Israeli Arabs Seek Autonomous Status

Balad MK Jamal Zahalka wants autonomy for Israel’s Arabs.(Uri Lenz/FLASH90)
Balad MK Jamal Zahalka wants autonomy for Israel’s Arabs.(Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

The Israeli-Arab Balad party is backing a legislative proposal that would grant the country’s Arab citizens official status as a minority with some autonomous rights, The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday.

Party leader MK Jamal Zahalka said the bill is based on international law regarding minority rights and “in order to protect their existence and preserve their cultural and civic rights, which would guarantee their equality. This also means that Israel must accept our connection to the Palestinians in the territories and the Arab nation at large.”

They are seeking to have such recognition incorporated into Israel’s Basic Law, thereby guaranteeing the participation of minority representatives in government decisions that affect the minority.

For example, said Zahalka, it would be relevant to a law like the Prawer-Begin plan to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev because the law did not involve the effective participation of the Beduin in the decision-making process.

Autonomy would also mean cultural and educational autonomy. This translates into deciding, among other things, that the Israeli War of Independence would be taught from the Arab perspective, as a “catastrophe.”

While Zahalka acknowleged that the bill has no chance of passage in the Knesset, he explained that he hoped it would generate a debate on the subject.

During a previous Knesset discussion about a possible constitution for the state, Zahalka said that former Likud MK Michael Eitan told him that if they “agree to an article that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, then he (Eitan) would guarantee our civic and collective rights.”

“I refused this deal. I could not accept a Jewish state,” said the Balad MK.

“If the first article in the constitution states that it is a Jewish state, it means that all our rights would be held hostage to this principle.”