Jewish officials talk a lot about the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and seem fascinated with the dialogue, but actually do nothing in order to achieve it, Arab member of the Knesset Dr. Ahmad Tibi told RT.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should heed the lessons of apartheid-era South Africa, Tibi argues, in order to understand how the creation of a two-state solution is essential for the future security of Israel.
At the same time, the Israeli status quo has become too complacent of the ongoing occupation, he says, while the international community seems more and more intolerant of the situation.
Doctor, thank you very much for joining us here on RT.
RT: What is your reading of the recent elections? Israelis seem to have voted more center and not as far right as was earlier predicted. Would you agree with this?
Ahmad Tibi: We thought that this Knesset, the 19th Knesset, would be much more radical than the 18th, but I’m not sure this impression is right. The victory of the party of Yesh Atid (Future Party) is the victory of the center, of liberals, of seculars, instead of enlargement and strengthening of Likud.
RT: Does that mean good news for breakthroughs in peace talks?
AT: I’m not sure of that. The majority of Israelis are in love with the process, not with the peace. They are talking a lot about peace but doing nothing, nothing in order to achieve it. They are fascinated with dialogue, with photo op, with talking, with negotiations as to say this is the goal. But it is the tool, not the goal, and it’s a tool to achieve peace. Meanwhile, Israel is trying to rearrange the occupation, not to end the occupation.
RT: Arab parties have won the same number of seats as before. But what we have noticed is a decrease in the number of Arab voters turning out to cast their ballot.
AT: Not this time. [Voter turnout] increased by three percent compared to 2009. Still, it is very low. Half of the Arab voters are not participating.
RT: Why are you not able to get more people to vote?
AT: We succeeded in stopping the decline. And the decline was able to bring us to 48 [per cent of voters], but we arrived at 56. This is good. This is in the direction of increase. But a good percentage would be 70 or more. As a national minority we should vote more than the majority. But we are doing the opposite and it’s a mistake.
RT: In this election, the extreme right-wing Israeli parties united. Why are the Arab parties not able to unite as well?
AT: Because we are not extreme. But, we should have one unified Arab list. We tried our best to compose and to create [a list] before the elections, but in order to create it all parties should agree, but not all parties agreed to the proposal.
RT: Do you think we’ll see a larger number of Arabs in the parliament in the future?
AT: I think yes. I think in the next elections there will be more Arab mandates than today.
RT: There is a move now after these elections to get more Orthodox Jews to serve in the army. This could likely spill over in a call for more Arabs to serve in the Israeli army. Why are you against this?
AT: Ideologically, we can’t serve in the army, the occupation army, fighting against our people, our nation. It’s our conscience. It’s an ideological reason. And the state itself did not ask Arabs to be recruited in the army.
RT: Are you concerned that if Orthodox Jews eventually have to serve in the IDF, so will Arab-Israeli citizens?
AT: Even those who are dealing with (the issue) are saying that they are not demanding army service for Arabs and they are not demanding the obligation of civil service. They are just willing to promote the idea. We are against even that because we think the starting point of the Arab youth is much lower than the starting point of the Jewish youth in Israel. We should not lose two years in order to enlarge the economic gap, and those who are talking about financial support and compensations are lying. They are misleading the public.
RT: How do you predict the second [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu term?
AT: No one can predict Netanyahu. No one. He is not anticipated. And, he is in love with the impasse.
RT: What do you mean?
AT: To say that ‘there is no partner’ - this is his slogan. He thinks that as the leader of Israel he can say so and convince the Israeli public and continue without putting an end to the occupation and creating a two-state solution. I am not sure that the future of Israel will be secure, and this is his responsibility.
RT: Some say that Netanyahu’s policy of building settlements will lead to a one-state solution. Do you agree?
AT: There are two options: one-state solution or a two-state solution. [Netanyahu] should make a choice. That is to say, the Israeli people should have a choice and to decide. To have a two-state solution there is a partner. If not, there will be more and more loud voice talking about a one-state solution. It is a nightmare for Israelis. That’s why, when you put two choices in front of Israelis they automatically choose…the status quo. Why? Because they can. And this is the most dangerous choice.
RT: For how long can the status quo continue?
AT: The status quo is deepening apartheid in the
occupied territories. The international community is more and more
non tolerant of this situation. And South Africa is a very good
example; Netanyahu should learn that model. The result can be the
RT: Israel is defined as a Jewish and democratic state. In your opinion, is that a contradiction? How would you define Israel?
AT: There is an obvious contradiction between the
two values. If you are democratic, you believe in equal rights for
all citizens. But if you define yourself as a state by an ethnic
definition, as a Jewish state, you are immediately saying that a
Jewish citizen is superior to a non-Jewish citizen, which is a
contradiction to the equality value. So Israel is saying that it is
really a Jewish and democratic state, but it is democratic towards
Jews and Jewish towards Arabs, and this is the difference.
RT: Will you accept Israel as a Jewish state if it ends the occupation and returns to 1967 borders?
AT: There is no relation between both. The PLO recognizes the right of existence of the state of Israel. There was bilateral recognition. I am recognizing Israel as a state. I am a member of its parliament and I cannot accept a definition that puts me into an inferior status both legally and publicly to the Jewish minority - not in any case.
RT: But in the past, you have said that you believe in a nation’s right to self-definition, so are you not contradicting yourself here?
AT: Not at all. I recognize the self-definition of
the Jews in Israel. But in Israel there are also and mainly
indigenous people who were here and did not arrive in Israel by a
plane or by a ship. I cannot live peacefully with the idea
that…every Jew in every place of the world can arrive here and be
immediately a citizen when my uncle and my aunt who died in Turkey
or in Jordan after being expelled in 1948 without even having the
right to be buried in Tayibe, in my town, or in Jaffa, from where
they were expelled. It is injustice, pure injustice.
RT: You have been a member of parliament since 1999. As an Arab are you prevented from making new laws?
AT: No, I am not prevented. Some kind of laws I was prevented from even proposing them to the Knesset. But…I passed five laws in the last Knesset, but they are saying that laws which contradict with the Jewish identity of the state can be prevented.
RT: As you said, in the last term you made five new laws. But they were general; they weren’t specifically geared towards Arab-Israelis. As an Arab member of parliament what kind of influence do you have over Israel’s policy towards its Arab minority?
AT: We are the elected legitimate leadership of the Arab minority. We managed to stop or to change some racist motions. Other motions, we were not able to stop.
RT: The Arab-Communist leader Tawfiq Zayyad said that one demonstration is worth a year’s work inside of the Israeli parliament. What do you think?
AT: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. When we were in the Knesset and supported the withdrawal of Israel from the settlements in Gaza, it was much better than a thousand demonstrations. But, both can go together, demonstrations and parliament, and that is what we are doing.
RT: Palestinian refugees in Syria are caught in the middle of the fighting there. Many of them are now becoming refuges a second or third time over. There is talk of them coming back to the West Bank. Do you think Israel would allow this?
AT: I doubt it. The Israelis are saying no. The Palestinian president is willing, he demanded that…but the Israelis are reluctant. That is a tragedy for the Palestinians in Syria. As it was in Iraq, as it was in Kuwait. We had one Nakba [the Palestinians refer to their exodus from Israel in 1948 as the Nakba, which is Arabic for “catastrophe”- Ed.] in 1948. We are not supposed to continue having Nakbas.
RT: How is Israel managing to avoid the impact of nearby regional conflicts, which have a strong terrorist element to them?
AT: Israelis are saying they are upset about what is happening. They are monitoring, following what is going. Sometimes they are interfering secretly, publicly.
AT: By their contacts with the American administration; by declarations by Israeli officials; [as for] any concealed operations, I don’t know.
RT: In which way do you think Egypt should be aiding the Palestinians? Would it go further than just making announcements, for example, in terms of Gaza?
AT: Egypt is…the most influential country, but Egypt can be much more influential. We want Egypt to be stronger, to be healed of its internal issues, because a strong Egypt is a strong Palestine; strong Egypt is a strong peace. Yet the situation is not so.
RT: Dr. Ahmad Tibi, thank you very much for joining us here on RT.