Haaretz is reporting that Danny Ayalon, former Ambassador to the United States and new member of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, is warning against the secessionist threat posed by Galilean Arabs.
In Ayalon’s first public appearance since he joined the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party on Saturday, he warned on Sunday: “If the government of Israel does not act to have a Jewish majority in the North, then the Arab majority in the Galilee will declare independence and [demand] international recognition on the basis of the precedents of Kosovo, Abkhazia and [South Ossetia].
“The formal demand will be the last piece in the puzzle, which will lead to the dismantling of the State of Israel in practice,” explained the former envoy.
The situation is not as simple as Ayalon claims. Historical comparisons can be dangerous when used in the superficial manner that Ayalon employs here. If Ayalon wants to make this claim, he needs to examine what conditions make a minority population likely to secede, and what conditions make them unlikely to do so. Then he can really determine whether the Israeli Arab case is indeed similar to historical precedent. There are obvious differences between the Israeli and Georgian cases, including the crucial fact that Israeli Arabs are citizens of the most successful state in the region, whereas Georgia and Serbia are still on the uncertain path toward full democracy and prosperity.
Increased Jewish presence in the Galilee is indeed important for many reasons, not the least of them security. A contiguous Arab band in the Galilee, bordering Jenin and the northern West Bank, has been and would continue be a conduit for terrorists and criminals to slip into Israel. It has also been the main hotbed for extremist Islamic organizing, especially under the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
Without a Jewish presence in the “triangle” region and Wadi Ara, northern Israeli Arabs have been able to play a double-game of ensuring that they will remain Israeli and not Palestinian citizens, while demonstrating against the ‘racist’ Israeli system, largely refusing to send their youth to defend the country, and voting for parties that are openly anti-Zionist (and sometimes blatantly cooperate with Israel’s enemies).
Despite their complaints, there is no greater priority for them than to remain Israelis. Daniel Pipes writes in his blog–
When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government released a trial balloon in February 2004 about giving the Palestinian Authority control over the Galilee Triangle, a predominantly Arab part of Israel, the response came strong and hard. As Mahmoud Mahajnah, 25, told Agence France-Presse, “Yasir Arafat runs a dictatorship, not a democracy. No one here would accept to live under that regime. I’ve done my [Israeli] national service; I am a student here and a member of the Israeli Football Association. Why would they transfer me? Is that logical or legitimate?”
One resident quoted what he called a local saying, that “the ‘evil’ of Israel is better than the ‘heaven’ of the West Bank.” Shu‘a Sa‘d, 22, explained why: “Here you can say whatever you like and do whatever you want-so long as you don’t touch the security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about Arafat, they can arrest you and beat you up.” Another young man, ‘Isam Abu ‘Alu, 29, put it differently: “Mr. Sharon seems to want us to join an unknown state that doesn’t have a parliament, or a democracy, or even decent universities. We have close family ties in the West Bank, but we prefer to demand our full rights inside Israel.”
The entrance to Umm al-Fahm, the largest Muslim town in Israel, sports the green flags of the Islamic Movement Party that rules the town, along with a billboard denouncing Israel’s rule over Jerusalem. That said, Hashim ‘Abd ar-Rahman, mayor and local leader of the Islamic Movement, has no time for Sharon’s suggestion: “Despite the discrimination and injustice faced by Arab citizens, the democracy and justice in Israel is better than the democracy and justice in Arab and Islamic countries.”
Just 30 percent of Israel’s Arab population, a May 2001 survey found, agree to the Galilee Triangle being annexed to a future Palestinian state, meaning that a large majority prefers to remain in Israel. By February 2004, according to the Haifa-based Arab Center for Applied Social Research, that number had jumped to 90 percent preferring to remain in Israel. No less startling, 73 percent of Triangle Arabs said they would resort to violence to prevent changes in the border. Their reasons divided fairly evenly between those claiming Israel as their homeland (43 percent) and those cherishing Israel’s higher standard of living (33 percent). So intense was the Arab opposition to ceding the Galilee Triangle to the Palestinian Authority that Sharon quickly gave the idea up.
It seems that Ayalon’s comments are rooted more in politics than in real analysis.