By Daniella Peled
December 11, 2008
Tzipi Livni went off at an interesting tangent this week.
Speaking in Tel Aviv, she was quoted as saying that Israel’s Arab population should see a future Palestinian state as the solution for their national aspirations.
“Once a Palestinian state is established, I can come to the Palestinian citizens, whom we call Israeli Arabs, and say to them ‘you are citizens with equal rights, but the national solution for you is elsewhere,’” Army Radio quoted her as saying.
This was a suggestion rather too close to the extreme-right concept of transfer for comfort.
Of course, her motivation was clear – the success of Binyamin Netanyahu’s very own Militant Tendency in the Likud primaries.
His new list full of right-wingers and troublemakers annoyed him greatly but caused no immediate wobble in the opinion polls. So as night follows day, Livni did a little shimmy to the right herself.
What is interesting about this is not the usual pre-election pandering. It’s the obvious lack of interest in the votes of the Arab citizens of Israel.
At 20 per cent they are a significant minority, but don’t even figure as a constituency. Historically, they once voted for special Arab satellite parties of the big Zionist Mapai and Mapam parties, or for the communists. Over the years nationalist and Islamist parties developed, and Labour and Meretz also won some Arab support, although this has been relatively minimal since 2000.
The Arab vote, for most mainstream parties, is simply an irrelevancy. And Arab political power has either been marginal, apathetic, or hopelessly split.
But the mood might be changing. Israeli officials are noting a movement towards creating an interest group party - in effect an Arab version of Shas.
This could not only consolidate their strength but more significantly produce results in a woefully under-resourced Arab sector need action on education, housing, health and a myriad of other social issues.
As Kadima and Likud battle it out over the centre-left or centre-right, this could be the time an Arab interest group emerges.