Does Israel want peace?

By Amos Schocken


Nisan 29, 5765

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently expressed his disappointment over the peace between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors: "Let's look at the relations," he said in an interview to Haaretz on the eve of Passover. "The peace that exists today is a peace between leaders. The people are boycotting it. In Egypt, the academic and commercial circles and the trade unions are boycotting Israel ... It's the same in Jordan."

The aspiration for peace with the Arab people is surely desirable, but given the relations between Israel and the Palestinians, there is perhaps an additional Israeli interest in peace between the peoples and not only between the leaders: Such a peace would isolate the Palestinians and make it easier for Israel to shape its relations with them as it pleases.

Perhaps, for this reason, too, the Arab people refuse to conduct peaceful relations with Israel, thus keeping the pressure on the leaders. In so doing, they are providing support to the Palestinians in shaping their relations with Israel. To Israel, which sees itself as guardian of the welfare of Jews everywhere, it should come as no surprise that in Arab countries people also feel committed to the interests of the Palestinians in the territories and in Israel.

The amendment to the Citizenship Law - which prevents an Israeli citizen, and particularly an Arab Israeli, from marrying someone who was born in the occupied territories and from living with that person in Israel - is a source of harsh discrimination and will exacerbate the boycotting of Israel by the Arab public. A similar decree, if imposed on Jews in any country, would have elicited a harsh Israeli reaction, and justifiably so.

Israel must not be a Jewish state that is not democratic. This would mean the failure of Zionism. Israel must make every effort to ensure that it has a Jewish majority, and at the same time it must also ensure that all its citizens enjoy equal rights. Ostensibly, the amendment to the Citizenship Law is egalitarian. It prevents a young man from Haifa from marrying a young woman from Ramallah and living with her in Haifa, be he a Jew or an Arab. But it is clear that it is not egalitarian: Jewish men hardly ever marry Palestinian women, and if such marriages did occur, they would be in very small numbers. The amendment to the law therefore constitutes harsh discrimination and a violation of the civil rights of Israeli Arabs, for whom the natural reservoir of possible marriage partners includes Palestinians in the territories.

When the amendment was first legislated, its supporters argued that it was meant to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israel under the cover of marriage. This is a shoddy argument: The responsibility of the Shin Bet security service for preventing the infiltration of terrorists requires specific and not sweeping action, and the Shin Bet should guard civil rights in Israel - not harm them. Moreover, this is a false contention: Hardly any incidents of terror would have been prevented had the law always been in effect.

With the government and the Knesset about to extend the applicability of the law and to formulate it in such a way as to increase its chances of standing up to scrutiny in the High Court of Justice, the cat has been let out of the bag: It is not prevention of terror that serves as the driving force behind the legislation, but rather prevention of the entry of Palestinians into Israel so that the demographic balance between the Jews and the Arabs will not be upset.

The proponents of the law have pointed to legislative amendments that were passed recently in Denmark and Holland. In Denmark, the amendment to the law prevents anyone who does not have a deep connection to Denmark from becoming a citizen of the country or even living there, and this affects mainly, but not only, Muslims. In Holland, the amendment denies naturalization or permanent residency to anyone who is not steeped in the Dutch culture and way of life. There, too, the main aim of the law is the prevention of the naturalization of Muslims in the framework of family reunification, although the legislation applies to others as well. In both cases this new legislation is likely to prevent Danish or Dutch citizens from bringing their spouses who are not Danish or Dutch to live with them in their country.

Israelis like to equate themselves with "the more civilized countries of the world" and to forgo critical examination of their conduct. Which country is more civilized than those two? Of course, if it is good for them, then it is definitely good for us. But there is something completely different that Israel should learn from the citizenship and residency policies of Denmark and Holland. Unlike these two countries, Israel has a mission, and the prime minister defined it well: peace between the peoples, not only between the leaders. This should be the goal in our relations with the Arab countries and with the Palestinians - and no less in our relations with Israeli Arabs.

What greater peace can there be between the peoples than thousands of Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian students at universities in Israel, and thousands of Israeli students at universities in the Arab states and in Palestine? And what greater peace can there be between the peoples than what is likely to ensue from this: marriages between young Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, and young people from the neighboring countries and from Palestine?

Embedded in the aspiration for peace is a real interest that the Israeli Arabs become an integral and involved part of Israeli society (and not a "sector"), and that Palestinians, Egyptians and Jordanians live in Israel. This can be within Arab families, but even mixed families (one partner Jewish and one partner Arab) should not be ruled out, and Israelis perhaps could live in a similar way in Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and any Arab country with which we sign a peace agreement.

The preservation of a Jewish majority in Israel will necessitate drawing a distinction between citizenship and residency. However, anyone who truly aspires to peace between the peoples must look at the model of Denmark and Holland within the context of their membership in the European Union. Citizens of the EU countries can live and work in any of the member countries. Spouses from different countries in the EU can marry and live together with their partners in whichever of the member countries they choose. The citizenship of each of the spouses remains, or can remain, that of the country of which he or she was a citizen prior to the marriage.

Anyone who aspires to peace between us and the Palestinians and the Arab people must understand that this, to a large extent, is the meaning of such a peace. The amendment to the Citizenship Law is discriminatory, undemocratic and it turns Israel into an apartheid state. It also undermines the aspiration to establish this kind of peace between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and between us and the Palestinians and the Arab peoples of the region. Above all, it raises the question of whether Israel truly wants the type of peace of which the prime minister has spoken.