Since the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993, Israeli governments have pursued a policy of containment toward the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has blatantly violated the Accords. This policy, which the Palestinians and the Israeli Arabs see as reflecting Israeli weakness and dependence on the PA, affects the Israeli Arab sector’s commitment to the narrative of the Palestinian struggle and its attitude toward law and order. It has also helped to impair governability and ignited two waves of violence in the Arab sector, each of which was, at the time, unprecedented since Israel’s establishment.
The formation of Israel’s new conservative government offers a golden opportunity for a change in policy toward the PA and Hamas and their influence over the Israeli Arab street, aiming to restore governability and impose law and order.
Israeli Arab Violence
The effects of the two fierce waves of Israeli Arab violence continue to the present. The first wave occurred in October 2000, when 13 Israeli citizens (12 Arabs and 1 Jew) were killed. It corresponded with the second intifada.
The second riots, in May 2021, accompanied Operation Guardian of the Walls. In those disturbances, 13 Israeli citizens were killed. The common denominator of these two severe outbreaks of violence is that events in east Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount were the detonators.
An investigation of the rioting shows that the PA and Hamas have turned the Temple Mount issue and the mendacious “Al-Aqsa is in danger” canard into their main engines for inciting the Israeli Arabs against the state.
The incitement is conducted in the Palestinian education system, mosques, official media, and social media.
On the eve of Ramadan 2023, there was growing concern that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas would again use the Temple Mount issue to incite the Israeli Arabs. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced the apprehension of a “Guardian of the Walls II” outbreak in the Arab sector and the mixed Muslim-Jewish Israeli cities and that the police were preparing accordingly. Eventually, despite growing tension and incitement and some escalation, there was no major outbreak of violence.
May 2021: Israeli Arabs Identified as Palestinian
As the Israeli Arabs see it, what happened in May 2021 was a spontaneous eruption, aimed less at protesting injustice and inequality in Israeli society and more at emphasizing that their national identity is Palestinian rather than Israeli, despite the Israelization phenomenon in the Arab society. They also view the outbreak as highlighting their inseparable affiliation with the Palestinian people and their link to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
As a direct lesson from the violent events of May 2021, Israel is now establishing a National Guard to help restore governability in the Arab sector and deal with widespread disturbances, including in the mixed Jewish-Muslim cities.
Some members of the Israeli Arab leadership have also helped encourage the violence through rabble-rousing statements in the media. Parliamentary whip and Member of Knesset Ofir Katz is now promoting a bill to disqualify Arab members of the Knesset who support terror. Statements favoring terror or an individual terrorist would constitute sufficient cause to bar running for the Knesset.
Meanwhile, the Bedouin residents of the Negev are marking a whole year since the “Negev uprising” (habat al-nakab in Arabic) against a tree-planting ceremony by the Jewish National Fund, and some are preparing for a further confrontation in light of the new government’s aim of imposing law and order.
The Situation in the Arab Society at Present
Many members of the younger Israeli Arab generation continue complaining about discrimination, deprivation, hate, and frustration over what they perceive as racism toward the Arab sector and meager budgets for tackling crime and social problems. There is still intense anger over the Israeli establishment’s intention to fight illegal construction while neglecting the issues of violence, crime, and illegal weapons.
The exclusion of the Arab Ra’am Party from the current coalition has exacerbated the fear that, instead of addressing the fundamental problems of the Israeli Arab sector, a process that Ra’am spearheaded as a coalition member of the Bennett-Lapid government, the new government will neglect the issue despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s promises.
According to media reports, Netanyahu aims to funnel a sum of NIS 30 billion to the Arab sector—compared to the NIS 53 billion that the previous government allocated to it.1
Overall, the Israeli Arabs feel uncertain whether the new government will continue implementing the previous one’s policy toward their sector.
The government approved a five-year NIS-30-billion (2022–2026) economic plan to close the shortfalls in the Arab society. It envisaged a series of housing, health services, employment, innovation, and high-tech measures.
It also approved a multiyear (2022–2026) plan to tackle crime and violence in the Arab society. This plan was budgeted with NIS 2.5 billion, and its goals were to break up the crime organizations; reduce crime and violence; curtail illegal weapons; enhance the sense of security of both Arab and Jewish citizens; bolster the Arab sector’s trust in the law enforcement system; and more.
In the Arab society, a sharp conflict continues between, on the one hand, Palestinian national identity and, on the other, Israeli identity and loyalty to the state.
Although, since the May 2021 events, quiet has prevailed in the Arab sector, it is an illusory quiet. Under the surface, the resentments simmer and threaten to erupt anew, especially in the mixed cities where the friction between Jews and Arabs is considerable.
There is great apprehension in the Israeli Arab sector over the appointment of Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit Party, to the post of national security minister in light of his election campaign declarations to restore governability to the Negev and fight crime in the Arab sector. Those fears intensified with Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount on January 3, 2023, and assertions about changing the status quo on the Mount. There is concern that his policy will ignite a new spate of disturbances in the Arab sector and the mixed cities.
On January 9, 2023, the National Committee of Heads of Arab Local Authorities stated in a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu: “It is hard for us to see how we can work effectively with the new national security minister, given his racist positions toward the Arab sector and the total and deep mistrust between the Arab sector and the minister and his office.”
The local authority heads warned that Ben Gvir had been granted policy prerogatives and powers with great potential to harm the Arab sector, such as transferring the Israel Lands Authority to his purview, possible change of open-fire orders, and allowing the Shin Bet security agency to operate in the Arab communities, which could help the minister to implement his hardline agenda for the Arab society. The local authority heads clarified that “these measures could certainly lead to events involving loss of control in the Arab communities.”
Ben Gvir, on the other hand, repeatedly iterates his commitment to fighting crime in the Arab society, so far to no avail, as the numbers of murders among Israeli Arabs keep growing.
Israeli Arabs’ Potential for “Resistance” as Seen by the PA and Hamas
As the new Israeli government took shape, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas formulated a new “roadmap” for the struggle against it. This plan calls for “popular resistance” and international diplomatic and media activity against Israel.
Central to the plan are the diplomatic and media efforts against the Netanyahu government, which is portrayed as a racist entity pursuing a policy of apartheid. The project was presented to the tenth conference of the Fatah Central Committee at the start of December 2022.
PA officials say that the PA will use the new conservative government’s attitude toward the Israeli Arabs to vilify it internationally.
The PA maintains tight ties with the Israeli Arabs. Senior PA officials confer with Arab-sector leaders who make pilgrimages to the Mukata headquarters in Ramallah for meetings with the PA chairman and participate in events of the Palestinian leadership, such as the convening of the PLO Executive Committee.
The first PA chairman, Yasser Arafat, used the services of the Israeli Arabs in crafting his strategy toward Israel. In August 1993, he appointed Dr. Ahmed Tibi, from Taibe and a Member of the Knesset, as his adviser on Israeli affairs. In 1998, Tibi also served as spokesman for the Palestinian delegation to the Wye Plantation Summit.
The Israeli Arabs’ Higher Monitoring Committee maintains a very close relationship with the PA, primarily via the head of the committee, Mohammed Barakeh, who often visits Ramallah and participates in official PA and Fatah events.
The Cities of Israel organization, which was set up after Operation Guardian of the Walls by Jewish residents of mixed cities, claims that the violent events of May 2021 were not spontaneous and that it was the Higher Monitoring Committee, in whose framework the Arab parties and local authorities operate, that organized the actions on the ground, encouraged the rioters, and promised them legal assistance.2
In addition, there is a free flow of Israeli Arabs to PA-controlled areas and the Temple Mount for prayers. They go there for academic studies (thousands of Israeli Arab students attend PA universities), family visits, and shopping. The city of Jenin, in particular, with its low prices, has become a large weekend shopping center for Israeli Arabs.
Thousands of Israeli Arabs come to Jenin each week, and they are affected by the sentiments afoot in the city, which has become the “terror capital” of the West Bank.
To avoid harm to the city’s economy, the defense establishment does not restrict Israeli Arabs’ entry to Jenin, where their purchases are one of the residents’ primary sources of income.
The PA’s glorification of terrorists also extends to Israeli Arabs involved in terror. Alongside its policy of paying salaries to terrorists serving prison sentences in Israel and stipends to families of those killed or wounded in the Palestinian struggle against Israel, the PA also pays salaries to Israeli Arabs who engage in terror (indeed, they and east Jerusalem Arabs get slightly higher wages than West Bank and Gaza Arabs). The reward incentivizes Israeli Arabs to commit terror attacks.
Recently, the PA and Abbas’s special regard for Israeli Arab terrorists was evidenced by the release from prison of the terrorist Karim Yunis, a resident of the Israeli town of Ara who in 1980 murdered IDF soldier Avraham Bromberg.
Abbas called Yunis on the phone to congratulate him on his release and told him: “The prisoner issue is a sacred issue, and we will work together to liberate the prisoners and the homeland. We await the release of Marwan Barghouti and Maher Yunis to celebrate their freedom, and we will get all the prisoners out of the Israeli detention camps.”
The special relationship between the PA and Karim Yunis is a further and dangerous indication of the PA’s support for terror activity by Arabs who are Israeli citizens.
In 2014, Yunis was one of a group of security prisoners who had perpetrated terror attacks before the Oslo Accords and whose release the Palestinians, in the negotiating process with Israel, demanded as part of the fourth stage of freeing terrorists from Israeli prisons. Prime Minister Netanyahu opposed releasing Yunis, and the negotiations ended.
In 2017, Abbas appointed Karim Yunis as a Fatah Central Committee member. He was named a representative of the security prisoners alongside Marwan Barghouti, thereby demonstrating that the PA views Israeli Arab terrorists who belong to Fatah as an integral part of that organization and its leadership despite being Israeli citizens who are supposed to be loyal to Israel.
Although Netanyahu’s office condemned the appointment, no concrete reaction was taken, and the PA chairman did not rescind it.
The Oslo Accords stipulate that the PA must fight terror and not encourage it. The appointment of an Israeli citizen, who took part in terror attacks and murdered an IDF soldier, to a Palestinian leadership post is a PA gesture of contempt toward Israel (and a violation of the accords).3
In addition, the PA operates a radio station for Israeli Arabs whose messages fit the narrative of the Palestinian struggle.
The Israeli Arab leadership sees itself as representing an essential part of the Palestinian people, known as “the Inside” or the “Arabs of ’48” in Arabic, and as a primary side of the triangle that includes the Israeli Arabs, the West Bank Palestinians, and the Gaza Palestinians.
A senior Israeli Arab source told me that the task of the sector’s leadership is to return the Arabs of the “inside” to the fold of the Palestinian people and, after the establishment of the independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, to declare the Israeli Arabs’ autonomy, and later perhaps even to merge with the Palestinian state and augment Israel’s isolation.4
Most Israeli Arab leadership opposes normalization between Israel and Arab countries before reaching an Israeli-Palestinian political settlement. It opposes the idea of a land swap or a population exchange, as Avigdor Liberman proposed some years ago. Many believe that “the Oslo Accords have died” and that they only diverted the Palestinian struggle from its course. They support “armed resistance” against “the Israeli occupation” and claim it is anchored in international law.
Ostensibly, many Israeli Arab leaders promote a strategy according to which their role is to contribute “nonviolent resistance” to the PA’s and the Gaza organizations’ “military struggle” against Israel. But in practice, such “protest” may well take the form of widespread riots in the Israeli Arab communities, as well as the blocking of main roads to disrupt life in the Jewish sector and prevent military and police forces from reaching riots in the mixed cities such as Ramle, Lod, Haifa, Acco, and others. Most Israeli Arabs view these as Arab towns conquered during the Nakba in 1948 and whose Jewish residents are “invaders.”
In my assessment, the weak policy toward the PA is seen as Israeli irresolution and was also evident in the lack of preparation and timidity toward the riots during Operation Guardian of the Walls, which encouraged the Israeli Arabs’ audacity and could lead to problematic scenarios in future clashes. The Israeli leadership, therefore, needs to demonstrate a tough line toward the PA and Hamas.
For example, in August 2021 then–defense minister Benny Gantz approved a set of confidence-building measures for the PA that included a loan of half a billion shekels, the adjustment of the status of 3,000 Palestinians who lacked a Palestinian identity card, and approval for Palestinian building plans in Area C. These mitigations, which were offered against the backdrop of the PA’s incitement during events that preceded Operation Guardian of the Walls, seemed to the PA and to the Israeli Arabs to indicate Israel’s dependence on the PA and hence its weakness, emboldening them to continue in their course.
At the same time, Israel needs to continue its “separation policy” between Gaza on the one hand and Judea and Samaria on the other, thereby obstructing the tripartite relationship that the Israeli Arab leadership wants to create with the PA on the West Bank and the Palestinian factions in Gaza.
In light of the events in the Arab sector and the mixed cities in October 2000 and May 2021, Israel must adopt a deterrent security policy that lays down red lines.
This includes legislating harsher punishments for disturbing the peace, blocking roads, throwing stones and firebombs, and incitement.
Legislation is also needed to strip Israeli Arabs convicted of terror of their citizenship and to enable their expulsion abroad or to Gaza. A law recently passed by the Knesset addresses this issue but is conditional on these terrorists requesting a salary from the PA.
In this context, an important measure was the outlawing in 2015 of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement headed by Raed Salah, after it engaged in incitement and repeatedly voiced the deceitful slogan “Al-Aqsa is in danger.” But that measure is insufficient; the Northern Branch continues to engage in well-honed incitement, aided by legal counsel, that fans the flames of the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” narrative. It also incited the May 2021 riots in the mixed cities and must be dealt with more firmly.
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