Secret EU document shows concern for Palestinian citizens of Israel

Today’s Ha’aretz gave prominent coverage to extracts the paper had obtained from a “classified” draft document prepared by European embassies in Israel. The paper is being described as “unprecedented” for the way in which it “deals with internal Israeli issues” – namely, “Israel’s treatment of its Arab population”.

There are some positives to be found here, particularly the fact that Israel’s treatment of those Palestinians with citizenship is said to be a “core issue” on a par with the occupation and peace process. An earlier version of the paper also recommended some (mainly symbolic) steps to be taken with regard to discriminatory legislation.

But while this ‘unprecedented’ concern for Palestinian citizens of Israel may be the news angle, other aspects of these extracts reveal something more concerning – specifically, the statement that

recognition of Israel as a Jewish State should detract in any way from the vision of equality for all its citizens enshrined in its founding documents.

This is a problematic claim. In all likelihood, “founding documents” is a reference to Israel’s ‘Declaration of Independence’ (there is no formal constitution). This is often cited by those defending Israel’s alleged democratic credentials, particularly as it contains commitments to “complete equality of social and political rights to all [the State’s] inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

Yet this Declaration is of ambiguous legal weight, and, as Ari Shavit wrote earlier this year, “the state it declared was not a state of all its citizens. It was not even a Jewish-democratic state, but a Jewish state, pure and simple”. In addition, a “vision of equality” alone is clearly insufficient. In fact, rather than equality, the State of Israel’s approach to land, planning, immigration, housing, and budget allocation is based on ethno-religious privilege and discrimination.

In the indispensable report, ‘The EU and the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel’, produced jointly by NGOs Adalah, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, and the Arab Association for Human Rights, it is noted that the 2005 EU-Israel Action Plan under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) specifies a commitment to “promote and protect rights of minorities” – yet since then, “not only has the situation of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel not improved, but it has further deteriorated”.

Thus, like with other issues, “the EU displays a critical awareness of the problems that Arab citizens of Israel face”, but, has “under-exploited the various instruments at its disposal that would provide it with some leverage”. In other words, the EU lacks the political will to act to protect Palestinian rights, despite having a growing understanding of Palestinians’ everyday existence from Nabi Saleh to the Negev.

Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.