Since the ongoing conflict in the region has always focused on Israel’s relationship with Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and the neighbouring Arab states, the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been neglected as a national, religious, linguistic and cultural minority. However, Palestinian citizens of Israel make up about 20% of the population of Israel, and are both key to the peace process, as well as deeply affected by any future settlement. Still, they have so far not been given a real voice to contribute to processes and negotiations that will affect their future.
The current tense political climate has been exacerbated by Israeli society veering further to the right. This shift is being translated into government policies, which in many cases directly affect and target the status of Palestinians citizens of Israel. While it is important to address the consequences of these shifts before relations deteriorate further, there is also an urgent need to draw attention to the pervasive lack of knowledge about the Palestinian community in Israel. Jewish-Israelis acknowledge that they know very little about the actual conditions of the Palestinians in Israel. This is also true of the international community, the Arab world, and Jewish diaspora communities.
Palestinians in Israel have come to the forefront of the conflict, both as a result of Israel’s insistence on being recognised as a Jewish state, and the discriminatory bills being debated and those already passed by the Knesset. Thus far, however, the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been overlooked by regional players, as well as by the international community. The issues of Palestinians in Israel, which inevitably go the heart of contradictions of the Israeli state as equal, inclusive and democratic, need to be firmly placed on international and local agendas of relevant parties.
In such a context, there can be a crucial role for think tanks and NGOs, such as ORG, to mediate links between the communities, while also encouraging strategic thinking around these issues in the spirit of ‘moving forward’ and ‘what can be done'.
Key conversations and consultation trips in January and November 2011 revealed a sense of urgency in the need to look ahead, with a focus on identifying practical and strategic options in a shifting regional and Israeli landscape.
In close consultation with local partners and prospective participants, we have shaped a new project that will seriously engage with the issues of the Palestinians in Israel. We aim to foster inclusive internal dialogue among Palestinians in Israel to develop a strategic vision in order to impact policy-making in Israel and internationally.
The project will revolve around research, smaller working groups, up to three workshops, consultations with the community, and presentations from invited speakers. Bringing together a small but influential group of high-level thinkers from the Palestinian community inside Israel, the project will build on previous and current initiatives. What will be different about this project is that it aspires to transcend the sense of crisis the community feels by shaping an overarching strategic vision. This vision will be action-oriented and focused on how to move forward.
We hope that these efforts will manifest themselves in a strategic document that re-assesses the profound changes in the situation of the Palestinian community in Israel and maps out scenarios, options and risks. The aim is to focus on what would make a difference, what can be done to achieve this, and formulate an action plan of how it can be done. By devoting time to the application of the results of strategic thinking, it is hoped that a spirit of open communications and a real sense of progress can be fostered.
ORG is in the process of securing funding for a further evolution of this project, with a view to facilitating a dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel. This phase would be geared towards formulating new joint strategies to achieve genuine democratic processes that are part of a vision of inclusive citizenship and recognition of collective rights.
Our workshops are based on a methodology that combines inclusive dialogue, working with small, high-level groups, a focus on strategic thinking, and close working relationships with local partners designed to impact the political process. This approach has already proven highly successful in previous work attempting to promote alternative, national debates within each society about non-violent strategic options for ending the conflict. We seek to facilitate environments that encourage creative new thinking. These processes are collaborative in nature, and participants play a crucial role in shaping and evolving the projects.
We believe that, even in cases where mutual accommodation seems impossible, work can be done to at least prepare societies for peace-making. ORG’s method keeps channels of communication open that are otherwise unavailable, even when negotiations and other forms of conventional inter-party dialogue fail. This approach maximises chances of reviving dialogue and reconciliation in the future. The planned series of workshops will allow us to deepen our special approach and work in the field.
Photo Credit: Judah Passow 1997