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 Israel's Existential Dilemma

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Nombre de messages : 8069
Localisation : Washington D.C.
Date d'inscription : 28/05/2005

MessageIsrael's Existential Dilemma

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek
International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a
regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek
International and often The Washington Post. He is a member of the
roundtable of ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanapoulos" as well
as an analyst for ABC News. And he is the host of a new weekly PBS
show, "Foreign Exchange" which focuses on international affairs. His
most recent book, "The Future of Freedom," was published in the spring
of 2003 and was a New York Times bestseller and is being translated
into eighteen languages. He is also the author of "From Wealth to
Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role" (Princeton
University Press), and co-editor of "The American Encounter: The United
States and the Making of the Modern World" (Basic Books).

Fareed Zakaria

Israel's Existential Dilemma

before a new coalition could emerge, Israel's latest election was
historic. It marked the collapse of Labor, the party that can plausibly
claim to have founded Israel and produced its most celebrated prime
ministers, from David Ben-Gurion (as head of Labor's predecessor,
Mapai), through Golda Meir to Yitzhak Rabin. The last vestige of old
Labor is Shimon Peres, who--with fitting irony--is the country's
president only because he quit the party. Israel's political spectrum
is now dominated by three right-wing groups: Likud, Kadima (the Likud
offshoot founded by Ariel Sharon) and Yisrael Beytenu, a party of
Russian immigrants. But while most commentators focus on the future of
the peace process and the two-state solution, a deeper and more
existential question is growing within the heart of Israel.

a question posed by the election's biggest winner: Avigdor Lieberman.
His Yisrael Beytenu party won 15 seats, placing third but gaining
enormous swing power in the Israeli system. Whether or not the new
government includes him, Lieberman and his issues have moved to center
stage. As fiercely as he denounces the Palestinian militants of Hamas
and Hizbullah, his No. 1 target is Israel's Arab minority, which he has
called a worse threat than Hamas. He has proposed the effective
expulsion of several hundred thousand Arab citizens by unilaterally
redesignating some northern Israeli towns as parts of the Palestinian
West Bank. Another group of several hundred thousand could expect to be
stripped of citizenship for failing to meet requirements such as
loyalty oaths or mandatory military service (from which Israel's Arabs
are currently exempt). The New Republic's Martin Peretz, a passionate
Zionist and critic of the peace movement, calls Lieberman a
"neo-fascist ... a certified gangster ... the Israeli equivalent of
[Austria's] Jörg Haider." No liberal democracy I know of since World
War II has disenfranchised or expelled its own citizens.

Today's Arab Israelis are descendants of roughly 160,000 Arabs who
stayed in the lands that became Israel in 1948. Their number now stands
at 1.3 million, 20 percent of Israel's total population, and
demographers predict that by 2025 they'll be a quarter of the country's
people. Aside from their military exemption, they have the same legal
rights and obligations as all other Israeli citizens. But they face
discrimination in many aspects of life, including immigration, land
ownership, education and employment. "This inequality has been
documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has
been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has
also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other
official documents," retired High Court justice Theodor Or concluded in
an official investigation of the second intifada. "Although the Jewish
majority's awareness of this discrimination is often quite low, it
plays a central role in the sensibilities and attitudes of Arab
citizens. This discrimination is widely accepted ... as a chief cause
of agitation."

The antipathy is mutual. "The people who stayed here did not
immigrate here, this is our country," declared Azmi Bishara, a former
Arab member of the Knesset, after being charged with sedition for his
expressions of support for Hizbullah. "That is why you cannot deal with
us on issues of loyalty. This state came here and was enforced on the
ruins of my nation. I accepted citizenship to be able to live here, and
I will not do anything, security-wise, against the state. I am not
going to conspire against the state, but you cannot ask me every day if
I am loyal to the state. Citizenship demands from me to be loyal to the
law, but not to the values or ideologies of the state. It is enough to
be loyal to the law." For decades Israel's Arabs remained loyal to the
law--and loyal to the country during its many wars with its neighbors.
Now that loyalty is waning. Israeli Arabs--even those who are
Christian, rather than Muslim--no longer vote for Israel's mainstream
parties. Despite low turnout, the Arab parties fared well in this
election, winning some 11 seats in the Knesset. The Arab parties have
never been invited into the government, which limits the influence of
the Arab population in Israeli politics.

For Israel, handling the relationship with its Arab minority is more
crucial even than dealing with Hizbullah or Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad. Israel needs to decide how it will deal with the Arabs in
its midst. As extreme as it may sound, Lieberman's call to disown them
seems to have resonated with many of his fellow Israelis. Benjamin
Netanyahu has warned that Israel's Arabs constitute a demographic time
bomb. He calls it unacceptable. Benny Morris, the once dovish historian
who chronicled the forced expulsion of most Palestinians from the
Jewish state in 1948, has turned to arguing that Israel needs to
protect itself from the Arabs now living within its borders. "They are
a potential fifth column," he warned five years ago in an interview
with Haaretz. "In both demographic and security terms they are liable
to undermine the state ... If the threat to Israel is existential,
expulsion will be justified." It's a dangerous spiral: the worse the
distrust gets, the less loyalty Israel's Arabs feel toward their
country--and vice versa. Last week's election has brought the issue
into the open. Its resolution will define the future of Israel as a
country, as a Jewish state, and as a democracy.

Posted by Fareed Zakaria on February 15, 2009 11:16 AM

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