Integrating the Arab-Palestinian Minority in Israeli Society: Time for a Strategic Change
An Arab Israeli woman voting. Photo: AFP.

With permission, read full study on INSS.

The relations of the state and the Jewish majority with the Arab-Palestinian society directly concern Israel’s national security. Like the Commission of Inquiry into the Clashes between Security Forces and Israeli Citizens in October 2000 (Or Commission), so too, the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, deems the advancement and integration of Arab society in the social and economic life of the state—on the basis of full and equal citizenship—as an interest of utmost national importance to Israel’s social, economic, and moral fortitude.

Contributors: Meir Elran, Nadia Hilou, Eran Yashiv, Doron Matza, Keren Aviram, Hofni Gartner

This book scrutinizes the reality of life in Arab society over the years since the publication of the recommendations of the Or Commission. In the conclusion, the authors find that Arab society shows a desire to integrate within the social and economic life in Israel, and that there is a real chance of narrowing gaps and engaging them in advanced professions. The study’s recommendations are addressed primarily to the state’s leadership: they must decide that this is a matter of national importance and reach an historic decision to forge a long-range policy to fortify the Arab society, together with its representatives, on a basis of equality but without any political or cultural exclusion.
The purpose of this book is to serve as a catalyst for public discourse and as a tool for decision makers and policy shape.

Executive Summary
In this study, the authors advance four major claims. The first is that the State of Israel and Jewish society in Israel has not changed its fundamental approach to Arab society following the recommendations of the Or Commission, the state commission of inquiry that was established to examine the causes of the unrest of October 2000. The rights of Arab society in Israel as an ethnic minority have remained limited. This population is not recognized as a minority that possesses collective rights, and the disparities between it and Jewish society continue to expand, despite the improvement in the Arab population’s socioeconomic status compared to the past. Short-term political interests and social and security considerations, such as the fear of separatism, continue to dictate the policy applied to Israel’s Palestinian Arab population. Despite the plans formulated and implemented and the resources invested over the past decade, and despite the fact that the Arab community in Israel is equal under the law and enjoys civil rights that are equal to those of the Jewish majority, Arab society in Israel is still excluded and discriminated against in many ways and lacks full civil equality. It suffers from institutional discrimination manifested by the unequal distribution of resources and funds, the percentage of Arabs employed in the Israeli public service, and in terms of settlement. Arab society also faces non-institutional social discrimination manifested in everyday phenomena such as the refusal to hire Arabs, opposition to Arabs moving into Jewish settlements, the barring of Arabs from places of leisure and entertainment, and the use of racist expressions toward this population.

The authors’ second claim is that this reality poses a dilemma for Arab society in Israel regarding its future and its status within the state. On the one hand, after a long road of social and cultural experimentation, the country’s Arab population has started adapting to the Jewish majority among which it lives and has demonstrated a desire for social and economic integration. On the other hand, it seeks to ensure that this integration will not involve the loss of its cultural, ethnic, and national identity. At the same time, as noted above, Arab society must also contend with institutional and social discrimination and the lack of full civil equality. Many Arabs in the country regard Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state as the root of the problem. The demand that the state normalize the status and future of its Arab community while considering its views in the process is typically met with suspicion and opposition by the state and the country’s Jewish population. This has been manifested in several legislative initiatives aimed at fortifying Israel’s Jewish character and in the mounting radicalization among parts of Jewish society vis-à-vis the country’s Arabs, including expressions of hatred and racism.

The study’s third major claim is that a national strategic change in Israeli policy toward its Arab population—designed to bring about their social, economic, and political integration—could strengthen their sense of belonging to the state as citizens with equal rights and obligations, ensures their commitment to abide by and maintain the rules of democracy and social consensus, and deepen their involvement in society and the economy. Such a policy must be based on recognizing that full and fundamental civil equality is a mutual interest of both the state and Arab society, on the one hand, and the understanding that the national identity and legitimate interests of the Jewish majority will be maintained, on the other hand. It must be characterized by a coherent and long-term overall vision that charges the state with positive obligations in the realm of social rights (such as education and health services), enables obstacles to be overcome, and ensures an equitable division of public resources.

The study’s fourth claim is that even though Palestinian Arab society in Israel continues to crystalize as a (civil) community that is distinct from the Palestinian people living outside of Israel, its primary components of identity are still grounded in Palestinian national identity and in social and family ties with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For this reason, Arab society’s attitude toward the State of Israel will evidently be influenced by the relations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people in its entirety. That being the case, the shaping of the new policy vis-à-vis Arab society in Israel can address initial needs only that facilitate social mobility. At the same time, there is a need for a political solution to eradicate the national conflict (particularly its manifestations within the state, such as internal refugees and the land issue) as an influential and central factor in the relations between Arab society, and the state and its Jewish majority.