(Previously published on The Jerusalem Post)
Will Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel lead it?
In recent conversations with Israeli leaders and advisors, a lot of people went to great lengths to convince me that a third intifada is neither currently underway nor imminently likely.
However, since those conversations, the overt violence has only grown worse, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has agitated Palestinians through blatant religious incitement over the status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Last week, Abbas comforted the family of the Palestinian murderer of a Jewish activist in Jerusalem by saying, “He ascended to the high heavens as a martyr, while defending his people’s rights and the holiness of sanctuaries.”
Abbas’s remarks constitute religious justification for cold-blooded murder, the very essence of incitement.
The Washington Post stated that, “as tensions mounted in Jerusalem in recent weeks, Mr. Abbas accused Israel of starting a ‘holy war’ over the al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s most sensitive ground, the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount.
His Fatah party called for a ‘day of rage.’” Some refer to the recent unrest as the “children’s intifada” – young children are in harm’s way, having been placed at the front lines of PA-inspired riots again. This cynical and grotesque use of children follows in the footsteps of the successful strategy of Hamas, which used human shields as cover for rockets fired from civilian neighborhoods, perpetuating the myth of Gazans as underdogs and winning the sympathy of the UN and EU.
Others suggest that the current disturbances be called the “Jerusalem intifada.”
The religious dimension tied to sovereignty on the Temple Mount is starting to overshadow the more nationalistic aspects of the first two intifadas.
Whether a third intifada has truly begun or not, there is little doubt among Israelis that another one will erupt sooner or later. Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh, a former writer for a PLO-affiliated newspaper, told me a few years ago that his fear was that the next intifada would not be led by Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, but by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel – people who live, work and freely move about within Israel.
Israeli Arabs, despite more freedoms, opportunities, and wealth than almost all Arabs from neighboring countries, believe they are treated as “second-class citizens.” This situation cannot continue.
Too many Israeli governments have contributed to this problem for far too long.
Paradoxically when Israeli Arabs are surveyed, they claim to want to remain Israeli citizens. They know full well that the PA is endemically corrupt, and that Hamas would make life and liberty untenable – a poor trade for their (perceived) second-class Israeli status.
Responsibility is a two-way street. Arab citizens of Israel must participate more in Israeli society. Just as young Israeli Jews complete compulsory military service, Israeli Arabs should perform mandatory community service, and more should volunteer for military service, which is the quickest method for to integrate individuals into society. Even this will take generations to build. Many Israeli Arabs would welcome the opportunity but they are threatened and ostracized by their local Arab leaders.
One option for Israeli Arabs is to follow the model of their fellow Israeli citizens, the Druse, who have embraced their adopted Israeli country. The Druse are trusted by the Israeli Jewish population, yet feel free to remain religiously and culturally separate. Such a path may prove to be the best alternative for Israeli Arabs.
EARLIER THIS year, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman opined that a third, non-violent intifada is underway, “propelled by nonviolent resistance and economic boycott.” While Friedman is wrong about “non-violen[ce]” in the streets of Jerusalem, he is correct in concluding that a different type of battle can affect the nation. Its defining feature is the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions).
BDS has been embraced by Europeans and progressive Americans of the far Left. and this threat is just as real and consequential as violence in the streets.
ANOTHER PROBLEM holds even more dire existential implications: the potential for an intifada led by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. What if the root of the problem is that the Israeli Arab populace loathes Israel, not because of perceived inferior status, but because they think that Jews have no right to live anywhere in the land, or to have a state of their own? What if they hold an ingrained belief that no infidel can ever be permitted to control land that was once controlled by Islamic authorities? Is it possible that the true goal of a significant percentage of Israeli Arabs is to end the Jewish state, and that nothing else will satisfy them? In an intifada led by Israeli Arabs with this mindset, there would be no territorial conflict that could be resolved by Israeli land concessions. Nor would it be the “third intifada” which US Secretary of State Kerry warned Israel to guard against last year – he assumed an intifada would arise if Israel did not follow his prescription for a peace process. If the threat comes from within Israel, there may be no possible accommodation or compromise, no immediate solution.
Twelve years ago, at the beginning of the second intifada, I asked then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres about the possibility of an Israeli Arab “fifth column” joining the intifada. He simply dismissed my question by saying, “I do not like the question, and I do not like that term.”
Running away from a problem does not eliminate it.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.