Negev. [In addition], the fact is that Palestinian leaders indicated, in various ways, their lack of opposition to the idea of [Israel as] a Jewish state, and considered this an internal Israeli matter. Some of them even acknowledged it openly, especially in the Geneva Initiative.

"The known facts support what we have learned from the secret documents. Everything is [now] out in the open, and this will prompt the Palestinian public to monitor every step taken in direct negotiations, and... to stress that life under occupation is a struggle for freedom, and that negotiations should receive authority from the struggle and its goals [and not vice versa]."

II. Israeli Arab MKs on Negotiations, Arab Revolutions, Nakba, and Israel's Treatment of Israeli Arabs

Following are excerpts of a number of recent interviews, lectures, and articles by MKs Hanin Zou'bi of Balad, and Taleb Al-Sane', Ahmad Al-Tibi, and Mas'ud Ghnaim of the United Arab List-Arab Movement for Renewal (Ra'am-Ta'al). They focus on issues pertinent to the Arab world in general, and to the Palestinians in particular, especially with regard to the Israeli Arab public and its leadership.

MK Zou'bi: The Israeli Arabs Will Not Back Israel-PA Cooperation

Hanin Zou'bi told the Qatari daily Al-Raya[9] that Israel feared the downfall of the Arab dictators, who had assisted it and acquiesced to its policy toward the Palestinians. She speculated that the post-revolution Arab regimes would not regard Israel as a friend and Iran as an enemy, and that they were therefore not likely to launch a war against Iran.

Turning to the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, she warned the PA against continuing these negotiations in the present circumstances, stressing that the Israeli Arabs would no longer back the PA in its cooperation with the Israeli authorities. Zou'bi explained that the purpose of the ties between the Israeli Arabs and the Arab world was to strengthen the identity and promote the cause of the Israeli Arabs, to hinder normalization between Israel and the Arab countries, and to send a message that no solution to the Palestinian cause could be reached without the involvement of the Israeli Arabs. She accused the Israeli authorities and society of racism towards the country's Arab citizens.

The following are excerpts:

Israel Fears the Fall of the Arab Dictatorships

Q: "How do you view the Israeli reality in light of the uprisings in the Arab world?"

A: "Clearly, a large part of Israel's strategy has been based on the weakness of the Arab world and on neutralizing the Arab states against playing any actual role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... As a result, [Israel] always expressed its satisfaction with the Arab regimes and often [even] divided the Arab world into two axes: the axis of evil and the axis of good, with most of the Arab states falling into the axis of good [according] to Israel.

"Now, in light of the succession of revolutions in the Arab world, the situation has completely changed as far as Israel is concerned, and we can identify in Israel's analyses and in the Knesset, total frustration and fear... Israel understands that [all] options are [now] open, and that it has no control over them as it had [in the past]... One can see Israel's concern and unease over the toppling of Mubarak's regime, which was its strategic ally in the region. Its ties with Egypt under [Mubarak] went far beyond what is required in the Camp David Accords, to the point of cooperation in the siege on Gaza and of [Egypt's] humiliating silence over the crimes of the occupation...

"Therefore, although Israel has reassured its citizens that [Egypt] will not withdraw from the Camp David [Accords], this does not mean that [Israeli-Egyptian] ties will not change in such a way as to completely turn the tables of regional policy altogether..."

Q: "How do you explain the phenomenon of Israel's support for the deposed rulers, first in Tunisia and Egypt, and now in Libya?"

A: "It is no secret that Israel depends on the dictatorial regimes that disregard the will of the Arab peoples, who would not allow Israel to implement [its] policy of occupation. These regimes served as officers of the [U.S.] hegemony out of a desire to please [the U.S.]... [They] supported Israel and kept silent in the face of its inhumane policy against the Palestinian people, to the point of supporting the siege on Gaza in practice. That is why it is in Israel's interest for these regimes to remain. If this were a case in which one dictatorial regime were overthrown to be replaced with another dictatorial regime, Israel would not be working to rescue and protect Ben 'Ali, Mubarak, and Qadhafi. It is clear [to Israel] that what is happening now will change the course of events in the region..."

The Post-Revolution Arab Regimes Will Not See Iran as an Enemy and Israel as a Friend

Q: "Is a war to be expected soon in the region?"

A: "The scenario of a war against Iran following the ouster of president Mubarak is less likely now than it was in the past... Prior to the revolutions, the Arab regimes were full of hostility toward Iran, and befriended and made a pact with Israel. I do not believe that the [new] Arab regimes that arise will accept this equation. They will definitely not see Iran as an enemy and Israel as a friend..."

"The PA's Corruption and Tyranny Are No Less than Those of the Arab Regimes"

Q: "How do you interpret Israel's fear regarding the outbreak of a third Intifada?"

A: "Israel is well aware of what it is doing to the Palestinians. It knows that it oppresses them more and more each day, especially in all things having to do with the Judaization of Jerusalem, which is no longer the Jerusalem we know. It is now in fact [nothing but] small, divided [Arab] neighborhoods swallowed up in the midst of Jewish neighborhoods...

"The settlements are growing, the settlers' violence is on the rise, Palestinian frustration is increasing, and the [PA] considers Hamas, rather than Israel, an enemy. The Palestinian security [apparatus's] oppression of the Palestinian people is increasing... Instead of leading the struggle against the occupation, the PA has become a tool in the hands of the occupation. It has gone a long way in its security cooperation and coordination with Israel, and the PA's corruption and tyranny are no less than those of the Arab regimes.

"The significance of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere is that the powder is primed to explode, and Israel understands that these revolutions will affect the morale of the frustrated Palestinians. Part of Israel's control over the conflict with the Palestinians was the result of its particular understanding of the state of the [PA] and its willingness to [remain] in a state of weakness. Now, everyone's policy is going to change. There is no longer any Arab support for cooperation with Israel and the occupation, and if the [PA] fails to understand this, it will evaporate into thin air..."

Resuming the Negotiations with Israel – A Deadly Risk

Q: "Where are the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations headed?"

A: "I hope that as long as Israel continues with its [current] policy, the word 'negotiations' will be removed from the Palestinian and Arab agenda. Otherwise, no Palestinian and Arab senior official can ensure his political future... Resuming the negotiations is a mistake and a deadly risk, considering the policy of Netanyahu's government. The PA has already abolished [its] negotiations department, and I hope it will likewise abolish negotiations as a strategy and not [just] as a tactic..."

The Israeli Government and Public Are United in Racism against the Arabs

Q: "Could there be an intifada of the Israeli public against the Israeli government, such as that taking place on the Arab street?"

A: "There is a significant difference between the relationship between the regime and the (Jewish) population in Israel, and the relationship between the Arab regimes and their peoples. Firstly, the Arab regimes do not represent their peoples, unlike the regime in Israel, which is democratic vis-à-vis the Jews... [That being said, even] in democracies, there are cases in which public opinion stands opposed to the democratically elected government... This [however] is what is missing in Israel, as the regime there is an ideological, almost totalitarian, regime vis-à-vis the Arabs. There is perfect harmony between [Israel's] government and its elite [circles], population, academia, and legal system. All of them parrot [the same] things... The Israeli state still sees itself as a Zionist enterprise which has yet to complete its role...

"This is a society that lives with a perpetual 'ghetto' [mentality], by means of which it repeatedly legitimizes its policy and even its crimes. Therefore, there is no point speaking of a revolution... [Israeli] society is no better, and no moral, than its government. On the contrary, the government and public opinion compete with each other in [their] racism toward the Arabs – which is why the Israelis will not revolt against their government..."

The Israeli Arabs' Relationship with the Arab World – A Barrier against Normalization with Israel

Q: "What have you achieved through your relations with the Arab states?"

A: "These relations are a primary Palestinian interest. Israel tries to lure us in by saying: 'Where will you go? The sea is at your backs, the border is closed, and the Arabs will never receive you [into their borders]. In the end, you will return to me...' We wish to break out of this equation. [Our] relations with the Arab world are [a matter of] politics as well as morale, and constitute a barrier against the destruction of our identity and harm to our existence and nationality. Cultural ties [between the Arab world] and [Israeli Arab] institutions, creative [minds], and artists who are not interested in support from the Israeli Ministry of Culture constitute support for Arab identity. Support for our projects and our economy, which exists within the margins of the Israeli economy, constitutes support for us and our struggle.

"That being said, we must be on guard against any danger likely to allow normalization to 'pass through' in the guise of [such] ties... [What is more,] we want these ties to [represent] a barrier against normalization. [These] ties have a [clear] political message, which is that the Arab world must understand that there will never be a resolution to the Palestinian issue without us [i.e., the Israeli Arabs]."

Q: "What are your thoughts on political mobility in Israel?"

A: "Since 2000, this mobility has gone in the direction of racism and the most rightwing public... [The Israelis] accuse the nationalist Arab stream in Israel (represented by Balad) of posing a strategic threat to them because it does not accept Israel as a Jewish state... In the 1990s, the Arab parties in the Knesset accepted the Oslo [Accords] and said: 'We must look out for our cause and ourselves as Israeli Arabs, and [ensure] that the Palestinian issue is resolved with the [establishment of a Palestinian] state.' Balad, however, which entered the Knesset after the Oslo [Accords], inverted the equation and said: 'We do not [represent] an internal Israeli issue but are a fundamental part of the Palestinian people, and our attitude toward citizenship stands opposed to Israeliness, based as it is on an outlook that contradicts Zionism..."

The MKs Who Fawned Over Qadhafi Are the Same Ones Who Fawn Over the Israelis

Q: "Last year, numerous MKs and political and religious figures from among the Arabs in the '48 [territories] visited Libya, met with Qadhafi in his tent, and spoke his praises at length. How do you view Qadhafi today?"

A: "Those who acted hypocritically vis-à-vis Qadhafi and addressed fervent speeches to him, describing him as the king of kings of the Arabs and Africa, are the same people who act hypocritically in the Knesset, who merit a place of honor in the Arab media, and who are said to merit the satisfaction of the Israeli establishment. We in Balad have nothing to do with this ingratiation... Not every Arab MK represents a political stream, program, or idea, and not all the Arab MKs have a public [support] base. The Arab MKs represent themselves alone... Please do not put us all in one category...

"Unlike the other Arab parties, Balad presents itself as a nationalist stream, and it visited Libya on invitation from Qadhafi, on the basis of his being head of the Arab Summit Conference rather than president of Libya. The invitation... said that Qadhafi wished to send the world a message that we [the Israeli Arabs] are an integral part of the Arab ummah."

MK Taleb Al-Sane': Israel Has Legislated Nazi Laws

In an April 11, 2011 speech[10] at the Arab-American University in Jenin, MK Taleb Al-Sane', of the United Arab List-Arab Movement for Renewal (Ra'am-Ta'al), said that Israel's laws were tantamount to "the laws of Nazi Germany." He cited as an example the Nakba Law, which allows the cutting of state funding to any body that negates Israel's existence as a Jewish state or its democratic character, that marks Israel's Independence Day as a day of mourning, that supports armed resistance or racism, violence, and terror, or that desecrates the Israeli flag or its national emblem. Al-Sane' emphasized that the Israeli Arabs would never forget the Nakba, and warned that Israel would not escape accounting for the war crimes it had committed then.

In his speech, Al-Sane' praised the revolutions in the Arab world as a step toward the liberation of Palestine from the Israeli occupation, since, he said, the Arab dictatorships' oppression of their peoples had left the Palestinians to fend for themselves against the most brutal occupation in the world.

Israel Is Trying to Replace the Palestinian Narrative with a Zionist One

Al-Sane' criticized "the racism toward the Arabs in Israel and the attempt to replace the Palestinian narrative with a Zionist one." He claimed that "the laws of Nazi Germany have now been passed in Israel by a majority vote, such as the law banning the marking of Nakba Day and its elimination from the school curricula. This is a racist country that builds special cities for Jews, like the cities built in South Africa for the white residents during apartheid." He stressed that these laws did not frighten the Israeli Arabs, and that they would ultimately pass out of history: "On the day of the Nakba, Israel committed war crimes which took the form of killing babies and women, razing homes on top of their residents, and expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The day will come when Israel will have to account for these crimes [before] the international community, since there is no statute of limitations for war crimes...

"Israel's leaders are living a delusion if they believe that we will forget our tragedy. This [tragedy] is rooted in the memories of our sons and daughters because it represents a pillar of faith to us which is passed from generation to generation... We will remain on our land and cling to our Palestinian narrative. Under no circumstances will we recognize Israel's racist laws, and under no circumstances will we exchange [one] inch of our land for any other land in the world."

The Sea Will Swallow Up Israel's Racist Leaders, Not Gaza

Al-Sane' praised the Palestinians in Gaza for standing firm under the siege Israel had imposed on them for the past four years, and said: "The will of the sons of the Palestinian people in Gaza is stronger than the oppressive and aggressive siege. The day will come when Israel will stand trial in every international forum for the suffering and torture of the children and women in Gaza. A time will never come when Israel will wake up and discover that the sea has swallowed up Gaza, as Israeli President Shimon Peres [sic] once said. This same sea will swallow up Israel's racist leaders, like Lieberman."

MK Ahmad Al-Tibi: No Racist Law Can Silence the Palestinian Narrative

In an interview with the Palestinian daily Al-Quds on May 17, 2011,[11] the day after Nakba Day, MK Ahmad Al Tibi, of the United Arab List-Arab Movement for Renewal (Ra'am-Ta'al), claimed that Israel was being swept by a wave of racism aimed at expelling its Arab citizens, but said that the world would not allow this to happen. He added that the Palestinian people could not exist without the Israeli Arabs. Al-Tibi also spoke proudly of the fact that he and his fellow Arab MKs had taken part in the signing ceremony of the intra-Palestinian reconciliation document in Cairo on May 4, 2011, and expressed his support for the PA's activities toward gaining recognition of a Palestinian state in the U.N.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

The Nakba Day Events – An Intentional Violation of Israel's Racist Laws

Q: "Sixty-three years have passed since the [1948] Nakba. Are we facing a new stage in the course of the Palestinian cause or will the nakbas continue?"

A: "Two days ago, the Palestinians marked the 63rd Nakba Day, and we took part in many activities throughout the world aimed at presenting our cause... Participation this [year] was particularly strong due to the racist laws passed to prevent commemorating Nakba Day... We insisted on participating in order to challenge this law, and even to break it. No racist law can negate the collective Palestinian memory or erase the Palestinian narrative. There are in Israel those who wish to force the Palestinian in Israel to rejoice on his Nakba Day, and we say that no one will dictate our national feelings and positions to us.

"Racism in Israel continues to increase, and fascism is raising its head. There is in the Israeli government a fascist, racist party: 'Yisrael Beiteinu,' lead by Foreign Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman, which formally demands population exchanges but, in fact, aspires to deport the Palestinians. We say that we will not allow another nakba to occur. The situation today is not what it was in the 1940s. The world today is a small village, and it will not allow what happened in 1948 to happen again... Our basic stance is to stand firm and remain [here]. We have [already] said in the past: We are the original owners of this land – so much so that the color of our faces took on the color of the soil – and we will remain [here]."

The Palestinian People Cannot Exist without the Israeli Arabs

Q: "What is the role of the '48 Palestinians at this sensitive stage in the history of the Arab world?"

A: "We, the inside Palestinians, represent more than a million Palestinians within Israel... The Palestinian people is constructed like a triangle...: the base of the triangle is analogous to the Palestinians in the [West] Bank and Gaza; [its] long leg is analogous to the Palestinians in the diaspora; and [its] short leg is analogous to us, the '48 Arabs.

"While it is true that we are the fewest in number, the triangle could not exist without us. That is to say, we are an inseparable part of the Palestinian people; we bear its hopes and dreams. We took part in finalizing the reconciliation [between Fatah and Hamas] along with our colleagues in the Israeli Knesset, including Taleb Al-Sane', which got Israel in a rage. The right launched an attack... against us, threatening to ban [us from the Knesset] and to take legal action. Nonetheless, we say: None of this will change our stance. The Palestinian reconciliation comes to turn over a [new] leaf in the history of the Palestinian cause and the course of this people."

The Arab Revolutions Are Helping the Palestinian Cause

Q: "What is the effect of the popular revolutions and intifadas for liberty and justice that are taking place now across the Arab map? And will these revolutions serve the Palestinian cause or will they divert attention from it?"

A: "...Arab democracy is the enemy of the Israeli hegemony, and the Arab dictatorship is [this hegemony's] reserve soldier. This same dictatorship makes it easier for the occupation [to maintain] its [current] political thought and barbarism. I think that the revolutions, from Tunisia to Egypt, are beneficial to both the Arab ummah and the Palestinian cause..."

Success in the U.N. Will Mark a New Stage in the Palestinian Struggle

Q: "This year, Nakba Day was marked under the slogan 'A Palestinian State, 2011.' How did you prepare for this event, [only a few] months prior to the session of the U.N. General Assembly?"

A: "There is no doubt that this [assembly is] extremely important... Preparing state institutions is a fundamental issue, and this is what the PA has done so far. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been systematic and has helped the world understand that Palestine is ready for membership in the U.N. This constitutes the axis of [the Palestinians'] political and diplomatic activity for the next stage, and [the bid in the U.N.] will be a clear and recognizable development [in this stage].

"I think that this is a necessary and inescapable thing and that it will be a nightmare for Israel... If we come up against a U.S. veto, we will call on the General Assembly to convene under the 'United for Peace' clause [of the U.N. charter]. There are more than 130 countries in the General Assembly that are prepared to recognize Palestine, which will enable us to be admitted as a full member... This will increase Israel's political isolation and strengthen the Palestinian position and people, opening the horizon to a new stage in the Palestinian struggle. It is true that the Palestinian people may not be the greatest of peoples, but there is no people that does better in all things connected with [demanding] its rights..."

MK Mas'ud Ghnaim: Israel Is Distorting the Nakba Day Events

In a May 20, 2011 article in Kul Al-Arab,[12] several days after Nakba Day, MK Mas'ud Ghnaim, of the United Arab List-Arab Movement for Renewal (Ra'am-Ta'al) claimed that the events of Nakba Day – during which hundreds of Palestinian refugees residing in Syria breached the fence along the Syrian-Israeli border – had restored the Nakba to public consciousness of the Arab and Muslim peoples. He said that these events were part of the current Arab revolutions and had been made possible by the ouster of the pro-Israel regimes.

Ghnaim wrote: "The 63rd anniversary of the Nakba of the Palestinian people will go down in history as the day that transformed the Nakba from sad and painful memories over whom and what we lost into an impetus, an awakening, from among the ruins [of the Nakba], and a return from the world of oblivion and estrangement to the world of living presence.

"The border incursion by the grandchildren and children of refugees forced to leave their towns and cities was a declaration of victory by those stricken by [that same] tragedy. [It was a declaration] of distrust in those who made themselves the patrons of our cause. The refugees' cause was transformed from a cause of regimes to a cause of the Palestinian peoples [sic; the intention was apparently 'the Arab peoples'].

"This year's Nakba Day was affected by the atmosphere of the Arab revolutions and the spring of the Arab peoples. In fact, it was a continuation of the same revolution and made use of the same weapon, the weapon of the man who is armed solely by his faith, willpower, obstinacy, and ability to change and emerge victorious. Is there any other way to interpret... the penetration of the Israeli border in the Golan Heights by hundreds of people, without [the firing of] a single shot? [Indeed,] their empty hands were stronger than any cannon or tank. Israel, with [all] its strength, seemed weak and lacking any remaining tricks against the strength of the Arab man and the Arab peoples.

"The collapse of the Arab dictatorships, or at least some of them, was the most important factor in tearing down the iron curtain that had limited the movement of peoples and prevented them from putting their abilities toward changing the political situation in the region... These regimes were, and some still remain, one of the important factors in defending the State of Israel.

"The Palestinian cause was and will remain the cause of all the Arab and Muslim peoples. After years of being limited to the Palestinians alone, the time has come for the Palestinian cause to return to its natural [place in] the hearts of all the Arab and Muslim peoples..."

The Zionist Movement Exiled the Palestinians in Order to Create a Jewish Majority in Israel

In his article, Ghnaim discussed the booklet Nakba Harta ("Nakba – Nonsense"), published by the Israeli movement Im Tirzu on the occasion of Nakba Day. Claiming that it represented an Israeli attempt to sabotage a Palestinian and Arab awakening over the Palestinian cause, he said that the booklet completely distorted the truth by presenting the Arabs as responsible for the Nakba. Ghnaim went on to summarize and respond to several points raised in the booklet,[13] writing: "Israel is trying to thwart this awakening and to answer the challenge by denying the Nakba and fabricating history, and especially by blaming the victim. 'The Arabs and the Palestinians are those who caused the Nakba,' [the booklet reads] – which is to say that we are the ones who started the war and who wanted to annihilate the Jews and cast them into the sea, but we failed and lost the war. This is what the Zionist propaganda claims...

"The Zionist reaction to the challenge of the Nakba was manifest in the booklet, published by the right-wing Zionist movement 'Im Tirzu,' which claims that the Nakba of the Palestinian people was a 'Nakba of nonsense,' that is, a lie... This booklet, which attempts to answer [the claim of] the Nakba, and which relies on lies and the fabrication of history, proves the extent of Israel's fear of facing up to its truth. Its leadership is not courageous [enough] to admit the truth and take responsibility for its actions.

"I am not surprised by this lying and fabrication, as behind [Israel's] murders, deportations, and responsibility for the Nakba of the Palestinian people... lies an even greater falsehood upon which the Zionist movement was based – that is, that this land was empty and waiting for the landless Jewish people. But when they came, they were surprised [to find] that Palestine was full of life and people, truly teeming with life. [So] what did they do? They perpetrated an ethnic cleansing in order to empty the land of its residents, so that it would be ready to receive the landless Jew.

"Denying the Nakba and dodging responsibility are the flight of cowards. They are a tragedy for those who produced the Nakba and a victory for those stricken by the tragedy."

*L. Barkan is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), July 28, 2011; Alarab.net, July 27, 2011.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.3428, "Balad at Arafat Memorial Rally: We Support a Combination of Negotiations and Resistance," December 6, 2010, Balad at Arafat Memorial Rally: We Support a Combination of Negotiations and Resistance.

[3] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.3309, "Israeli Arab Leaders: 'No' to Negotiations with Israel," October 20, 2010, Israeli Arab Leaders: 'No' to Negotiations with Israel.

[4] SEE MEMRI Special Dispatch No.3208, "Israeli Knesset Member Hanin Zou'bi: I Do Not Represent the State of Israel but the Palestinian Struggle," September 2, 2010, Israeli Knesset Member Hanin Zou'bi: I Do Not Represent the State of Israel but the Palestinian Struggle.

[5] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.628, "The Islamic Movement in Israel: Switching Focus from Jerusalem to the Palestinian Cause," July 30, 2010, The Islamic Movement in Israel: Switching Focus from Jerusalem to the Palestinian Cause.

[6] All statements and speeches made at the rally are taken from Arabs48.com, January 29, 2011, unless otherwise specified.

[7] Kul Al-Arab (Israel), February 4, 2011.

[8] Kul Al-Arab (Israel), February 4, 2011.

[9] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 19, 2011.

[10] Maannews.net, April 11, 2011.

[11] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), May 17, 2011.

[12] Kul Al-Arab (Israel), May 20, 2011.

[13] It should be noted that Ghnaim misquotes the booklet and inaccurately describes the order of its chapters.

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