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Herzog must support the Joint List — and vice versa

Before the 1992 election, Rabin apologized for the discrimination against Palestinian citizens, thus paving the way for a ‘golden age’ in relations between the Arabs and the state. Twenty years later, the ‘Zionist Camp’ and the Joint List can stand to learn a thing or two.

By Ron Gerlitz and Nidal Othman (translated by Richard Flantz)

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo. (From right to left) Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. October 12, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Ya’acov Sa’ar)

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo. (From right to left) Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. October 12, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Ya’acov Sa’ar)

The Labor Party’s recommendation to disqualify the candidacy of Haneen Zoabi MK was cynical and illegitimate from a democratic perspective, and awful from a political perspective. This move was joined by the militaristic video released by Labor last week. The last thing Herzog needed to do was to delegitimize possible political cooperation with the Joint List. But even after these poor decisions, such cooperation is not only necessary but also totally possible. Such things have already happened in Israel’s history.

The first significant attempt to create meaningful political cooperation between the Labor Party and the joint Arab-Jewish Hadash party occurred even before the second Rabin government. In 1990, when Peres tried to form a government, he acted to gain the support of Hadash for his future government, and the two sides agreed to this in writing. The agreement between the pre-Labor Alignment Party and Hadash, which was made public in Haaretz on June 5, 1990, was the basis for the cooperation with the Rabin government in 1992. The agreement included general commitments to advancing peace, such as “giving a positive response to the U.S. Secretary of State’s questions,” concrete commitments regarding the advancement of equal status for Arab citizens, such as “the government will immediately reschedule the debts of the Arab local authorities” or “[the government] will immediately prepare a plan to finance and install sewage systems in Arab villages. NIS 40 million will be allocated for this purpose in the first year.”

The sky didn’t fall on the Arabs

Peres didn’t manage to form a government. Before the 1992 elections, Rabin went to a rally in Nazareth. With him in the car was Moshe Shahal, whom Rabin relied on in everything concerning Israel’s Arab population. At a meeting we held with him in 2015, Shahal told us that during that drive Rabin had asked him how the Arab vote for the Labor Party could be increased. Shahal, however, thought it would be impossible, telling Rabin that “promises are always made to them and they know that nothing happens. And you, Rabin, are the last person who could sell those promises, because you were the Defense Minister and because of what you said about breaking the arms and legs of Palestinian demonstrators.”

Shahal continued: “Rabin kept insisting, and I said to him, ‘Maybe if a Zionist leader got up and said that we are to blame for the situation of these gaps, it is us who are to blame — that might help. Rabin said that he would never say a thing like that. We arrived in Nazareth, and he surprised me. He got up on the stage and said: ‘We have been in power for 29 years and we are to blame for the discrimination. I apologize and I intend to act to eradicate it.’ Thousands of people stood up and applauded him enthusiastically.” Shahal claims that this promise was one of the reasons that motivated Rabin to act for allocations for the Arab citizens, since it was important to him to keep his word.

More than 20 years have passed. Now there is a near consensus, among Jews and Arabs alike, that the Arabs have never supported a coalition and never will — but that simply isn’t true. In 1992 the Labor Party won 44 seats, Meretz won 12, while Hadash and Mada (the Arab Democratic Party) both won 2. Shas won 6 seats, joined the government and resigned in September 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords. From that moment on, the government represented the minority (with 56 MKs), and was supported from outside by the parties that represented the Arab public — Hadash and Mada.

The agreement from 1990 formed the basis for Hadash and Mada’s support for Rabin. These agreements were sharpened (and spoken understandings were reached) in a series of meetings between then-Minister Moshe Shahal and the head of Hadash, MK Tawfik Ziad. The core of the agreements were as follows: the Rabin government would strive for peace with the Palestinians and would advance equality for the Arab citizens, and Hadash would prevent the Right from bringing down the government. Hadash and Mada stood by the agreements and supported the government in every no-confidence motion that could have brought it down. Hadash stalwart Tamar Gozansky told us what happened when they raised their hands to support the government: neither the government nor the sky fell on the Arabs who supported it.

Rabin, too, stood by the agreement. He advanced negotiations with the Palestinians, and his minority government took unprecedented political steps toward peace. It recognized the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, withdrew from Gaza and Jericho in May 1994, and took initial but important steps to reform the discrimination against Arab citizens — including the shameless discrimination in child endowment — and initiated a new momentum in budget allocations for local Arab authorities. Rabin’s attitude toward Israel’s Arab citizens was a positive one, and the change was felt in both the public discourse as well as in the field. In retrospect, the policy changes of Rabin’s time were not extensive enough, and many promises about closing gaps that had been parts of the agreement with Hadash were not implemented. Nonetheless the change in policy and in the rhetoric was strongly felt. Many in Arab society remember the Rabin period as a golden age of relations in their relationship with the state, even though until 1990, he led the attempt to violently suppress the First Intifada as Minister of Defense.

Both sides kept to the understandings until Rabin’s assassination. Lev Greenberg recently wrote that “with one hatchet blow, the assassination of Rabin drove the Arab citizens out of the political arena.” On the other hand, there is no reason why such a coalition should not arise again. The dramatic cooperation between Rabin and the Arabs was possible because the right-wing Hatehiya party was very close to the electoral threshold but didn’t pass, the Right lost two seats, and the Left and the Arabs had a blocking majority of 61 MKs. This could be possible in the 2015 elections as well, since it is certainly possible that the parties of the center, left and the Joint List will constitute a blocking majority.

Support from the outside

From any civil or democratic perspective, the participation of the Joint List in a center-left government cannot be discounted. On the other hand, even if a poll published last week shows that most of the Arab public supports such participation, full participation in a coalition is not realistic today, since the political leadership opposes it. It would not be reasonable for members of the Joint List to bear the responsibility as ministers for the IDF reinforcing the occupation and denying the rights of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Nor would it make sense for them to sit in ministries and supply quality services to settlers whose Palestinian neighbors live without political rights.

But should the Joint List support a center-left government from the outside, a real and profound change could take place in Israeli politics. It is likely that the Joint List will demand real steps in the sphere of equality for Arab citizens, including an end to home demolitions in the Negev, the Galilee, the Triangle, and in the mixed cities; extension of the judicial areas of Arab settlements; significant budgetary allocations to narrow social gaps — all steps that are not merely declarative or unrealistic, but practical. Their status can be overseen to ensure they are being implemented, and some of them can even be implemented immediately. The Joint List will also certainly demand a beginning of serious negotiations with the Palestinians. The combination of all these can ensure its support from outside, and as long as the conditions are honored, most of the Arab public will support this move. Just as they did with Rabin’s government.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh speaks at the List's Arabic launch event, Nazareth. (Photo courtesy of the Joint List)

Joint List head Ayman Odeh speaks at the List’s Arabic launch event, Nazareth. (Photo courtesy of the Joint List)

According to head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, the next government will not be ready to include his party in the coalition. But a government headed by Herzog that moves in the direction of peace and equality in a serious way, advances a 10-year-plan to close the gaps between Arab and Jewish citizens, and agrees that representatives of the Joint List also obtain positions as heads of Knesset committees, including on the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, would certainly gain the support of the Joint List from outside the cabinet, even at the time of its formation. Odeh also said that the Left will not manage to return to power as long as the Arabs remain outside the political game.

This is a brave stance, especially after the Labor Party’s disgraceful recommendation to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi from participating in the upcoming election. The Joint List has behaved wisely, has not broken off its connections or announced that it would not support Herzog as prime minister. MK Ahmed Tibi declared this week that “the situation is definitely ripe for a blocking majority, if this becomes possible. In such a situation we will aim for a written agreement, like the one reached in 1992, between the Joint List and the representatives of the center and the left, in which we will ensure that there will be a change in the situation of the Arab public in Israel.”

Herzog, too, is interested in this. And despite the fact that he is looking toward the center, he is not ruling out cooperation with the Arab citizens. In a speech at Haaretz’s Israel Conference on Democracy, Herzog said the following: “We need to stop the slide down the slope of nationalism and racism, and we need to act together, shoulder to shoulder, with our brothers, the Arabs of Israel, to create real hope and cooperation for a shared life.”

Reducing the chance of war

In our estimation, Herzog sees the Arab citizens as equals and acts accordingly. In his roles as Minister of Housing and Construction and as Minister of Tourism, he acted to implement policies to advance equality for Arab citizens and exert pressure on senior officials. As Minister of Welfare he also managed to initiate a significant push to narrow social gaps between Jews and Arabs.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

People say Herzog is not brave enough to go for a minority government supported by the Arab parties. Perhaps they are right. But he also knows that he will not be able to be prime minister without their support. Now he also knows that there is someone who will defend his life if he does do this.

The Joint List’s support for a center-left government will be the best answer to the delegitimization of Arab participation in government — one of the most shameful political achievements of the Right. A straight line runs from opposition leader Netanyahu’s incitement against Rabin between 1993–1995 to his declaration in 2015 that collaboration with the Arab parties endangers the security of the state. In between, a prime minister who dared to strive for peace with the support of the Arabs was murdered. The rest of us were stuck with another 20 years of bloodshed.

A center-left government supported by the Joint List is perhaps not the government of our dreams, but the policies it will lead with regard to both Arab and Jewish citizens, as well as Palestinians in the occupied territories and refugees and asylum seekers will be far far better than the violent, destructive policy led by the governments of the Right. It also has the possibility to bring an end to the occupation.

The chances that such a government would violently attack the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza are low, since the Joint List would not give its blessing to such policies. Between 1992 and 1996, the Israeli government undertook two military campaigns against Lebanon, but never when the minority government was supported by the Arabs (between September ’93 – November ’95). Perhaps the next war can also be prevented this way.

The fact that President Rivlin has openly stated that the Arabs are an integral part of Israeli society, then the time has come for the Left to see them as part of the political sphere, and start reconstructing political relations with them, both in advancing equality and vis-a-vis the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Ron Gerlitz (ron@sikkuy.org.il) is the co-executive director of Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality. Adv. Nidal Othman heads The Coalition Against Racism in IsraelThis article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. disgusted

      Zionists murdered Peace and voted for War. Rabin was Israels last and ONLY chance at redemption and they murdered him. Since then its been a hell hole or fascists and it rightly deserves to be. Such a betrayal is all Israel knows.

      Unforgivable.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, and Olmert offered substantially more to the Palestinians than Rabin did. Rabin did not offer Palestinians a state but autonomy only. On October 5, 1995, one month before his death, Rabin said in his last Knesset speech:

        “We view a permanent solution [as involving] a Palestinian entity which is less than a state,”

        “First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev — as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths.”

        Rabin further outlined what a permanent solution would entail:

        “We will not return to the June 4, 1967, lines. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”

        “We committed ourselves before the Knesset not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim agreement, and not to hinder building for natural growth… And first and foremost in our concerns is a united Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty,”

        “We view the permanent solution in the framework of State of Israel which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”

        “Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the ‘Green Line,’ prior to the Six-Day War.”

        “The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.”

        “The responsibility for external security along the borders with Egypt and Jordan, as well as control over the airspace above all of the territories and Gaza Strip maritime zone, will remain in our hands,”

        Barak and Olmert offered to divide Jerusalem. Sharon gave all of Gaza to the Palestinians and uprooted all settlements in Gaza and several in the West Bank. Olmert offered Palestinians 95% of the West Bank and land swaps for areas kept by Israel within the greenline. Rabin never offered land swaps. Netanyahu offered the Palestinians a state while Rabin offered autonomy.

        In return to Israel’s offers the Palestinians answered with increasing amounts of violence and terrorism culminating in the 2nd intifada of bloodshed followed by more than a decade of rocket attacks on civilians from Gaza not to mention 3 wars.

        The Palestinians continue to reject peace and their own state.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          I struggled to get past the first word of your comment. Pray tell us what Netanyahu has ever done for peace, justice, human rights or Palestinian self-determination? Obviously this guy is seriously misjudged by the rest of the world who are unanimous in regarding him as a liar, a war-monger, and a charlatan, who has done nothing to advance the social well-being of ordinary Israelis, to defend Israel’s tarnished international image, or to strengthen alliances with erstwhile allies (esp. France, Turkey, USA).

          Reply to Comment
    2. Jello

      Regardless of which polls one looks at there is no blocking majority in sight. This entire analysis is based on the wishful thinking of those that would like to see Israel surrender territory to the Palestinians while turning itself into another Arab state. The truth of the matter is that the desired government described here is the one most likely to cause the Arabs to see Israel as weak and to have the Palestinians launch a campaign of terrorism against Israel knowing that their collaborators in the Arab parties would prevent Israel from taking decisive action to end hostilities. Weakness by Barak in Lebanon caused the Palestinians to believe that a terrorist war against Israel was a better strategy than negotiations. Don’t try to deny it because I remember full well reading precisely that written by the Palestinians themselves. They were entirely convinced early on in the second intifada that just one more genocidal attack on a bus or a restaurant would have Israeli society crumble. The government desired by the authors of this piece is the most likely to bring another round of terrorist bloodshed into our cities.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Your completely full of it. A self justifying fascist. You just defined Dov Khenin as a traitor. And the Arab list is going to prevent Israel from taking decisive action? What kind of paranoid fifth column fantasy is that? At least try to have a credible argument. Lieberman and Netanyahu and you Jello hate Mahmoud Abbas precisely because he is a nonviolent non-terrorist two-stater. That’s why you hate his guts.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          I didn’t call Dov Khenin a traitor. He is a useful idiot used as a token Jew on a Palestinian nationalist list.

          An Israeli government that depends on its survival on good relations with Arab parties will have to take that into account when determining its response to terrorism. Why? Arab members of Knesset can not even bring themselves to acknowledge that the murder of Israeli civilians by Palestinians is in fact terrorism. What measures could they possibly support against people they claim are their own for acting in ways that they can not even condemn? You are right. That isn’t a credible argument. It is actually absolutely convincing to anyone with a lick of common sense.

          Mahmoud Abbas is a man who talks about rejecting terrorism while naming squares after the murderers of Israeli women and children and paying salaries to Palestinian terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons. His only objection to terrorist attacks is that they are ineffective and the Palestinians are worse off as a result of them. Otherwise he treats terrorists as heroes and continues to brainwash Palestinian children that it is legitimate to murder Israeli civilians and that the ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            He’s not going to become a Zionist. But he’s spoken perfectly reasonably about making a practical enduring two state peace, foreswearing violence, and returning to Safed as a tourist. As a tourist. And you know it. And he does your security work faithfully in the west bank every day. And you know it. You are dishonest, a mere propagandist, and a waste of time.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            One day he says he wants to visit Safed as a tourist. The next he says that the Palestinians will never give up their demand to flood Israel with Arabs. One day he denounces the murder of Israeli civilians as being ‘unproductive to the cause’. The next the party he leads lauds them and puts out videos on youtube calling on all Palestinians to kill more Israeli civilians. Or he goes and names a square after the murderers of Israeli children. Or receives coffins of suicide bombers in a full official ceremony treating them as heroes. Or pays salaries to terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons. But it certainly sounds appealing to hear the hints he drops once in a while for his audience of useful idiots.

            And yes his forces act to prevent terrorism against Israel. They act to prevent the direct outcome of the ideology and brainwashing that the Palestinian Authority pushes onto its population of worshipping the murderers of Israeli civilians. And they attempt to prevent terrorism against Israel because it is in their best interests to do so because if they don’t we will have to and we are going to be a lot less gentle.

            You are yet another useful idiot that comes along here with the best of intentions and the bare minimum of one-sided knowledge, but nonetheless deem yourself a sufficient authority to preach to us your holier than thou garbage.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            What a joke. Abbas has to be a Zionist and recognize a “Jewish State” and everyone who thinks a 2SS is feasible with good will and effort and planning (totally absent on Israel’s side) is a “useful idiot.” Your a pure propagandist who sounds like a paid Netanyahu flack. Actually, a paid Bennet flack. I suspect your Ayelet Shaked undercover! lol!

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            Abbas has to accept that the outcome of negotiations will mean recognizing that the state of Palestine will exist next door to the Jewish state of Israel. Otherwise all the talk about a two state solution is completely meaningless because it doesn’t change the underlying problem of the Palestinians continuing to believe that violence against Israel is legitimate and that Israel should be eliminated. That would mean that even if the Palestinians got their own state they would continue their war against Israel.

            People, even those of “good will”, who would place their faith in the best case scenario and as such absolve the Palestinians of the need to change their narrative are in fact complete and total useful idiots. We (Israelis) do not have the luxury of putting all our chips on the best case scenario and must be assured that the Palestinians are in fact planning on ending their war against us. That consists of changing their narrative to no longer teach their children that murdering Jews is good or that their ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel. So far Abbas has not moved in this direction. For every feint towards moderation there is actual and explicit action towards reinforcing the maximalist and genocidal Palestinian narrative that leaves no room for any Jewish collective in Israel. That action consists of subsidizing terrorists, treating suicide bombers as heroes, teaching children to worship those that kill Jews, and naming squares after people whose only claim to fame is the murder of Jewish children.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Complete hogwash, Jello. Based on something psychologically implausible and straight out of the annals of psychotherapeutic psychobabble. No one can be forced to change their narrative and their feelings. And no one is going to change their narrative and their feelings and if they did it would not change one thing on the ground. What they need to change is practical arrangements on the ground that are verifiable and enforceable. I KNOW Israelis are talking pure BS when they start talking about how if only the Palestinians would change the way they feel about us and publicly submit to calling us “the Jewish State” then we’d rush right out and hand over the land we took. Purest cynically invented psychobabble. Pure BS cooked up by Bibi to find yet another reason to build more settlements. No one is fooled.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            The Germans and the Japanese changed their narratives entirely after WW2. Given that historical fact that contradicts your basic position I don’t really see a point in addressing the rest of your comment.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            What’s interesting about guys like you is that always, always, always the only solution is, yup, more settlements.

            Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            Arab members of Knesset can not even bring themselves to acknowledge that the murder of Israeli civilians by Palestinians is in fact terrorism.2

            When did that happen?
            Not in the fantasy-world you live in, in the real world.

            If your speaking of Zoabi: never happened. She refused to call, in very particular circumstances, kidnappers terrorists. Now note that this doesn’t even necesarily mean she doesnt think their actions are terrorism.

            You can be a racist, or you can say and do something that is racist without being a racist yourself.

            You’re just a racist though.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            She refused to call the murderers of Israeli teenagers terrorists. You can dance around that all you want with your ‘necessarily’ and ‘particular circumstances’, and still that was the case and still she is scum and you are for defending her. At the same time she calls Israeli soldiers that defend her country terrorists, so she has no particular problem using that term. As for the racism charge, that is the last resort of a ‘progressive’ that lost an argument.

            Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          In his 2009 Bar Ilan speech Netanyahu offered Palestinians peace and a state:

          “I appeal to you, our Palestinian neighbors, and to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Let us begin peace negotiations immediately without prior conditions. Israel is committed to international agreements, and expects all sides to fulfill their obligations. I say to the Palestinians: We want to live with you in peace, quiet, and good neighborly relations. We want our children and your children to ‘know war no more.” ….

          “The truth is that in the area of our homeland, in the heart of our Jewish Homeland, now lives a large population of Palestinians. We do not want to rule over them. We do not want to run their lives. We do not want to force our flag and our culture on them. In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence.”

          What was Abbas’s reply? Abbas refused to negotiate. Abbas and the Palestinians had told Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post that they will “sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years.”

          Well Abbas’s plan did not work so well with Netanyahu having been in power for nearly 6 years. Abbas made a huge mistake in not answering Olmert’s offer and not negotiating with Netanyahu following his Bar Ilan speech. One will remember that the coalition back then was a mix of right, center and left.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            The Bar Ilan speech??!! Are you kidding me??!! Everyone recognizes Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech as the very height of cynicism and insincerity. Only you, Pedro X, could pass it along as some kind of sincere statement.

            Here’s the real deal on what happened between Olmert and Abbas. Should forever retire the misinformation peddled by Pedro the peddler about Abbas. And put into correct perspective Netanyahu’s rejectionism. It also provides a nice summary, complete with a simple, useful map, of the problem with Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Efrat:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/magazine/13Israel-t.html?pagewanted=all.&_r=0

            A Plan for Peace That Still Could Be
            By BERNARD AVISHAI

            Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Zakkai

      Yeah, a center-left coalition including the Joint List would be nice, but I don’t see it happening. Herzog keeps shifting right in an effort to please the public, so how can he bring in Arabs? And Arab MKs keep stating that they won’t enter any coalition until the Occupation is over &c, in other words they don’t seem to understand that every member of a coalition has to swallow some cod liver oil, especially at the beginning, for the sake of cooperation and progress. But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jello

        This is one of those cases where both the Joint List and Labor have no good reason to announce that they will work together after the election. Both would lose votes. Almost everything said by the parties right now is just pre-election posturing and is liable to change depending on the outcome of the election.

        Reply to Comment