(InFocus) – While Iran and Syria, along with their proxies Hamas and Hizbullah, are often cited as Israel’s primary security concerns, Israeli Arabs are a growing strategic threat. What began as hostility toward the Jewish identity of the state has evolved into a growing identification with Palestinian nationalism and Islamism. Thus, the challenge posed by Israel’s Arabs to the security of the state is now characterized by religious ideology as well as political identity, making rapprochement increasingly less likely.
Israeli Arabs in Context
Despite allegations that Israel cleansed itself of its Arab population, Arabs have lived in the state of Israel since the founding of the state. Approximately 150,000 Arabs elected to live in Israel after the armistice of 1949. In accordance with Israeli law, the state took measures to ensure that Israeli Arabs enjoyed the same rights and privileges as Jewish Israeli citizens. Over six decades, however, the Israeli Arabs have developed a unique political identity, distinctly separate from the Israeli political identity, and often hostile to it.
In 2000, a poll published by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot revealed that 66 percent of Israeli Arabs would back the Palestinians in any confrontation with Israel, while only 13 percent would support their own country. Similarly, a 1999 survey by the Institute for Peace Research at Givat Haviva found that 32.8 percent of Israeli Arabs believed that only “Israeli” was “appropriate to their self-identity.”
At the beginning of 2001, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) reported that 18.7 percent of Israel’s population, including East Jerusalem, was Arab. Today, the Israeli Arab population centers and political hotbeds outside of Jerusalem are found in an area known as the “Triangle” in Northern Israel, where the majority of the Israeli Arabs live.
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Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.