Mon, 09 Oct 2000

Recent clashes endanger Barak

By Jim Anderson

WASHINGTON (DPA): The violence that has erupted in the wake of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to a contested holy site in Jerusalem demonstrated how easily and how quickly deeply held emotions lead to bloodshed in the Middle East.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak already knew that. What he didn't realize was that one of the main sources of his political support inside Israel -- the Arabs who live there and who are Israeli citizens -- now share the anger of the Arabs who live in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. And they see no significant difference between Barak, who ran for prime minister on a peace platform, and Sharon, who has resisted any Israeli concessions toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The Arabs inside Israel and in the West Bank have begun to see themselves as brothers. That hasn't happened before. Look at the numbers, as Barak is now doing.

The Israeli Arabs, some of whom are the Bedouins who are occasionally shown to visiting tourists, number about 1 million, or almost 19 percent of the population of Israel.

They -- along with the Druze -- are described as "non-Jewish", which means that they have certain rights, such as voting, but they are also subject to other restrictions, such as the possibility of confiscation of their property and destruction of their houses, for a variety of reasons.

Jewish citizens of Israel do not have those disadvantages. This has led the Israeli Arabs to accept that they are a lesser class, because at least they had a better life than those Arabs who live in the occupied territories. The Israel Arabs had only an 11 percent unemployment rate, compared to as much as 50 percent in parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

In the last Israeli elections, which brought Barak to power, 95 percent of the Israeli Arabs voted for him, rather than Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu, who once again is looming on the horizon as the next rival to Barak.

Now, according to Basel Ghattas, of the Galilee Society, the largest non-governmental organization (NGO) in Israel, the formally quiescent Israeli Arabs have begun to identify with the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, where the leadership is more radical and less forgiving. This means that Barak can no longer count on the Arabs living in Israel to support him.

This is what he was talking about when he said last week, "The reality that will arise and the nature of conflict will oblige us to consider broadening the government." In other words, it may be necessary to ally himself with Sharon (and the Likud) or Netanyahu to have a broad-based unity government remain in power.

This leads to the larger question, which Yasser Arafat is also pondering: how does he embrace an enemy while also retaining his principles?

The events of the last week put this in stark terms. It is clear that the American-mediated peace process will remain in a coma for the foreseeable futures -- that is, until after the next American president has established his administration enough to turn to the intractable problems of the Middle East.

It is also clear that Barak has lost the confidence of the Arabs, including those who are citizens of Israel and hold ten seats in the current 120-member Israeli Knesset.

It is also clear that his Arab problem is going to get worse. Once again, look at the figures. While Israeli Arabs represent 18.7 percent of the Israeli population, they represent 23 percent of the children under the age of 12 in Israel. So the Israeli Arabs are reproducing faster than Israeli Jews and their proportion of the total population will increase in the future.

Their joining the West Bank and Jerusalem uprisings is a sign that their frustrations with second-class citizenship are boiling over. That is bad news for Barak and all future Israeli leaders.