We Palestinians in Israel will not stand for our rights being given away by so-called representatives
Had the offer made by “representatives” of the Palestinian people to Israel during peace negotiations – revealed this week in the Palestine papers – been accepted, the resulting agreement would have been in conflict with international law. It would also have had a profound impact on all Palestinians: not only those under occupation or refugees in the diaspora, but also Palestinians like myself – the 1.2 million of us who make up 18% of the population of Israel.
First, giving up the refugees’ right of return – as was apparently accepted by the Palestinian negotiators – would mean giving up the demand for the reunification of Palestinian families divided by the nakba, our expulsion from Israel in 1948. At this time some Palestinians remained in Israel, while others were displaced. Israel has since refused to allow hundreds of divided families to be reunited.
Furthermore, Israel currently prevents one Palestinian from marrying another from Gaza, the West Bank, Syria or Lebanon and remaining within the borders of Israel, on the pretext of preventing the right of return. So I, for example, can marry a British citizen and live in Nazareth but cannot do the same with a Palestinian who does not hold Israeli nationality.
Second, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state – which was also apparently accepted by the negotiator Saeb Erekat – would delegitimise the citizenship of Palestinians in Israel. In practice, Israel has acted as a Jewish state since its founding, and undermined the rights of Palestinian citizens for more than 60 years, with chronic, institutionalised discrimination. International recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would give this discrimination a legal and ethical justification. Arab Israeli citizenship would become conditional, and the inferior status of Palestinian citizens and residents as non-Jews, and thus by definition excluded outsiders, would become entrenched. Indeed, it would call into question their very future in such a state, their homeland.
Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by concerned international parties would serve to legitimise the series of racist laws and bills currently before the Knesset, and would turn the legal, political struggle of the Palestinian national minority into an illegal and illegitimate struggle – a move that would be fatal to democracy. It would become far easier to criminalise any party, individual or action that sought the establishment of genuine democracy and equality. Ultimately, it would effectively block the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Israel should be a democratic state, not an ethnic state.
Third, we reject the proposed exchange of populations between Israel and the West Bank, championed, among others, by Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. This proposal has increasingly pervaded Israel’s political culture. According to a recent poll, 53% of the Jewish Israeli public believes that the state is entitled to encourage Palestinian citizens to emigrate. Making our citizenship a subject of negotiations would send out the clear and dangerous message that it is temporary, and open to question. As with residents of the occupied Palestinian territory – whose temporary legal status has become permanent, after 43 years of Israeli occupation – making Palestinian citizenship in Israel temporary totally ignores the basic fact that we are indigenous people living in our homeland, not an immigrant minority.
Moreover, raising this question now carries particular dangers, given the politics of hatred and persecution towards the Palestinian minority. When a letter was published by a group of publicly funded rabbis calling on Israeli Jews not to rent flats and houses to Palestinians, the Israeli political leadership took no practical action against them. A further poll found that 46% of the Jewish public would not want to live next to Arabs.
It has been clearly established by the international community that any decisions that have a direct impact on the future status of a national minority must be taken after full consultation, and with their consent – including through a referendum. We therefore reject any proposal that would involve other parties taking such decisions on our behalf.
We, as Palestinian people living inside Israel and on the basis of our historic right and international law, have full right of veto – not only on matters that affect our lives, such as the return of the refugees, the Jewish identity of the state and population exchange, but also on all matters affecting and infringing the rights of the Palestinian people.
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