The normalization agreements Israel made with the Gulf States have disrupted and disproved the long accepted political dogma. The political currents below the surface are clearly shifting. Arab citizens of Israel, who watched those very countries dismiss the Palestinian issue to focus on their own political and economic well-being, in turn are encouraging their leaders to downgrade their emphasis of Palestinian demands in lieu of seeking to cooperate with the State that they are citizens of, and that would enhance their own quality of life. It is the prudent responsibility of the Jewish leadership of Israel to welcome those leaders with open arms.
The Peace to Prosperity Vision created two seemingly unrelated developments that are actually intertwined. Once the plan to apply Israeli law to Judea and Samaria fell out of favor, the Prime Minister was offered a new currency in the form of normalization agreements with four countries, and the hope that more would follow. Concurrently, Prime Minister Netanyahu began making visits to the local Israeli Arab society. This was not a cynical decision designed to garner votes for Likud, rather it marks a sincere transformation in Arab society where actions, words and sentiments all consistently express a belated recognition not only of Israel’s right to exist, but that they themselves are an integral part of the State of Israel. These historic processes typically evolve over many years, yet are occurring in real time.
Israeli Arabs have historically viewed their own federal government as threatening or best, disconnected from them. The Israeli government often viewed their Arab citizens similarly. Arab representatives in Knesset are vocal regarding the Palestinian struggle, while barely productively engaging on the struggles of their own constituency, Israeli Arabs. In fact, in previous elections, the chairman of the left wing Yesh Atid party, called the members of the Arab Joint List party ‘Zoabis’ (referring to MK Haneen Zoabi, the well known pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist/Israeli agitator) and announced that he would not rely on their votes to form a government. The understanding reflected a broad Israeli consensus that Israeli Arab political leaders could not be trusted to have the State of Israel’s best interests in mind, despite being elected to serve in its Parliament.
Similarly, during a previous campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Israelis that his opponents were planning on relying on anti-Zionist Arab votes to form a government, which led to accusations that he was an anti-Arab racist. Yet, now, Netanyahu is conducting voter outreach in those same Arab neighborhood strongholds with Arab elected officials, where he has met and been received respectfully by Arab leaders.
Israeli politicians across the political gamut (including the Prime Minister) and Arab leaders have come to the realization that we are both here to stay and that the other’s existence does not threaten their own.
Israel must now adopt a domestic ‘vision’ of the Abraham Accords which will lead to greater prosperity, respect and trust between all Israelis - Jews and Arabs. We must improve infrastructure, education and health care in the Arab sector. Law enforcement should be strengthened to make Arab cities safer for the residents as well as to enable more Jews to visit, shop, and do business in those neighborhoods. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs have always shared common interests, but only now, thanks to the broad and enthusiastic embracement of the normalization with the Gulf States, do we have the confidence to unite forces and succeed. This will not happen overnight, but when we view ourselves as having a vested interest in advancing the same country, our State will be immeasurably strengthened.
The same applies to building new homes and neighborhoods in Judea & Samaria. For the leaders of the settlement movement to be completely blind to the new political currents is malpractice. Yet to be unaware of how these new developments benefit the growth of the settlement community demonstrates why the YESHA Council, whose leadership opposed the Trump Vision of Peace through Prosperity and whose chairman just last week made the laughable declaration that President Trump was a threat to the State of Israel, has been so ineffective in winning over the hearts and minds of the public, both in Israel and abroad.
Both Israelis Israelis and Palestinians have common interests. We are both not going anywhere. We are both growing. Our children are getting married and want to live nearby. While a political resolution hardly seems imminent, the opportunity to advance normalization is ever present.
When Israelis justifiably request that their communities in Judea & Samaria be granted the right to grow and develop, our government should similarly consider requests from Palestinians to expand their villages. In fact, I encouraged the YESHA ‘protest tent’ demanding government approval of new Israeli communities, to include Palestinians who want the same for their communities. Instead the YESHA leadership opted for the political theatre of hunger strikes to try and get their way, and in doing so, merely confirmed to the Israeli public that they are oblivious to the changes and the opportunities of the new Abrahamic collaborative environment.
The country has enthusiastically embraced the promise of the Abraham Accords. Prime Minister Netanyahu who in the past had been widely characterized as an anti-Arab racist is now being welcomed by Israeli-Arab leaders. We have proven that we can embrace the vision of normalization abroad. It is now time to do so at home.
Oded Revivi is the Mayor of Efrat and previously served as the YESHA Council’s Chief Foreign Envoy