Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Donald Trump and Jerusalem

Nov 24, 2016 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

Donald Trump said some extreme and ridiculous things on the campaign trial on his way to winning the US Presidency – but some coverage is treating as extreme and ridiculous something he said which is not only sensible but completely mainstream. This is his promise to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Almost every major party candidate for President since 1976 has been on record saying the Embassy should be moved – including President Obama, though he later withdrew that promise. It is also US law under an act passed in 1995 (which allows the President discretion to delay implementation, as all repeatedly have). It would have thus have been extreme and out of the mainstream if Trump said the Embassy should not be moved.

It is also not the case, as some commentators have wrongly suggested, that such a move would somehow involve recognising Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem or prevent the Palestinians from having a capital there.

Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1950, and the refusal to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has absolutely nothing to do with the aftermath of the 1967 war or “occupation” of the West Bank. It is a bizarre holdover from a provision of the 1947 UN Partition plan and other UN Resolutions that called for Jerusalem to temporarily become an international city. Not only was no serious effort ever made to implement this provision, it was in any case only to last until 1958 with a referendum of the residents.

Yet because of this completely dead idea, inoperative for half a century – and because many Arab actors react irrationally to any move seen as pro-Israeli – it has somehow become unthinkable to recognise the reality that Israel has had its capital in Jerusalem for six decades on territory that is not actually subject to any dispute.


“We have it good here”

Here’s a surprising statement from an Israeli Arab leader:

The time has come for the Arab leaders of public opinion to say outright: In spite of everything, we have it good here. It’s true that there’s a mountain of problems, but we want to be citizens of the state. Here we can fight to improve our living conditions, to protest, mobilise Jewish public opinion and conduct a battle against the extreme right. After all, the program that unites most of the [Israeli] Arab movements is based on the principle that Arabs are citizens of the state in which they will realise their national and civil rights. And in that case, it’s important to convey that the Arabs care about the state.”

That statement is surprising because it comes from an Israeli Arab leader, not because it comes from an Israeli Arab per se. According to the polls, many, perhaps most, ordinary Israeli Arabs would probably agree with the sentiment “we have it good here.”

The statement was penned by Odeh Bisharat – a well-known Israeli Arab novelist, columnist for Haaretz (where he wrote the statement above) and former Secretary-General of the predominantly Arab Israeli Communist party, Hadash.

It was surprising because Arab leaders like Bisharat – and especially the elected Knesset members and activists from the various parties (including Hadash) which make up the United Arab List – simply do not make it a practice to say anything positive about Israel. Instead they tend to compete with each other to be more vociferous in their denunciations, and in their promotion of Palestinian or Arab nationalism, or in some cases, Islamism.

Yet polls shows majorities of Israeli Arabs believe, with Bisharat, that the situation overall in Israel today is pretty good.

According to the monthly Peace Index poll (conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute) for October, when asked to rate “Israel’s overall situation today”, fully 40.3% of Israeli Arabs said it was “very good” compared to only 9.7% of Israeli Jews. When we add to this percentage the respondents who said Israel’s situation was “moderately good”, the total for Israeli Arabs is 63%, while for Israeli Jews it was 43.7%.

Moreover, Israeli Arabs are also more bullish about Israel’s future than Israeli Jews. In that same Peace Index poll, respondents were asked whether they expected things to be better or worse over the next Jewish year (which began in early October) in various respects – military-security, political-diplomatic, socioeconomic, and in terms of “disputes between different parts of the public.” Across every one of these, Israeli Arabs were much more likely to say it would get better than their Jewish counterparts. Further a clear majority of Israeli Arabs expected Israel’s overall situation to become either “much better” or “a little better” over the coming year – 54.4% in total, compared to only 22.5% of Jewish respondents.

Yet this is the country critics accuse of being an “apartheid state” – an “apartheid” so vicious that the minority both finds the overall situation more satisfactory than the majority, and is more optimistic about the future.

This is not to deny that there are serious issues of integration, discrimination and inequality with its Arab minority that Israel needs to address. But some of the optimism among Israeli Arabs can perhaps be attributed to the fact that in recent years Israel has been doing more than ever to address these problems – with programs that encourage Arab higher education and entrepreneurship, provide affirmative action on civil service jobs, and a new policy this year to equalise funding between predominantly Arab and predominantly Jewish municipalities.

Not that you’ll ever hear about this from Israeli Arab politicians – or international media for that matter. But when Odeh Bisharat writes, “we have it good here,” it seems clear he is expressing the view of many Israeli Arabs.




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