Journal Essay

Israel's Palestinian Minority in the Two-State Solution: The Missing Dimension

Dov Waxman

Winter 2011, Volume XVIII, Number 4

Dr. Waxman is associate professor of political science at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.1

The "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been advocated by the international community (ever since the United Nations [UN] General Assembly passed Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, on November 29, 1947), and actively promoted by successive U.S. administrations. It will not, however, solve the conflict. It will be, at best, an incomplete solution, rather than a comprehensive one. This is because a two-state solution, essential though it is, will only address the needs of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and possibly Palestinian refugees elsewhere if they emigrate to the new Palestinian state or receive sufficient compensation (there is little, if any, chance that they will be able to exercise a "right of return" to Israel).2 But Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Palestinians in the Diaspora are not the only Palestinians. There are also Palestinians who live in Israel and are Israeli citizens. At present, there are approximately 1.3 million Palestinian citizens of Israel,3 comprising about 20 percent of Israel's total population4 and about 12 percent of Palestinians worldwide.5 This Palestinian population has been almost completely ignored by the international community. For decades, international discussion of what has become known as the Palestinian "problem" or "question" has focused almost exclusively upon the dire predicament of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The Palestinian minority in Israel has received little, if any, attention; many international observers are barely even aware of the existence of such a minority. Nor is it just the international community that has ignored Israel's Palestinian minority. So, too, has the Arab world,6 and even the official leadership of the Palestinian national movement (the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] and the Palestinian Authority [PA]).7

A widespread and longstanding disregard for the Palestinian minority in Israel has been reflected in all of the accords, initiatives, conferences and summits aimed at achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. No peace plan, whether official or unofficial, has ever dealt with the situation of the Palestinian minority in Israel, especially its future status in a two-state solution.8 The 1993 Oslo Agreement, the 2001 Clinton Parameters, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, the 2003 Road Map, and the 2003 Geneva Accord all failed to address this issue. Not only has the Palestinian minority consistently been ignored; it has always been excluded from participating in the peace process itself.9 Its specific interests and concerns have therefore never been addressed in any of the numerous attempts at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

The reason for this omission lies in the prevailing view of the "Palestinian problem" as one primarily concerning Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and, secondarily, those in the Diaspora. This view, however, is too narrow. More than ever before, the "Palestinian problem" goes beyond the demand for statehood by Palestinians in the territories, and it cannot simply be solved by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. In this article, therefore, I argue that the basic conception of the Palestinian problem that has guided peacemaking efforts to date is too limited and hence flawed, and that it is necessary to have a broader understanding of the Palestinian problem, one that includes Palestinians in Israel. The fundamental claim in the article is that the growing ethno-national conflict within Israel today between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs should be viewed as part of the larger conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.


When David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, he promised that the new state would "foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants […]." Israel has so far failed to live up to this promise. from 1948 until today, the Israeli state has consistently pursued an exclusionary rather than an inclusionary policy towards its Palestinian minority.10 Instead of integrating its Palestinian citizens, its policies have only served to entrench the division between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel have undoubtedly benefited from rising living standards and have enjoyed more democratic freedoms than most Arabs elsewhere, they have always been economically and politically inferior to Jewish citizens of Israel. In the words of one scholar, "They are formally citizens, but inferior ones, struggling, marginalized, feared by the state yet largely Hebrew-speaking, passport-carrying, and bureaucracy-engaging."11 In short, Palestinians in Israel are effectively second-class citizens.

Though the Palestinian minority is no longer the completely ghettoized community it was during Israel's formative era (1948-67), it remains a distinct, separate, largely unassimilated community on the margins of Israeli society. (This is not to say that Palestinians in Israel have not undergone acculturation — adopting aspects of Israeli-Jewish culture — but they have not assimilated and have no desire to.12) There is very little integration, and a great deal of social separation between Jews and Palestinians in Israel13 — they generally live apart, study apart and interact only in the workplace, and even then usually as boss and worker since Palestinians continue to be concentrated in blue-collar and unskilled positions within the Israeli labor market. Palestinians mostly live in their own villages, towns and urban neighborhoods;14 they attend their own elementary and high schools; and they do not perform military service (except for the Druze and some Bedouin). There is, therefore, little informal social contact between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. Intermarriage is extremely rare, and even personal friendships are uncommon.15 In fact, most Israeli Jews do not personally know any Palestinians in Israel (only a quarter of Israeli Jews actually do).16 Not only do Israeli Jews rarely encounter Palestinian citizens of Israel in their daily lives; they rarely read about them or hear about them in the media, and when they do it is often in negative ways.17

Given this de-facto segregation, it is hardly surprising that the Palestinian minority continues to be widely perceived as a security threat, a potential "fifth column" in Israel's ongoing conflict with the Palestinian nation as a whole. Palestinians in Israel still have to live with the suspicion and at times outright hostility of members of the Jewish majority, as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the country's leading civil rights organization, noted in its 2007 annual report: "Arab citizens are exposed to differential and humiliating treatment, and are often regarded with suspicion in Jewish towns, in the street, at the entrance to public recreation and commercial facilities, and at bus and train stations."18 As Ahmad Tibi, a leading Palestinian politician in Israel, more bluntly put it, "The problem is that they [the Israeli government and Israeli Jews] are dealing with us [as] enemies and not as citizens."19

Abiding Israeli-Jewish suspicion toward them is only one of the many problems facing Palestinians in Israel. They also have to contend with persistent poverty (around 50 percent of the Palestinian population in Israel currently live below the poverty line),20 relatively high levels of unemployment, inadequate educational resources,21 land confiscations (50-60 percent of Arab-held land in Israel has been expropriated by the state),22 home demolitions,23 municipal under-funding,24 and discriminatory legislation.25 All of this has left many Palestinians in Israel angry and resentful. After decades of discrimination, marginalization, and neglect, they have become increasingly alienated from the state and Israeli-Jewish society and increasingly frustrated with the status quo.26 They feel highly deprived compared to Israeli Jews, rejected by Israeli-Jewish society and unfairly treated by the state.27 Most have concluded that Israel is inherently biased against them and that they will never be treated fairly or gain equality with Jewish citizens as long as Israel defines itself as a Jewish state.28 Consequently, the Palestinian minority has grown more politically assertive, embracing Palestinian nationalism, demanding their collective rights as a national minority, and calling for the abolition of the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.29 The redefinition of the state from being a Jewish state to becoming "a state for all its citizens" has now become the central demand of the Palestinian minority. It is a demand that the Jewish majority adamantly and almost unanimously opposes.

The growing and increasingly outspoken opposition of the Palestinian minority to Israel's identity as a Jewish state has provoked an angry backlash among Israeli Jews. Feeling isolated internationally and threatened regionally (especially by the rising power of Iran), Israeli Jews have become more right-wing, hawkish and illiberal in recent years.30 This has aggravated long-running tensions between the two communities. Fear and mistrust is now very high on both sides.31 Palestinians in Israel fear severe infringements of their civil rights, violence by the state and by Jewish citizens, the revocation of their citizenship, and even expulsion from the state (whether in the context of a territorial exchange with the Palestinian Authority or because of nationalist pressure to strengthen the Jewish nature of the state).32 Jews in Israel, by contrast, see "Israeli Arabs" as both a security and demographic threat. They fear the spread of radicalism within the Arab minority — whether in the form of growing Palestinian nationalism or Islamism — and the perceived security risk this poses to Israel, especially in the event of another Palestinian Intifada or Arab-Israeli war. Israeli Jews also fear that Arab demographic growth will eventually swamp Israel's Jewish population and nullify the Jewish state.33 Thus, in the words of the Israeli writer David Grossman, "Each is mortally afraid of the other. […] Those fears now seem to be the only thing that connects them."34

Though there are many cleavages in Israeli society — between secular and religious Jews, between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim,35 between natives and immigrants, etc. — the deep social and political divide between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority is by far the most problematic. Majority-minority relations in Israel have never been good; there has always been an undercurrent of wariness and tension, rather than outright hatred. As one observer has written, "Many Jews fear and distrust Arabs, but they are polite and respectful in their presence. Many Israeli Arabs feel anger at Jewish society, but they seldom express it in their contacts with individual Jews."36 This state of relations has been accurately characterized as a "cold peace."37 But even this is now at risk.

There has been a serious deterioration in Jewish-Palestinian relations in Israel over the past decade, since the massive protests and rioting by Palestinians that erupted in October 2000.38 Numerous events and developments since then have contributed to these worsening relations, among them the publication of four "Vision Documents" by members of the Palestinian intellectual elite in Israel in 2006-07,39 intercommunal violence in Acre in October 2008 and in Umm al-Fahm in March 2009,40 the public discussion in Israel of transferring Palestinian-inhabited regions in Israel to a future Palestinian state (a proposal vehemently rejected by the Palestinian residents of those regions),41 the electoral success of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party with its anti-Arab political platform,42 and the introduction of a number of parliamentary bills directed against members of the Palestinian minority.43 External events have also played a part in the deterioration of Jewish-Palestinian relations in Israel, most notably the second Palestinian Intifada,44 the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in 2008-09.

The deepening rift between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority is a subject of grave and widespread concern in Israel today. In a 2007 survey, for example, 87 percent of the Israeli public thought that Jewish-Arab relations in Israel were not good.45 In a public-opinion poll in 2010, the vast majority of Israeli citizens viewed the Jewish-Arab rift as an existential threat to Israel.46 Indeed, a violent clash between Jews and Palestinians inside Israel may well pose as serious a threat to the country as the threat of conflict between Israel and Arabs outside the state's borders (including those in the Occupied Territories).

Some might argue that this analysis is alarmist. To be sure, at first sight there is little evidence of conflict between Palestinians and Jews in Israel. Violence remains rare and interpersonal relations are normally civil. But beneath the surface of daily life, tensions are increasing and attitudes and perceptions on both sides are worsening. Radical political views have gained ground among Palestinians and Jews in Israel. Extremists within both communities have become more vocal and prominent. At present, both Jews and Palestinians are locked in a vicious cycle in which the radicalism of one feeds the radicalism of the other. Although most Palestinians and Jews in Israel are still politically moderate and favor coexistence,47 the political trends within both communities point toward growing conflict, with Palestinians in Israel becoming more assertive and nationalistic, and Israeli Jews becoming less tolerant and more right-wing. Unless both the status of the Palestinian minority in Israel and its relations with the Jewish majority dramatically improve, tension will continue to escalate, potentially leading to violent confrontations, loss of Palestinian civil rights, rising terrorism and even an internal Intifada.


Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly not solely responsible for the deteriorating relations between Jews and Palestinians within Israel, it contributes to this deterioration in a number of ways. First, the behavior and beliefs of Israeli Jews vis-à-vis Palestinians in Israel must be understood within the context of the larger conflict. It has profoundly shaped how the Jewish majority in Israel has treated the Palestinian minority from the very beginning of Israeli statehood. It is because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Israeli Jews perceive Israeli Arabs as a security threat and potential fifth column.48 The fear and suspicion that many Israeli Jews harbor towards Arabs as a result of the conflict make them less willing to make concessions to the Arab minority, since they worry that doing so might be perceived as weakness and could embolden the Arabs. The lack of trust also means that Israeli Jews fear that any concessions will be exploited by the Arab minority. As long as this zero-sum mentality prevails among the Jewish majority, there will be little inclination to make major concessions to the Palestinian minority. The Jewish majority will not willingly give up its position of dominance while simultaneously engaged in a conflict with the Palestinian nation at large.

Second, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also affects the perceptions and attitudes of Palestinians in Israel. To the extent that they perceive the Israeli state as violently oppressing Palestinians in the territories, they are hardly likely to feel a sense of loyalty to it or a desire to identify with it in any way. They are also likely to feel some degree of antagonism towards Israeli Jews who support the occupation and Israel's military offensives against Palestinians and other Arabs (such as Hezbollah in Lebanon). This increases the acute sense of alienation felt by Palestinian citizens of Israel vis-à-vis the Israeli state and Israeli-Jewish society, which in turn feeds radical forces within the Palestinian community. Thus, the conflict weakens the desire of many Palestinian citizens to integrate into Israeli society and politics and strengthens their political separatism.

Third, extremist politicians in both communities exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for their own purposes. Avigdor Lieberman, for instance, capitalized on the 2008-09 Gaza war to promote his anti-Arab platform,49 and this significantly helped his Yisrael Beiteinu party at the polls in the February 2009 election. Similarly, Sheik Raed Salah, the firebrand leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, gained a great deal of attention for his participation in the much-publicized Gaza flotilla incident in May 2010 (especially as a result of initial false rumors that he had been killed by Israeli commandos on board the Turkish vessel the Mavi Marmara).50 By raising the visibility and boosting the appeal of political extremists on both sides, therefore, the conflict increases the polarization between the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.

Finally, since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally dominates Israel's political agenda, other issues get less attention. Despite now being widely acknowledged in Israel to be a crucial and even an existential issue, Arab-Jewish relations inside Israel and the status of the Arab minority still get neglected because of the heavy focus on the conflict and on relations between Israel and the PA. The extremely negative impact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has upon Arab-Jewish relations in Israel is even worse during spikes in Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab violence. When all-out wars break out, Arab-Jewish relations inside Israel severely deteriorate, as occurred with Israel's recent wars in Lebanon and Gaza. Indeed, even though 18 Arab citizens of Israel (out of a total of 43 Israeli civilians killed) were actually killed by Hezbollah's missiles during the second Lebanon war, the war still polarized Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Clearly, a significant improvement in Arab-Jewish relations in Israel depends upon a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not to say that no progress can be made in the meantime. Much can be accomplished, for instance, in reducing economic inequalities between Jews and Arabs chiefly by providing more government funding to Arab communities and more employment opportunities for Arab citizens51). A more prosperous Arab minority is likely to have better relations with the Jewish majority and a better attitude towards the state, even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved. Nevertheless, a major improvement in Arab-Jewish relations in Israel is highly unlikely to occur before a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The dilemma is that while the external conflict must be resolved in order to satisfactorily deal with the internal Arab-Jewish conflict, the internal conflict makes it harder to resolve the external conflict. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be difficult to achieve even if Israel had no Palestinian citizens, but the presence of a large, nationalistically conscious, and politically mobilized Palestinian minority definitely adds another complicating factor. Specifically, it makes it all the more difficult for the PA to agree to Israel's demand that it explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state in return for Israel's acceptance of a Palestinian state.52 Whatever the motives behind this demand (which has been made by both the Netanyahu government since 2009 and its predecessor, Ehud Olmert's government, between 2005-09),53 it has now become a condition for Israeli acquiescence to and recognition of a future Palestinian state. As Prime Minister Netanyahu put it in a major foreign-policy speech at Bar Ilan University on June 14, 2009, he would accept a Palestinian state only if the Palestinians "truly recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people."54

By making Israel's acceptance of a Palestinian state conditional upon Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu has effectively established a direct linkage between the internal conflict involving Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel over the Jewish character of the State of Israel and the external Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the future of the Occupied Territories. Resolving the latter conflict now necessitates resolving, or at least ameliorating, the former conflict. As long as the majority of Palestinians within Israel oppose its exclusive Jewish identity, it is highly unlikely that the PA leadership in Ramallah will agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as this would go against the wishes of most Palestinians in Israel.55 To do so would amount to a betrayal of their co-nationals inside Israel. For this reason alone, the PA is unlikely to agree to explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the framework of an Israeli-Palestinian final-status agreement. Hence, if the Israeli government continues to insist that a peace agreement establishing a Palestinian state also recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to reach such an agreement. The only way in which the PA would probably consent to recognize Israel as a Jewish state would be if Israel agreed to recognize its Palestinian citizens as a national minority and significantly improved their rights and status in the country. Thus, without directly addressing the rights and status of the Palestinian minority in Israel, a peace agreement between Israel and the PA is, at best, a long shot.

While the current Israeli demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state makes an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement much harder to achieve, a future Israeli demand that many Palestinian citizens of Israel instead become citizens of a Palestinian state will almost certainly be a deal breaker. This demand, already being publicly voiced by Foreign Minister Lieberman and others, calls for an exchange of territory in which heavily populated Palestinian areas inside Israel would come under the sovereignty of a future Palestinian state, while Israel would annex some areas of West Bank territory heavily populated by Jewish settlers. This would mean that a large number of Palestinians who are currently citizens of Israel (the approximately 115,000-140,000 Palestinian residents of the region known as the Triangle) would become citizens of the new state of Palestine and would no longer be Israeli citizens.56 Although this has not yet become an official Israeli demand,57 it could well become one in the future. If it does, there is almost no chance that the PA will ever agree to it, given the strong opposition it faces from Palestinians in Israel, including from the vast majority of those living in the areas concerned. Moreover, revoking the Israeli citizenship of masses of Palestinians against their will is only likely to create more conflict (not to mention being profoundly unethical).


Contrary to popular opinion in much of the world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved just by ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. While terminating the occupation is a necessary condition for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not sufficient. Although Palestinians in the territories might be satisfied with finally having their own state, Palestinians in Israel will definitely not be satisfied with such an outcome if their own status inside Israel does not significantly improve (only a small number of them are likely to actually move to a Palestinian state58). Leaders of the Palestinian minority in Israel have already publicly stated this.59 Thus, as Hillel Halkin puts it, "The problem of Israel's Arab citizens has been overshadowed by Israel's prolonged conflict with the Palestinians living in the territories occupied in the 1967 war. And yet, just as the problem existed before 1967, so it will continue to exist, only in a more acute form, if and when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is settled. Or, rather, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be settled as long as Israeli Arabs remain an angry, alienated and growing minority, for they will simply become its new focus."60

In the unlikely event that Israel and the PA sign a peace agreement dealing with all the so-called final-status issues (the demarcation of borders, the status of Jerusalem, the future of Israeli settlements, water rights and the resolution of the refugee issue) while ignoring the issue of the Palestinian minority in Israel (as the Oslo Accords did), this could actually exacerbate the conflict within Israel between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority. In the wake of a peace agreement, Palestinian citizens of Israel can be expected to intensify their demands for major changes within Israel, since they will not want to be left out. Though Palestinians in Israel will undoubtedly enthusiastically support an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and welcome the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories, they will still have their own problems to solve inside Israel. What's more, once the external Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over, they will be more insistent that their demands be addressed because the conflict will no longer dominate the public agenda and be available as an excuse to defer responding to their demands. Thus, Palestinians in Israel will want, and justifiably expect, much more attention from Israeli governments (and possibly from the international community) than they have received until now. If unfulfilled, such an expectation could raise their frustration to a dangerously high level, increasing the chances of a violent outburst.

This scenario is by no means far-fetched. There is every reason to believe that, while the Palestinian minority will become more assertive in demanding a major improvement in their status within Israel following an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Israel's Jewish majority will be even less accommodating than it is now. Many, probably most, Israeli Jews will believe that they have made enough "concessions" to the Palestinians and will adamantly refuse to make any more. In the words of David Grossman: "It is difficult to imagine that Israel will, after withdrawing from the occupied territories — a withdrawal that is liable to produce a trauma when Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are evacuated, creating a deep and violent rift in the Israeli social fabric — find within itself the necessary strength, and generosity, and sense of security, to grant its Palestinian minority equal rights, and even some of its national demands."61

Israel's Jewish majority will be especially opposed to what it might regard as compromising on anything concerning the Jewish character of the state. After all, the primary rationale for the two-state solution in the minds of many Israeli Jews is that it secures Israel's existence as a Jewish state. Israel's withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories has long been domestically "sold" to the Israeli-Jewish public as necessary to maintain Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, and it is this belief that underpins a lot of Israeli-Jewish support for such a territorial withdrawal.62 If this withdrawal eventually takes place, and Israeli Jews are then asked by Palestinians in Israel to agree to anything that could be perceived as undermining the "Jewishness" of the state, they are likely to adamantly reject this. Why give up (strategically, historically and religiously) valuable territory and undergo the trauma of a withdrawal and probable evacuation of Jewish settlers for the sake of Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state, Israeli Jews will no doubt ask, only to then compromise this identity to appease Arabs in Israel? If "Israeli Arabs" want to be Palestinian and have collective rights and their national aspirations satisfied, then many Israeli Jews (and their political representatives) are likely to argue that they should just move to the new Palestinian state. Indeed, this is already what some right-wing and even centrist Israeli-Jewish politicians have been saying.63

The argument that Palestinian citizens of Israel should live in a Palestinian state, not a Jewish one, is now mostly heard on the radical right. Traditionally concerned with ensuring their dream of a Greater Israel — involving Jewish sovereignty over the entire historic Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael Ha'Shlema) stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean — in recent years, the radical right in Israel has become increasingly focused on the "problem" of Israel's Arab minority. Their solution is to encourage Arabs to emigrate, or simply to expel them. Thus, the radical right has begun to shift its focus from an exclusive concern with the Land of Israel to a concern over having a purely Jewish Israel, one that is basically devoid of Arabs. This is likely to become the sole focus of the radical right after an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Having lost the struggle over the Land of Israel, they will channel all their energies into a struggle against the Arab minority, with the goal of creating an ethnically and religiously pure Israel. In doing so, they will almost certainly try to stoke Arab-Jewish tension in the country, as they have done in the past.64

To make matters worse, extremist Jewish settlers relocating after an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank may move into Arab or "mixed" towns inside Israel. This has in fact already been happening since Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Former Gaza settlers have moved into mixed towns such as Acre, Jaffa, Ramle and Lod and have established Orthodox religious seminaries within or close to Arab neighborhoods.65 In the case of Acre, a significant number of Jewish settlers, some of them political extremists, moved there after being evacuated from Gaza.66 This influx negatively affected the already delicate relations between Jewish and Arab residents of Acre, and contributed to the tensions that led to the Arab-Jewish rioting and violence in the town that broke out in October 2008.67

A future flood of West Bank Jewish settlers into Arab areas inside Israel could potentially have disastrous consequences for Arab-Jewish coexistence. Angry and embittered at having to leave their homes and communities in the West Bank, and accustomed to extremely hostile relations with Palestinians, these former settlers could, inadvertently or not, fuel Arab-Jewish tension in Israel and spark violent confrontations. Not only would this undermine stability within Israel, it could also undermine peace between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Large-scale Arab-Jewish violence within Israel might well drag in the government of Palestine and possibly jeopardize an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

In sum, while ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a prerequisite for a positive transformation of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel, it will not by itself bring about such a transformation. On the contrary, Arab-Jewish relations in Israel could actually deteriorate further following an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian state.


Internal Peace, External Peace

This article has argued that the issue of Israel's Palestinian minority needs to be incorporated into our thinking about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two-state solution that has long been the preferred outcome will not, in fact, fully resolve it. It is necessary, but not sufficient. A stable and sustainable peace requires a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian problem, inside and outside Israel. It requires internal peace (between Jews and Palestinians in Israel) and external peace (between Jews and Palestinians outside Israel). Only by addressing the Palestinian problem in its entirety can such peace be achieved. This has not yet been done, as the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process completely avoids dealing with the issue of the Palestinian minority in Israel. Thus, the peace process in its present form is inadequate. Even if a final-status agreement is signed, it will not bring about lasting peace between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

While it may be unrealistic and overly ambitious to add the issue of the Palestinian minority to the international diplomatic agenda at the present time, there must at the very least be a greater awareness within the international community and in the United States in particular (because of its leading role in the peace process and its close alliance with Israel) that this is an important issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later. Although it is ultimately up to Israel to deal with the increasingly problematic relationship between its Jewish majority and its Palestinian minority, the international community, led by the United States, can and should emphasize to Israeli leaders the need to constructively and energetically tackle this issue as part of its quest for peace with the Palestinian nation. Simply put, the resolution of both Israel's internal and external conflicts must be promoted simultaneously.

Only by ending the occupation and changing Israel internally can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be fully resolved. This is what a comprehensive solution to the conflict entails; the Israeli state needs to become much more accommodating of its Palestinian minority. It should officially recognize Palestinians in Israel as a national minority; increase their collective rights to allow them to enjoy greater cultural autonomy within Israel (including management of their own educational, cultural and religious institutions); enhance their political representation (by formally recognizing the Palestinian minority's institutions, especially the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens, and ensuring the inclusion of the Arab minority in the state's decision making processes); and significantly raise their socioeconomic status (through affirmative-action programs and long-term development plans specifically for the Palestinian community). In short, major political and economic changes need to occur within Israel in order to improve the status and fully respect the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian minority.68 Minor cosmetic changes are not enough. It is important to emphasize, however, that such changes will not undermine Israel's Jewish character. Israel will remain a Jewish homeland, with a Jewish majority and a vibrant Jewish culture. It is neither realistic nor justified for Israel to completely abandon its Jewish character and simply become "a state for all its citizens" as many Palestinians in Israel wish it to be.

Unfortunately, a comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future; the current Israeli government is too hard-line and the Palestinians too politically divided. At most, a weak, geographically fragmented, nominal Palestinian "state" may be established. Conflict is likely to continue between Israel and Palestinians in the territories, as well as within Israel between Jews and Arabs. The great danger with this is that these conflicts may eventually merge. Until now, the campaigns of Palestinians in Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have remained separate and distinct, with the former seeking equality and the latter statehood.69 If neither is successful, however, they may well unite and both demand the so-called one-state solution. Thus, if Palestinians in the territories abandon their demand for an independent state and instead demand equal rights within Israel, Palestinians in Israel could easily join them in demanding a single bi-national state within the whole territory of Israel/Palestine.

As long as the occupation continues and the Palestinian minority in Israel is completely marginalized; the chance of this happening — a "nightmare scenario" for Israel — steadily increase.70 There are already signs of growing support for the one-state solution among Palestinians in the territories,71 and, although most Palestinian citizens of Israel are currently opposed to this,72 some prominent individuals have voiced support for it.73 One thing is certain: there is absolutely no way Israeli Jews will accept a one-state solution. They will staunchly resist it, even at the cost of war.

The "one-state solution," then, is no solution; nor is the two-state solution. Only a "two-state solution plus" — a two-state solution that also involves improving the status and rights of the Palestinian minority within Israel — can really resolve the century-long conflict between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. Such a solution recognizes the fact that there are two nations in Israel/Palestine and within Israel itself; it acknowledges the national rights of both these nations, and it seeks a just and practical way of satisfying them. The Jews have a right to national self-determination in Israel (but not complete dominance of the state); the Palestinians have a right to national self-determination in a Palestinian state, and those members of the Palestinian nation who are citizens of Israel have a right to recognition as a national minority, cultural autonomy and full individual equality. Respecting the rights of all parties to the conflict — Jewish citizens of Israel, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora — is the only way to eventually achieve peace and reconciliation.


1 I would like to thank Professor Ilan Peleg, with whom I co-authored Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and have had many conversations on this subject.

2 There are roughly 4.6 million Palestinian refugees living outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip (3.9 million inside); approximately 3 million of them live in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. It is unlikely that most of these refugees will "return" to Palestine or Israel following a peace agreement.

3 I use the term "Palestinian citizens of Israel" to refer to members of Israel's Arab minority, whom Israeli Jews generally call "Israeli Arabs." I avoid using the label "Israeli Arabs" in this article because it does not accurately convey the self-identity of Arabs in Israel. In numerous surveys conducted over many years, the majority of Arab citizens of Israel define themselves as Palestinian, rather than as "Israeli Arab."

4 This figure excludes Arabs, who as permanent residents of Israel do not hold Israeli citizenship; specifically, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and Druze living in the Golan Heights.

5 Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh, Surrounded: Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military (Stanford University Press, 2009), 2.

6 There is widespread ignorance in the Arab world about Palestinian citizens of Israel. Zvi Barel, "What Are Israeli Arabs? Are They Jewish?" Ha'aretz, May 25, 2004.

7 The PA, like the PLO before it, has largely ignored Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the latter has no official representation in the PLO or the PA. Muhammad H. Amara, "Israeli Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority," Middle East Review of International Affairs 4, no. 1 (March 2000): 39.

8 The Obama administration in its new National Security Strategy, released in May 2010, did at least obliquely acknowledge the importance of ensuring equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel in the framework of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In affirming the United States' desire for a two-state solution, the document called for "a Jewish state of Israel, with true security, acceptance and rights for all Israelis; and an independent Palestine with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people" (italics added). This is the first time that an American administration has noted the need for Israel as a Jewish state to safeguard the rights of all its citizens. Aluf Benn, "Obama's New Vision of a Jewish State Guarantees Rights of Israeli Arabs," Ha'aretz, June 8, 2010.

9 An Arab Knesset member, Mohammad Meiari, did attend the Madrid peace conference in 1991 in order to raise the concerns of the Palestinian minority in Israel, but he was completely ignored. Mossawa Center, "The Palestinian Arab Citizens of Israel: Status, Opportunities and Challenges for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace," June 2006, 59.

10 Ilan Pappé, The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel (Yale University Press, 2011).

11 Kanaaneh, Surrounded, 3.

12 Sammy Smooha, "Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel: A Deeply Divided Society," in Anita Shapira, ed., Israeli Identity in Transition (Praeger, 2004), 43.

13 There are very few places in Israel where Jews and Palestinians are integrated, most notably the "Oasis of Peace" community (Wahat al-Salaam / Neve Shalom), and a few experimental Arabic-Hebrew bilingual schools.

14 Palestinians live primarily in the Galilee (a rural area in northern Israel), the Triangle (an area bordering the "Green line" separating Israel from the northern part of the West Bank) and the Negev desert (in the south). Nine-tenths live in exclusively Arab communities, and one-tenth live in separate Arab neighborhoods in Jewish towns. Smooha, "Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel," 42.

15 Smooha, ibid.

16 Public opinion research conducted from February to March 2010 by Dahlia Scheindlin on behalf of Merchavim: The Institute for Shared Citizenship.

17 Gadi Wolfsfeld, A. Avraham, and Issam Abu Rayah, "When Prophesy Always Fails: Israeli Press Coverage of the Arab Minority Land Day Protests," Political Communication 17, no. 2 (2000): 115-131; and Nechama Laor, Noa Alpent Leffler, and Havi Inbar-Lankri, "The Absent and Present at Peak Viewing Time — Follow-up Study,"

18 The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, "The State of Human Rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories," 2007 Report, 16.

19 Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, "Loyalty and Democracy in Lieberman's Israel: Interviews with Israeli Knesset Members Alex Miller and Ahmad Tibi," TPM Café, June 8, 2009,

20 OECD, "Labour Market and Social Policy Review of Israel – 2010" (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2010),

21 Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 123.

22 Oren Yiftachel, Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 166.

23 Government restrictions on residential construction in Arab areas mean that residential building in Arab towns and villages is often illegal because of the difficulty of obtaining building permits. The authorities then regularly demolish illegally built Arab homes.

24 See the annual reports on Arab-Jewish equality produced by the Israeli nongovernmental organization Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, all of which are based solely on official Israeli government data;

25 For example, the 2003 amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law prevents the unification of Palestinian families in which one of the spouses is a resident of the Occupied Territories or of an "enemy state." Yoav Peled, "Citizenship Betrayed: Israel's Emerging Immigration and Citizenship Regime," Theoretical Inquiries in Law 8, no. 2 (2007): 333-358.

26 According to one survey of a representative cross-section of Palestinian citizens of Israel, the vast majority opposed a continuation of the status quo in Israel, with only 12 percent of respondents deeming this to be acceptable to them. Nadim N. Rouhana, ed., Attitudes of Palestinians in Israel on Key Political and Social Issues: Survey Research Results (Haifa, Israel, September 2007).

27 In 2004, more than half of Palestinians in Israel (53.4 percent) felt alien and rejected in Israel. Sammy Smooha, Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2004 (Haifa: The Jewish-Arab Center, University of Haifa; Jerusalem: The Citizens' Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel; Tel Aviv: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2005).

28 Rouhana, ed., Attitudes of Palestinians in Israel on Key Political and Social Issues.

29 On the politics of the Palestinian minority, see Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman, Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within (Cambridge University Press, 2011); Oded Haklai, Palestinian Ethnonationalism in Israel (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu-Baker, Coffins on Our Shoulders: The Experience of the Palestinian Citizens of Israel (The University of California Press, 2005); Amal Jamal, "Strategies of Minority Struggle for Equality in Ethnic States: Arab Politics in Israel," Citizenship Studies 11, no. 3 (2007): 263-282; and Elie Rekhess, "The Evolvement of an Arab-Palestinian National Minority in Israel," Israel Studies 12, no. 3 (2007): 1-28.

30 For evidence of this, see the 2010 Democracy Index carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute. Asher Arian et al., Auditing Israeli Democracy: Democratic Values in Practice (The Israel Democracy Institute, November 2010).

31 In a survey conducted in 2007, 54 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel polled felt that it was "impossible to trust the Jewish majority." Cited in Elie Rekhess, "Israel and Its Arab Citizens – Taking Stock," Tel Aviv Notes, October 16, 2007. A poll taken in 2004 among Israeli Jews found that a large majority of them (80.8 percent) believed that "an Arab citizen who defines oneself as a ‘Palestinian Arab in Israel' cannot be loyal to the state and its laws." Smooha, Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2004, p. 38.

32 In a survey taken in 2004, 81 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel said they feared severe infringements of their rights, 71.9 percent feared state violence, 70.6 percent feared violence by Jewish citizens, and 63.5 percent feared expulsion from Israel. Smooha, Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2004.

33 In a 2004 survey, 83.9 percent of Israeli Jews said they feared the danger of Arab citizens of Israel supporting the Palestinian people, and 66.7 percent said they feared the danger of a high Arab birthrate. Smooha, Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2004.

34 David Grossman, Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel (Picador, 2003), 334.

35 Ashkenazim are Jews of European origin and Mizrahim are Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin (also known as Sephardim).

36 Hillel Halkin, "The Jewish State and Its Arabs," Commentary (January 2009): 32.

37 Yaakov Kop and Robert E. Litan, Sticking Together: The Israeli Experiment in Pluralism (Brookings Institution Press, 2002), 97.

38 Before the events of October 2000 in a poll taken in early 2000, 62 percent of Israeli Jews thought that Arabs in Israel were disloyal to the state. After the October events, that number rose to 73 percent in 2001. Asher Arian, Israeli Public Opinion on National Security 2003, Memorandum 67 (Tel Aviv University, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, October 2003), 34.

39 Dov Waxman and Ilan Peleg, "Neither Ethnocracy nor Bi-Nationalism: In Search of the Middle Ground," Israel Studies Forum 23, no. 2 (2008): 55-73.

40 Thirty homes, 100 cars, and 80 shops, both Jewish and Arab, were attacked in the course of two weeks of fighting in December 2008 between Arab and Jewish residents of Acre.

41 In an interview on Israeli television in December 2001, for instance, Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and then a minister in the Sharon's National Unity government, stated: "I do not reject the transfer option. We don't have to escape reality. If you ask me, Israel's number one problem [ . . . ] is first of all Arab citizens of the State of Israel. Those who identify as Palestinians will have to move to Palestine. Do I consider them citizens of the State of Israel? No! Do we have to settle scores with them? Yes!" Israeli television Channel-2 "Meet the Press" program, December 2001, quoted in International Crisis Group, Identity Crisis: Israel and Its Arab Citizens, ICG Middle East Report 25, March 4, 2004: 20. In January 2002, huge posters declaring, "Only transfer will bring peace," appeared around the country. Sari Makover, "Danger: No Border Ahead," Ma'ariv, February 21, 2002.

42 In an article written just before the 2009 elections, the left-wing Israeli journalist Gideon Levy saw the political rise of Lieberman as signaling the spread and legitimization of "Kahanism" in Israel. According to Levy, "The differences between Kach and Yisrael Beiteinu are minuscule, not fundamental and certainly not a matter of morality. The differences are in tactical nuances: Lieberman calls for a fascist ‘test of loyalty' as a condition for granting citizenship to Israel's Arabs, while Kahane called for the unconditional annulment of their citizenship. One racist (Lieberman) calls for their transfer to the Palestinian state, the other (Kahane) called for their deportation." Gideon Levy, "Kahane Won," Ha'aretz, February 8, 2009.

43 Among many such bills, some of the most notable have been a bill that sought to criminalize public denial of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, a bill that banned public commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba on Israel's Independence Day, and bills requiring loyalty oaths for citizenship, for getting a mandatory government-issued identity card, and for being sworn in as a member of the Knesset.

44 Israeli Jews were alarmed when some Palestinian citizens were linked to suicide bombings in 2002. Consequently, in the summer of 2002, the Interior Ministry proposed taking steps to establish a new policy that revoked citizenship from Palestinian Israelis charged with involvement in terrorism (this did not apply to non-Arab Israelis).

45 Israel Democracy Institute, "2007 Israeli Democracy Index: Cohesiveness in a Divided Society," June 2007,

46 Public opinion research by Dahlia Scheindlin on behalf of Merchavim: The Institute for Shared Citizenship.

47 Todd L. Pittinsky, Jennifer J. Ratcliff, and Laura A. Maruskin, Coexistence in Israel: A National Study, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School (Harvard University: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008).

48 It should be noted that this perception is not entirely baseless since a few Palestinian citizens of Israel have been involved in terrorist activities. Amos Harel, "Two Israeli Arabs Arrested on Suspicion of Planning Attacks," Ha'aretz, December 6, 2007.

49 Isabel Kershner, "Gaza War Gives Bigger Lift to Israel's Right Than to Those in Power," New York Times, January 26, 2009.

50 Eli Ashkenazi, Jack Khoury and Liel Kyzer, "Police Interrogate Islamic Movement Chief Sheikh Raed Salah Over Role in Gaza Flotilla Clashes," Ha'aretz, June 1, 2010.

51 Some steps have already been taken in this regard. For instance, in March 2010 the Netanyahu government announced a five-year plan to spend 800 million shekels (around $200 million) to promote economic development in a dozen Arab towns in which roughly a quarter of Israel's Arab population live (the plan actually originated under the previous Olmert government). Ron Friedman, "Equal Opportunity for All Israelis," Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2010.

52 The exact wording of this demand varies between recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

53 The main reason for this Israeli demand seems to be that it is seen as a way of blocking a Palestinian demand for a "right of return" to Israel of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

54 "Full Text of Netanyahu's Foreign Policy Speech at Bar Ilan," Ha'aretz, June 14, 2009. Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu's predecessor as prime minster, made this demand prior to the Annapolis summit meeting with President George W. Bush and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in November 2007, describing Palestinian recognition of Israel "as a Jewish state" as a "precondition" for peace. Aluf Benn, "Israel to Release Up to 400 Palestinian Prisoners Ahead of Summit," Ha'aretz, November 12, 2007.

55 In a survey conducted before the Annapolis summit in November 2007, 65.6 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel thought that the PA did not have the right to recognize Israel as a Jewish state;

56 Eetta Prince-Gibson, "Land (Swap) for Peace?" Jerusalem Post, November 8, 2007; Ilene Prusher, "Israelis Ponder a Land Swap," Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2006. The best known advocate of this has been Avigdor Lieberman: Greg Myre, "New Voice on Right in Israeli Cabinet Is Likely to Be Loud," New York Times, October 24, 2006; Mazal Mualem, "Lieberman Blasts Arab MKs, Pulls Party Out of Government," Ha'aretz, January 16, 2008. Then Prime Minister Sharon also considered a "population swap," BBC news, February 3, 2004,

57 The idea, however, was raised by Israeli officials on numerous occasions in private during the final status negotiations conducted by the Olmert government and the Palestinian Authority following the American-sponsored Annapolis summit in November 2007.

58 In an opinion poll, only a small minority of Palestinian citizens of Israel (11.9 percent) expressed a willingness to move to a future Palestinian state. Smooha, Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2004, 49.

59 See Yoav Stern, "Israeli Arab leaders: A Palestinian State Is Not the Solution for Us," Ha'aretz, December 4, 2007.

60 Halkin, "The Jewish State & Its Arabs," 30-31.

61 David Grossman, Sleeping on a Wire, 333.

62 See Dov Waxman, "From Controversy to Consensus: Cultural Conflict and the Israeli Debate over Territorial Withdrawal," Israel Studies 13, no. 2 (2008): 73-96.

63 Neta Sela, "Livni: Palestinian State — Solution for Israeli Arabs As Well," Ynet, November 18, 2007; "Livni: National Aspirations of Israel's Arabs Can Be Met By Palestinian Homeland," Ha'aretz, December 11, 2008.

64 In March 2009, a group of radical rightists led by Baruch Marzel, a Hebron settler and disciple of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, marched in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, provoking rioting by some Arab youth. Dina Kraft, "Rioting in Umm el-Fahm Highlights Tension," JTA News, March 24, 2009.

65 A religious Zionist yeshiva was recently founded in Ajami, a predominantly Arab part of Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv. Eli Senyor, "Jaffa: Yeshiva to Be Built in Heart of Arab Neighborhood," Ynet, September 24, 2008.

66 Young religious Zionist Jews started moving to Acre years earlier after the building of a large yeshiva in the town (the largest in the north of Israel) in 1997.

67 Mossawa Center, "Akka: City on the Front," December 2008, 5. In this detailed report on the Acre riots, the Mossawa Center ominously warns on p. 8 that, "The situation in Akka is an early-warning signal of a potentially explosive country-wide conflict between Arabs and Jews."

68 All of these proposals and the rationale behind them are elaborated in Peleg and Waxman, Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within.

69 Yiftachel, Ethnocracy, 186.

70 Author's interview with Hassan Jabareen, General Director of Adalah, Haifa, Israel, June 24, 2009.

71 In an April 2010 poll, 34 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza supported the one-state solution, compared to 44 percent who favored the two-state solution. In a June 2009 poll, 21 percent supported the one-state solution, and 55 percent supported the two-state solution. Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, "Poll: One-State Solution Gains Ground," April 21, 2010,

72 In a 2004 survey, two-thirds of Arabs in Israel were opposed to the call for a Palestinian state in all of Palestine instead of Israel. Smooha, Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2004, 58.

73 Yair Ettinger, "I Am Willing to Treat the Jews with Full Equality," Ha'aretz, November 21, 2002.