After nearly sixty years on the sidelines, Israel's third and final enemy may be joining the battle.
Foreign states are Israel's enemy no. 1. With the declaration of Israeli independence in May 1948, five foreign armed forces invaded Israel. All the major wars that followed – 1956, 1967, 1970, 1973 – involved Israelis at war with neighboring armies, air forces, and navies. Today, the greatest threat comes from weapons of mass destruction in Iran and Syria. Egypt increasingly presents a conventional arms danger.
External Palestinians are enemy no. 2. Eclipsed for two decades after 1948, they moved to center-stage with Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The 1982 Lebanon war and the 1993 Oslo accords confirmed their centrality. External Palestinians remain active and menacing today, what with terrorism, missiles landing on Sderot, and a global public relations campaign of rejectionism.
The Muslim citizens of Israel, usually known in English as Israeli Arabs, constitute enemy no. 3. (But I focus on Muslims, not Arabs, because Arabic-speaking Christians and Druze are generally less hostile.)
Israeli Muslims began inconsequentially; in 1949, they constituted a population of 111,000 and 9 percent of Israel's population. They then multiplied ten-fold, to 1,141,000 in 2005, 16 percent of the population. Beyond numbers, they took full advantage of Israel's open, modern society to evolve from a small, docile, and leaderless population into a robust, assertive community whose leaders include a Supreme Court justice, Salim Joubran; an ambassador, Ali Yahya; members of parliament; academics; and entrepreneurs.
This ascent, along with other factors – enemies no. 1 and 2 at war with Israel, increased ties to the West Bank, the surge of radical Islam, the Lebanon war in mid-2006 – emboldened Muslims to reject the Israeli identity and turn against the state. Their blatantly celebrating Israel's worst enemies evidences this, as does growing Muslim-on-Jewish violence within Israel. This month alone, Muslims pillaged a Jewish religious school in Acre and nearly murdered a Jezreel Valley farmer. A teenage boy was arrested for planning a suicide attack on a Nazareth hotel.
This hostility has been codified in an impressively crafted document that was published in early December, The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel. Issued by the Mossawa Center in Haifa – which is partially funded by American Jews – and endorsed by many establishment figures, its extremism may well mark a turning point for Israeli Muslims. The paper rejects the Jewish nature of Israel, insisting that the country become a bi-national state in which Palestinian culture and power enjoy complete equality.
The document's notion of a "joint homeland" means Jewish and Arab sectors that run their own affairs and have the right of veto over certain of the other's decisions. Future Vision demands adjustments to the flag and anthem, canceling the 1950 Law of Return that automatically grants Israeli citizenship to any Jew, and elevating Arabic to be the equal of Hebrew. It seeks separate Arab representation in international fora. Most profoundly, the study would terminate the Zionist achievement of a sovereign Jewish state.
Unsurprisingly, Jewish Israelis reacted negatively. In Ma'ariv, Dan Margalit dismissed Israeli Arabs as "impossible." In Ha'aretz, Avraham Tal interpreted the outrageous demands as intentionally continuing the conflict, even should Israel's external conflicts be settled. Israel's deputy prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman, implicitly rejects the document's very premises. "What is the logic," he is quoted in The New York Sun, of creating 1½ countries for Palestinians (an allusion to the Palestinian Authority becoming a full-fledged state)* and "a half country for the Jewish people?"
Mr. Lieberman wants to restrict Israeli citizenship to those willing to sign a statement of loyalty to the Israeli flag and anthem, and prepared to do military service or its equivalent. Those who refuse to sign – whether Muslim, far-leftist, Haredi, or other – may remain in place as permanent residents, with all the benefits of Israeli residence, even voting and running for local office (a privilege non-citizen Arab residents of Jerusalem currently enjoy). But they would be excluded from voting in national elections or being elected to national office.
The diametrically opposed proposals of Future Vision and Mr. Lieberman are opening bids in a long negotiating process that usefully focus attention on a topic too long sidelined. Three brutally simple choices face Israelis: either Jewish Israelis give up Zionism; or Muslim Israelis accept Zionism; or Muslim Israelis don't remain Israeli for long.** The sooner Israelis resolve this matter, the better.
* Several readers have suggested that Lieberman is alluding here to Jordan, not a possible Palestinian state. I have checked with him and the above is correct. Adding Jordan to the equation would, by his reckoning, make 2½ countries for the Palestinians, ½ a country for Jews.
** Some readers have interpreted this phrase incorrectly. By proposing that Muslim Israelis won't "remain Israeli for long," I was referring to the possible withdrawal of their citizenship, such as proposed by Avigdor Lieberman, not their physical removal from the State of Israel.
Mar. 13, 2007 update: I further pursue this topic at "Israeli Arabs: An Existential Danger to Israel."
Jan. 20, 2009 update: I focus on the Jewish Israeli reaction to what Muslim Israelis are saying at doing at "The Gaza War's Impact on Israeli Electoral Politics."
Feb. 11, 2009 update: I assess the massive electoral impact of that Jewish Israel reaction at "Who Won in Israel's Elections?"