Posted by: sean | February 8, 2007

A step toward a binational state

The Times reports on a call from some of its prominent Arab citizens to become a “consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews”:

A group of prominent Israeli Arabs has called on Israel to stop defining itself as a Jewish state and become a “consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews,” prompting consternation and debate across the country.

Their contention is part of “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” a report published in December under the auspices of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel, which represents the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens, about a fifth of the population. Some 40 well-known academics and activists took part.

They call on the state to recognize Israeli Arab citizens as an indigenous group with collective rights, saying Israel inherently discriminates against non-Jewish citizens in its symbols of state, some core laws, and budget and land allocations.

The authors propose a form of government, “consensual democracy,” akin to the Belgian model for Flemish- and French-speakers, involving proportional representation and power-sharing in a central government and autonomy for the Arab community in areas like education, culture and religious affairs.

I am a strong believer that the only solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a binational democratic state where one person equals one vote and where ethnic and religious minorities are guaranteed equal rights. This declaration seems to be a step in the right direction, although many Israelis see it as a thinly veiled plan to destroy Israel.

But whether that’s accurate or not depends on whether one sees Israel as a Jewish state or as a state of its citizens. After all, Israel is less homogeneous, in terms of religion, than the US.

Further reading: An English version of the report can be found here. Otherwise, Ilan Pappe has a very good article on the Israeli demographic question here, and Tony Judt’s article on a binational state can be read here.



  1. you know its interesting that suddenly these people are israeli arabs.. for the last year i have heard non stop people telling me that they do not call themselves israeli arabs.. they are the arabs of 1948 and that israeli arabs is a stupid name that we have given them in an attempt to fool ourselves that we will get along..

    it may be a semantic debate.. but it genuinely troubles me..

  2. another question.. do you think australia and new zealand should ditch their flags because of the increasing non anglo populations?

  3. For the first question, I’m not sure that these Palestinians are the ones using the term “Israeli Arabs.” That term was used by the Times. And so while I can’t say what the prevailing attitude is, I can say that in my experience talking to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, they don’t like being called Israeli Arabs. Those who I’ve talked to about it prefer to be called Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

    As for the flags of New Zealand and Australia, I don’t think the comparison is valid on several levels. First, the increasing Asian populations are immigrants, not indigenous to Australia (most of the Aborigines were wiped out). Second, the Australian and New Zealand flags have no religious symbolism that excludes a sizable portion of the population. The star of David is not an innocuous symbol; it stands for Judaism and is a constant reminder that Israel is above all a Jewish state. The Australian flag has no religious iconography, just as the state itself is a secular one.

  4. i disagree

    the union jack is a clear statement of heritage that addresses the anglo australian founders or in NZ’s situation “occupiers”.. the maoris werent even defeated.. merely tricked into believing that they were signing a ceasefire.. or at least that was my impression when i asked whythat tree in auckland needed a fence around it..


    my point is – we are different peoples and we want our own national identity in one way or another.. jordan is 80% palestinian.. why do the hashemites remain in control when 80% jewish israel is being asked to convert for the purpose of its minorities..

  5. Well those are two different things. If you’re talking about the increasing non-anglo population, then you’re talking about recent immigrants, previously from Greece and Italy, now from East Asia and Lebanon, and not indigenous people. The Aborigines are a totally different question.

    First, the genocide of the aborigines in Australia (I know very little of the history of New Zealand) began in 1788 (and like it or not, standards have differed in the last 230 years), and now they make up less than 1 percent of the Australian population. And again, while one might argue that the British part of the Australian flag is divisive, it is still not a religious symbol that explicitly excludes more than a fifth of the population. Furthermore, Australia is not an explicitly “white” state, whereas Israel is a Jewish state.

    As for national expressions, that’s one thing, but I don’t understand why Israelis seem intent on anachronistically mixing the concepts of nation and religion. This attitude means that Israel has more in common on that front with Iran and Saudi Arabia than it has with France or Canada.

    About Jordan, I think the number is closer to 60 or 70 percent Palestinians, but it seems disingenuous to even make the comparison. First of all, because the reason why so many Jordanian citizens are Palestinians is because they were expelled from Palestine by Israelis. Second, Jordan is far from being a pluralist democracy, and you’re setting the bar pretty low when you compare the two states’ treatment of Palestinians.

    I think most advocates of human rights and liberal democracy would like to see more democratic changes in Jordan’s political system. But unlike Israel, Jordan does not make grandiose claims about being an oasis of democracy in an autocratic sewer. And unlike in Israel/Palestine, the Jordanian treatment of its citizens is not fueling the instability of the entire region.

    So if Israel is content with undemocratic standards and would like to pat itself on the back for treating people better than the regimes in Jordan or Syria, then by all means, it should continue its practices. But if Israel wants to live up to the moral high road that it’s selling the West, then there will have to be some dramatic changes.

  6. i dont think its about moral high road or low road.. i think its about survival.. i dont think we have established our homeleand just to fade away..

    otherwise we as well be wiped out in a single military sweep.. why go through the pain of demographically erasing us..

    i think you’re dismissing my statements about jordan and australia (and you didnt deal with the NZ question at all) too lightly.. and i think the world has demands of israel that are not relevant..

    the union jack is a symbol that is representative of monarchy that technically heads the anglican religion..

    xmas is a compulsory holiday in australia and jews there must use annual leave to exercise religious obligations.. this is not a separation of state and religion even if the general religion is practised and sanctioned only very lightly..

    france is not a multiculturalist state.. it is the french republic – whether we like it or not.. canada and the usa however me be said tobe run by their people as as sanctioned by their consistutions – not that i am in love with their output..

    in any event.. i think our concepts are larger than we are likely to cover through the banterof comments..

    i know a lot about the genocide of australian aboriginies.. and to my mind it hasnt ended.. to my mind it continues today..

    and if you look at the waterloo in sydney and examin the treatment of local indigenous communities and their schools i guarantee you it is nothing like the budget received by what was once woollahra demonstration with its lawns and kew style gardens..

    john howard wouldnt even say the word sorry – let alone actually treat fairly the few remaining strands of aboriginal australia..

    but that is not my point.. my poit is that 25% of australia is not anglo – more than israel’s 20%

    how can these people waive union jacks if a palestinian with an israeli citizenship cant be asked to wave a star of david..

    the star has represented the heritage of this land for over thousands of years.. why must it be separated..

    anyway – sounds to me that you and i will need another more flowing channel to swap ideas :)

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