No. 416 October 1999
On the eve of the High Holidays in Israel in September 1999, just days after the Sharm al-Sheikh accord was signed by Israel and the Palestinians to relaunch the peace process between them, two car-bombs exploded in the northern cities of Haifa and Tiberias, injuring innocent passers-by. Within days, the Israeli security authorities had arrested six Israeli Arabs, all affiliated with the northern faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who were apparently recruited by Hamas in the West Bank for the purpose of wrecking both the accord and the Jewish holidays.
Tensions in Nazareth
The radicalization of Muslims in Israel may also be seen in the tensions making headlines in the Arab city of Nazareth in the Galilee. On December 21, 1997, just four days before Christmas, Muslim zealots in Nazareth invaded the plaza at the foot of the Basilica of the Annunciation, the major Christian shrine in the city. They fenced off an area, declared the land to be a holy Muslim endowment (wakf), and began to erect a mammoth tent as a provisional mosque prior to the construction of a permanent mosque with a planned 86-meter-tall minaret which would tower above the adjacent Christian shrine. Israeli authorities have sought to resolve the controversy by peaceful means, thus unwittingly consecrating the Muslim claim and complicating the resolution of the issue.
In November 1998, the local elections in Nazareth brought into office a city council dominated by the Islamic movement. The campaign had revolved around the controversy over the mosque, whose supporters won a majority of the vote. In addition, the present mayor, Ramez Jeraysi, is likely to be the last Christian mayor of the city. Jeraysi is a representative of the former communist Hadash party, and the Islamists are, by definition, anti-communist. Furthermore, as a result of thetensions surrounding the mosque, Jeraysi was physically attacked by assailants in mid-October 1999.
Just prior to the attack, the Israeli government approved the construction of a mosque of more modest size at the site, outraging Christians who warned that in response the pope may cancel his visit to Nazareth scheduled for Spring 2000.
In Nazareth, a Christian city during most of its history, the now outnumbered Christians appear to have lost confidence in their ability to maintain their long-standing coexistence with their Muslim neighbors, and many have left the city for neighboring Christian villages or other mixed Israeli cities where they can escape from Muslim hegemony. Others have immigrated from the country altogether, much like the Christians of Lebanon, Bethlehem, and other locations in the Muslim world. This is a sign that the Christian minority living in Israel believes that the Jewish state is either unable or unwilling to protect them any longer, or that the Israeli authorities, themselves menaced by mounting fundamentalist Islam, are more concerned with their own protection than they are with the plight of the Christians.
The trend is clear, Nazareth will soon become a Muslim city. Though it is part of Israel, and the government in Jerusalem still wields some influence through its funding of the local government, major decisions are being made within an intensely Muslim ambiance with regard to the Christian holy places, urban priorities, city planning, and the position of non-Muslims in the community, casting a long shadow on the future of the remaining Christians. Perhaps now that the events of Nazareth, Haifa, and Tiberias have converged to illustrate the dangers that lay ahead, new measures will be required to meet the challenge of the Islamic movement in Israel.
A Million Muslim Israelis
While the Muslim population within Israel is now approaching one million, it is difficult to gauge the sentiments of this community. Most of its members embrace a quietist attitude toward Israel, enjoying the benefits they draw from their Israeli citizenship, and refraining from overt acts of disloyalty. They are indeed on record as condemning the recent acts of violence by the Islamists, and are wary not to wreck the rather comfortable boat in which they find themselves. However, in contrast to the current misconception that they are “loyal” to their country, one should recall the near-consensus among them that shuns Independence Day celebrations in Israel and terms that day the nakbah (disaster). They also side automatically with their Palestinian brethren in any confrontation with Israel, and express a growing desire for practical steps toward autonomy. The quietist majority among Muslims also identifies itself as Palestinian rather than Israeli, and regards itself as a national rather than an ethnic, linguistic, or religious minority in Israel. All of these perceptions and self-perceptions are pregnant with the potential for dissent, unrest, disobedience, and hostility, though they generally do not yet transcend the boundaries of legality.
The Worldview of Radical Islam
The range of cleavages between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority in Israel is often bridgeable by common language, economic interest, and neighborly relations. But Islamic fundamentalism, which has injected massive doses of Islamic symbolism into the Arab-Israeli dispute, has often lent to it a religio-cultural nature, thus turning it into a qualitatively insoluble dispute. In turn, Muslim fundamentalists in Israel, who would otherwise accept their minority status and adjust to the vagaries of life under a Jewish authority, once imbued with the general mode of thinking of other Muslim radicals, tend also to exacerbate their anti-Israeli rhetoric and attitudes.
The Arabs of Israel, even more than other Muslims who may feel resentment and frustration at their inability to retrieve the Holy Land of the Muslims with Jerusalem at its heart, sense in a more immediate fashion the humiliation of being ruled by an erstwhile dhimmi (inferior) people which had itself submitted to Islamic rule, and which had projected a questionable reputation and status in Islamic tradition. As pious Muslims, these Arabs cannot disregard the vehement anti-Israeli arguments advanced by masters of radical Islam all around them.
The Israeli Arabs felt thrust aside by Israeli society, which relegated them to something less than the accepted norms of equality in the country, and they also felt that they were looked upon suspiciously by other Palestinians because they were Israelis. For some, Islamization was the way out, not only in order to escape the margins and set themselves in the center stage, but also to signal to both the Israeli and Palestinian societies which had alienated them that they, together with other Palestinian fundamentalists in the West Bank and Gaza, constitute the core and the vanguard of the future. Indeed, after 1967, Arab Muslims in Israel began inviting renowned Palestinian clerics from those areas to deliver sermons in mosques, schools, and social gatherings. Thus, the ideologies of the Muslim Brothers and the Islamic Liberation Party of old were propagated among Israeli Arabs. Conversely, Israeli Muslims who attended Islamic institutions of higher learning in the territories went back to their communities in Israel imbued with the new Islamic revivalist spirit. These processes had an immediate impact on the Muslims in Israel: a massive return to Islam among the young in tandem with a similar trend in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Islamic movement among the Muslims in Israel has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1980s, and has by now imposed its presence not only culturally but also politically, both in intra-Arab and in Israeli national politics. Prior to the local elections of November 1998, the Islamic movement split between the southern faction headed by Sheikh Abdallah Darwish, the founder of the movement, who has opted for joining Israeli national politics, and the more radical northern faction led by Sheikh Ra’id Salah, the Mayor of Umm al-Fahm, who has chosen the course of isolating his constituents in Islamic enclaves within Israel and remains adamant in his support of Hamas and other fundamentalist Muslim movements. It is the northern faction which engendered the recent acts of terror, but one fears that the general atmosphere of violence created by those acts, and the high prestige which the perpetrators enjoy among their peers, might encourage others to join the circle of terror.
The recognized founder and spiritual leader of the movement is Sheikh Abdallah Nimr Darwish of Kafr Qassem. Outwardly, he and his disciples adopted the slogan of activity and change by peaceful means within the framework of law. Sheikh Ra’id Salah of Umm al-Fahm leads the more radical Islamists, who have split from the mainstream which remains under the aegis of Sheikh Abdallah.
A New Generation of Leaders
Umm al-Fahm, the hub of Muslim fundamentalism in Israel, owes its status to Sheikh Ra’id, a local youth who attended the Islamic College in Hebron in 1976, and after graduating in 1979 began roaming the country and preaching a return to Islamic values. An Islamic organization was set up locally, as in other places, complemented by voluntary welfare associations which sought to step into the social and cultural vacuum left by the lack of involvement of the Israeli government in the township. The Islamic message had a tremendous appeal to unskilled laborers who worked in Tel Aviv and other Israeli urban centers, and underwent daily humiliation in their encounter with Israeli prosperity and cultural assertiveness. It also appealed to the youth who were seeking new avenues and new answers, and to professionals who were in search of new channels for their nationalism and new definitions for their identity. The movement also appealed to the rank and file who observed with admiration and pride the welfare, development, and cultural projects undertaken by the Muslim movement, led by Sheikh Ra’id.
Sheikh Abdallah, who appeared to represent the more conciliatory trend towards Israel, came to be upstaged by the younger and more militant sheikhs who now lent much more primacy to the hard-line Islamic position and came dangerously close to the Hamas line of argument, calling to substitute an Islamic state in the entire expanse of Palestine for the existing State of Israel.
No longer confined to the three regional hubs of Umm al-Fahm, Kafr Qassem and Kafr Kanna, the Islamic movement has now also taken root in the mixed cities of Nazareth (with its sizable Christian population), Jaffa, and Acre (with a sizable Arab minority). Most spectacular were the gains of the movement among the Bedouins in the Negev, where an Islamist mayor was elected in Rahat in 1989.
It was precisely the young leaders of the movement, who were dipped in Western principles, studied in Israeli universities, and knew Israeli society, language, and culture well, who became the most radically opposed to it and veered toward an uncompromising Islamic fundamentalism.
In the local elections of 1993, the Islamic movement further consolidated its position. In addition to the six mayorships gained previously by the movement, it added Islamist local councilors in many other villages and towns, including mixed councils where the Muslim population coexisted with non-Muslims.
Participation in Israeli National Elections
After the younger leaders were catapulted to power in the elections, they no longer depended for their status and reputation on the backing and confirmation of Abdallah Darwish. Therefore, the young and militant mayors led by Ra’id Salah, who drew their power and popularity directly from their electorate, could afford to bring to the fore their differences with the founder. For example, before the Israeli national elections of 1992, Abdallah advocated participation of the movement in the Knesset race, while Ra’id was strictly opposed. The ideological stakes were enormous. Unlike the local elections, in which the Muslim movement came to take control of several mayoralties, thus contributing to self-reliance and reinforcing the separateness of their communities from the Israeli mainstream, contesting in the national elections entailed three major doctrinal breaches. First, participation in the elections means acknowledging an acceptance of the rule of the non-Muslim majority; second, it entails a respect for the laws of Israel which every elected member of the Knesset swears to uphold in his inaugural oath; and third, it means a recognition of Israel’s sovereignty.
Furthermore, a Muslim is not supposed to respect and act according to secular laws made by humans, but follow the Shari’a, the law which emanates from Allah himself. Thus, when the Muslim movement in Israel participates in local elections and elects Islamic mayors, they do not need to swear allegiance to the State of Israel. Moreover, under Israeli law, local councils are entitled to adopt bylaws, for example, governing the separation of sexes at school or forbidding the sale and consumption of alcohol. From the fundamentalist point of view, this is not an enactment of law but merely an application of the law of Allah. However, participation in government at the national level would require acceptance of the secular laws of the Jewish state and behaving in accordance with them instead of cultivating a separate patrimony in isolation and segregation. Despite these convictions that are shared by all fundamentalists as a matter of principle, pragmatists like Sheikh Abdallah Darwish and some of his followers argued consistently for participation in national elections as the only way to bring pressure to bear on Israeli governments to respond to their particular needs.
This issue came to the fore on the eve of the national elections of 1996 and, coupled with personal ambition and other matters of contention, contributed to the split within the Islamic movement when the organs of the organization, controlled by Sheikh Abdallah, overwhelmingly supported the resolution to run for the Knesset. Sheikh Ra’id, and his fellow radical Sheikh Kamal Khatib from Kafr Kanna, rejected the resolution and, taking advantage of Abdallah’s absence abroad, published a communique stating that the resolution did not apply to them. Many attempts to reconcile between the parties were made, but all in vain. Then, Sheikh Ra’id gathered his forces and declared the establishment of his own “Islamic movement,” with an identical name as the mother-movement but evidently much more radical. Or is it?
The Question of Coexistence
The segregated environment that the fundamentalists have been creating around them in Israel is, by definition, a temporary step. With regard to the long-term solution to their plight, the Islamic movement entertains in its midst various points of view, some of which translated into a rift and then a schism. Some of these expressed views are ambiguous and sometimes they even consist of explicit statements of coexistence with and within the Jewish state. Others amount to veiled or even open threats of revolt and visions of establishing a Muslim state over all of Palestine.
To the pragmatists, coexistence permits the movement to organize, participate in the elections (local and national), inculcate their norms into their constituencies, champion Islamic causes, and at the same time maintain their segregation. By exploiting the means afforded to them by Israeli society, they are willing to play by the rules of democracy as long as this serves their purposes. Ultimately, at some undefined point in the future, they entertain the hope to replace the existing system with a new Islamic order. Those among them who speak about an “Islamic state in Palestine” seldom specify its boundaries, leaving open the possibility that it might encompass the entire territory, including Israel.
The pragmatists, who specifically prescribe a “Palestinian state alongside Israel,” claim that in such a case they would prefer to continue to dwell in Israel as a Muslim minority. This has been, incidentally, the prevailing position among most Arabs in Israel, and it is not surprising that it should be so. For both the pragmatists and the radicals, and for that matter for all Israeli Arabs, the realization prevails that they are much freer in the Jewish state to express their views and implement them than in any neighboring Arab country. In most Arab countries, indeed, including “moderate” and “liberal” Egypt and Jordan, Islamic parties as such cannot run for elections while in Israel they can and do. At any rate, an element of Palestinian-Muslim nationalism is implicitly enmeshed in the demand for a Palestinian state, although both currents officially negate nationalism as a matter of principle and view the ultimate solution in merging into the future revived caliphate of the universal Muslim umma (the community of all Muslims). In the real world, however, like Hamas and other Muslim fundamentalists elsewhere, the Islamic movement in Israel has also been tinged with nationalist tendencies, except that in Israel, “nationalism” for the Arab minority does not mean Israeli nationalism but Arab nationalism, thereby raising the unresolved contradictions discussed above.
The radicals among the fundamentalists have little patience to wait in indolence, and they prefer to embrace the road of militant activism which, they believe, might hasten the attainment of those goals.
Demography of the Islamic Movement
Sheikh Abdallah, who has recently distanced himself from the daily management of the Islamic movement but continues to command the respect of his followers as the supreme spiritual guide, enjoys the support of his own town, Kafr Qassem, whose mayor, Ibrahim Sarsur, is the spokesman for the movement; the neighboring village of Kafr Bara, with Mayor Kamal Rayan who began the political revolution of local Islamic rule in Israel; the Bedouins of Rahat in the Negev; the towns of Jaljulya and Kafr Qara; and the Islamists of the mixed cities of Lod, Ramle, Jaffa, Nazareth, and Acre. When this group ran in the national elections in 1996, it counted among its leadership two Knesset members – abd-al-Malek Dahamsheh of Kafr Kanna and Tawfiq Khatib of Jaljulya – who were reelected in 1999. To this group of leaders also belong Tayasir Masri, the mayor of Kafr Qara’; Jum’a Qasasi, a former mayor of Rahat; and Suleyman abu-Ahmad, a member of the Nazareth city council.
The more radical group, founded and headed by Sheikh Ra’id, consists primarily of Umm al-Fahm, the largest Muslim town in Israel (with a population of some 30,000 as of 1997), some satellite villages around that town, and part of Kafr Kama under the leadership of Sheikh Kamal Khatib.
Nothing is more indicative of the thinking and ambitions of the two groups than their respective modus operandi. Abdallah Darwish focuses on parliamentary activity via the movement’s Knesset members, and tirelessly labors for a rapprochement between Arabs and Jews in Israel. He also mediates in local conflicts and rifts between Israeli Arabs and has gained prestige in doing so as a man of peace and conciliation.
Yet the schism within the movement deprived Abdallah of the hub of Umm al-Fahm, where the printing house, the editorial offices of the weekly Sawt al-Haqq wal-Huriyya, the Islamic College, the Islamic Sports Association, the Islamic Association, and the Zakat welfare committees are located. He had to set up his own parallel organizations to make up for the lost ones, and founded a new journal, Al-Mithaq (the Covenant), which reflects his outlook.
Targets of Islamic Activism
Ra’id’s group, which took command of all the institutions in Umm al-Fahm, has turned to activism of another sort, which can be summed up in two main domains: First, they undertook to rehabilitate physically and restore to Islamic control old waqf and Muslim holy sites, especially the destroyed mosques and cemeteries in the multitude of Arab villages that had been ravaged and abandoned during the 1948 war. This was particularly significant as part of the mood in which Israeli Arabs recognized the fiftieth anniversary of Israeli independence as commemorating the nakbah, the disaster of the loss of Palestine to the Israelis. Their signal was clear: while other Arabs were commemorating, parading, and demonstrating, they were rehabilitating, reconstructing, and taking the lead in recovering their lost patrimony. They scan and monitor all national construction projects in order to oppose and raise the level of awareness among the Arabs of Israel toward any attempt by the Israelis to desecrate or destroy what they consider to be a religious site.
One prominent example of this is the Istiqlal cemetery near Haifa where Izz a-Din al-Qassam is buried. The memory of this Islamic hero of the 1930s who had fought against both the British and the Zionists until he was killed in battle in 1935 was revived by Hamas, and his name adopted by the military arm of the movement. When the Nesher municipality planned to widen the highway at the expense of the cemetery, the Islamists posted a round-the-clock guard at the newly renovated tomb and warned the authorities against touching the spot. The movement also strives to restore to Islamic control old mosques which had either been destroyed or turned into entertainment and tourist sites. They demand that the revenues from the property be put under their exclusive control.
A second major target of activism involves Arab claims in Jerusalem. Although most Israeli Arabs toe the PLO and Hamas line that eastern Jerusalem should be under Palestinian rule, no element has committed itself more deeply and acted upon its commitment more insistently than the Ra’id group. Sheikh Ra’id has become the chief bearer of the banner of the struggle for Jerusalem. He warns against the “impending menace to al-Aqsa” mosque, and attempts to mobilize local and world Islamic public opinion to his side in order to “rescue the mosque.” He virulently condemns the Israeli archeological digs near the Temple Mount and invites delegations of Muslims from Israel and other Islamic countries to come and see for themselves the works which, he claims, are calculated to undermine the foundations of the Holy Shrine of Aqsa in the Haram a-Sharif compound.
To counter the perceived Israeli threat, Ra’id initiated the takeover and refurbishing of the underground floor of the Aqsa mosque, known to Israelis as “Solomon’s Stables,” and by Muslims as “al-Musallah and Marwani” (the Prayer Grounds of Marwan, one of the Umayyad Caliphs), thus adding more praying space during the peak flow of worshippers during Muslim holidays. He also organized a meeting of Muslim Brothers in which he lamented the state of affairs of the Jewish occupation of a holy Islamic site, and ran a Jerusalem festival for the same purpose, which attracted some 40,000 believers. All this frenzy of activity, which followed the controversial opening by Israel of an exit to the Hasmonean tunnel next to Temple Mount, has won Sheikh Ra’id support from the Muslim Brothers everywhere. He is perceived as a man of action with an unswerving commitment to the Islamic cause, as he had shown back in 1992 when he mobilized assistance and whipped up support for the 415 Hamas leaders who had been deported by Israel to southern Lebanon.
Sheikh Ra’id travels often to Islamic countries, especially to Egypt and Turkey, which was at the top of his preoccupations and hopes during the brief tenure of the Erbakan government in the mid-1990s, which championed world Islamic causes in the name of the ruling fundamentalist Welfare Party in Ankara. At the time he even sought recognition for his Islamic College by Turkish Muslim authorities. Ra’id has also maintained close relationships with the political branch of Hamas. When Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yasin was jailed in Israel, Ra’id built up a close partnership with Dr. al-Zahar, one of the top leaders of the movement in Gaza, and after Yasin was released in late 1997, Ra’id inched closer to him. His activities in support of Hamas, which have apparently included material aid to the families of suicide bombers and subventions to the needy, have won him much scorn from Israeli authorities and public opinion.
When Sheikh Yasin was released from Israeli captivity following the failed Israeli Mossad attempt against the life of the Hamas leader Mash’al in Jordan, Ra’id headed a delegation to Amman to welcome the venerated Hamas hero. The Jordanian authorities, who had become wary of the zealous young sheikh who had attempted to intercede in favor of the Muslim candidates in Jordan’s parliamentary elections, had to yield to popular demand and allow him in for the occasion. When Yasin arrived in Gaza, Ra’id and his crowd were there to greet him, and the contacts between the two have not abated despite Yasin’s continued incitement against Israel. Abdallah Darwish, by contrast, has refrained from all these gestures, and his stature among Hamas supporters has greatly declined as a consequence.
Ra’id and his group neither sympathize with nor are supported by the Palestinian Authority. The distribution of Sawt al-Haqq has been prohibited in the territory of the PA. In turn, Ra’id and his supporters do not hide their criticism of the Oslo process in which, they claim, the Palestinians have been short-changed. This did not prevent Ra’id from trying to organize a meeting between the Israeli Chief Rabbi and Sheikh Yasin, something that did not materialize due to Yasin’s venomous stand against Israel, but a discussion did take place in Gaza with Israeli Rabbi Menachem Fruman of Tekoa. Ra’id’s strategy is crystal-clear: he tries to circumvent the political establishments in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and channel the contacts into religious matters so as to short-circuit the intergovernmental Oslo mechanism.
When the Persian Gulf crisis was rekindled in April 1998, both factions of the Islamic movement, like the rest of the Arab and Islamic world, condemned American interference and sided with the Iraqi people. Ra’id’s group in particular abhors the godless Saddam, and so does Abdallah; therefore, they refrained from showing any sympathy to him personally or to his rule. If they had, they might also have endangered the generous support received from the Muslim Brothers and other Muslim fundamentalists disbursed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The Fundamentalists and Israel
The two splinter groups of the Islamic movement in Israel have become so deeply entrenched in the landscape of the country that they are likely to maintain their separate institutions, their mutual bickering, and ideological differences, which are mainly a question of nuances and tactics, not of doctrine or long-term strategy. Abdallah’s group may grow on the national level due to its participation in national politics through its Knesset members and the likelihood of its providing a better and more updated leadership than the defunct communists. Ra’id’s faction, which is stronger at the local level, may pursue its policy of capitalizing on the frustrations of the young Arabs in Israel who cannot identify with the Israeli establishment, though they continue to tap its grants and services, and who are happy with the growing segregation of their Islamic enclaves from the Israeli mainstream. Both factions have enough cadres, vested interests, institutions, leaders, and popular support to last. Within a general atmosphere of dissatisfaction with and alienation from the Israeli polity, which has so far failed to reconcile the contradictions between its nature as a Jewish-Zionist state and its democratic aspirations for equal rights and duties for all its citizenry, the prognosis cannot be optimistic.
Admittedly, the processes that the Arab population in Israel have been undergoing are complicated and diverse, and no blanket statements can justly apply to all. For while Israelization is proceeding apace in the internalization of values of democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech; higher standards of living; high-technology education; and the substitution of meritocracy and personal politics for the old machinations of the traditional patriarchal hierarchies, elements of alienation and nationalism are also noticeable. Viewed merely through the focus of the general success story of Islamic fundamentalism in the world today, it is conceivable that many more Muslims in Israel will regroup around their religio-cultural heritage in the years to come. If they do so, and regardless of the Islamic faction they will elect to follow (if by then the two groups have not merged), their common doctrinal and cultural heritage, and the joint ideological infrastructure they have cultivated over the years, will provide them with a common denominator to rally around. This common denominator is made up of two components: one negative regarding the Jews, and the other positive, reflecting the vision of an Islamic state.
The Muslim movement in Israel, especially Sheikh Ra’id’s faction, has been professing institutional and political self-reliance in their own enclaves within Israel, much like the Arabs in Israel in general who have also been vying for their own institutional and cultural autonomy. The difference is that Ra’id’s supporters often voice the dream of an Islamic state that might replace Israel, while Abdallah’s group has not come that close to denying the existence of Israel. Nevertheless, even during its period of unity under Sheikh Abdallah, the Islamic movement did not mince words, recognizing the intifada as a jihad (holy war) against Israel and openly urging the Palestinians to raise the banner in order to “die for Allah.”
Since the Oslo process began in late 1993, a tone of pragmatic realism seems to have struck Muslim fundamentalists in Israel. The radicals still pursue their rhetoric as in the past, but the mainstream pragmatists seem to have adopted a more realistic approach to their status and dreams, especially since they participated in the national elections and sent their representatives to the Knesset. During the local elections of 1998, the balance of forces between the two groups remained basically unchanged, while permitting the parties to sharpen their messages and to crystallize and update their views. Sheikh Ra’id, for example, has opposed the Wye Plantation accords due to the concessions extracted from the Palestinians there, and strongly objected to the subsequent abrogation of the Palestinian National Charter, while Sheikh Abdallah is on record as supporting both. The end result is that, in fact, the two rival Islamic groups have aligned themselves along the Hamas-Palestinian Authority rift.
There are observers in Israel who regard the process of moderation of the Islamic movement in Israel as irreversible, and they predict that even the radicals will ultimately come around. They find indications of this trend in the fact that the mainstream has joined the fray of Israeli politics and has made itself not much different from prevailing views of Israeli Arabs, something that was manifested in the alliance of the Islamists with the Arab Democratic Party to run together in the 1996 national elections, and thereafter to operate in the Knesset as one faction.
The line-up of the two groups following the 1998 local elections showed mixed results. Sheikh Ra’id ran for the third time for mayor in Umm al-Fahm, received 70 percent of the vote, and took 7 out of the 11 seats on the council. In Nazareth, Salman abu-Ahmed, who was identified with the Abdallah Darwish faction, lost the mayoral elections but his group won 10 of the 19 seats on the city council.
Yet, as is the case in Israel in general, these results show that municipal politics shun ideologies, and that worthy men and able administrators are valued over ideologues and preachers. This explains the recurring victory of Sheikh Ra’id as well as the failure of some of his supporters in other places. Conversely, many of Abdallah’s candidates did win in their villages, something which will certainly prop up the prestige of that group. Ra’id’s more radical group may have to moderate its conduct if it wishes to retain its constituency, when it recognizes the gains of its rivals made through moderation and joining in national politics. What happens between Israel and the Palestinians, which naturally relates to what happens between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, will also either facilitate or obstruct that metamorphosis.