Neither friends nor enemies

All too often, it’s easier to see what others should do than it is to see what work needs to be done in one’s own backyard.

When I was in Israel in August on a Campus Editors’ Mission with the Anti-Defamation League, our group had the opportunity to speak with Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Because it had been only one day since the cease-fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerillas had gone into effect, questions about what it would take to achieve peace with Israel’s surrounding nations abounded.

Regev’s response seemed simple: “The problem is extremism. In order to achieve peace, moderate Muslims and Jews must unite against the extremists.”

According to an article by The Associated Press, it appeared that Israel became one step closer to reaching Regev’s goal two and a half weeks ago.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the United Nations the planned national unity government, to subsist alongside Israel, would not only recognize Israel’s right to exist, but would also renounce violence and honor past agreements between the two states.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni responded by reiterating Israel’s desire to reopen a serious dialogue and create a permanent channel “to pursue ways to advance together,” according to the article.

As the leader of the moderate Fatah faction, it’s not surprising that Abbas would be trying to negotiate with the governing, militant (read: terrorist) faction, Hamas, to begin taking the steps necessary to creating peace in the Middle East.

It’s also not surprising that the very next day, Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared that he would not lead a Palestinian government that recognized the state of Israel.

“We support establishing a Palestinian state in the land of 1967 at this stage, but in return for a cease-fire, not recognition,” Haniyeh was reported as saying in an Associated Press article.

What does surprise me is Israel’s backward tactic in relating with the moderate Muslims in Israel and the rest of the Mideast. Doesn’t it make more sense to form bonds with the moderate Muslims within your own country before you attempt to make allies beyond your borders?

What I was perhaps most unprepared for about Israel is how segregated a nation it is. Jews, Christians and Muslims all have their separate quarters of town, and because doubts surround their allegiance to Israel, Arab-Israelis are treated with suspicion, like second-class citizens.

Unfortunately, this mindset permeates the country. While we were having brunch with Gil Hoffmann, a political correspondent and columnist for The Jerusalem Post, he prefaced a statistic about Israelis supporting the conflict in Lebanon by saying, “Not counting the Arab-Israelis?”

And why would he count them? Ali Yahya, the Israeli ambassador to Greece (the first-ever Arab-Israel ambassador) told us that Arab-Israelis do not serve in the Israeli army (mandatory for all other citizens), live in poorer areas, often receive inferior educations and are underrepresented in the government. In fact, he said that the 7 million Arab-Israelis residing in Israel (19 percent of the nation’s population) can’t vote for Parliament members.

If the old saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer is true, Israel treats Arab-Israelis as neither friend nor foe.

In my mind, the smarter thing for Israel to do would be to foster and strengthen a relationship with those who are already trying to be on their team. These people live, work, worship and raise their children in Israel, and they consider themselves to be Israeli citizens. Once Arab-Israeli/Israeli relations are strong, Israel can look to win over the moderate Muslims living in its neighboring countries.

After all, it’s easier to fight a battle than it is to fight a war.