A Palestinian official denounced Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority Monday, telling a gathering of Israeli and Palestinian politicians and civil society leaders that there could be no peace until the country righted the way it deals with Arab citizens.
Muhammad Al-Madani, chief coordinator with Israeli society for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told The Prague Forum in Jerusalem that Israel’s negotiating position was “hollow,” and taking the unusual step of critiquing the country’s internal affairs.
At the forum, a grassroots initiative launched in February to bring together Israelis and Palestinians in support of the two-state solution, politicians and civil society leaders called on the Arab League to re-endorse the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative at a summit in Kuwait Tuesday.
But Madani rebuffed the Israeli demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state with a scathing critique of Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens.
“Any Israeli talk of peace with the Palestinians remains hollow… as long as the governing institution in Israel fails in weaving correct, healthy, straight and just relations with its Palestinian Arab citizens,” Madani said in an English handout of his speech distributed to the audience. “Israel cannot claim that it aspires to reach peace with its Arab neighbors at a time it continues to suppress its Palestinian citizens and treats them as if they are third- or fourth-class citizens.”
Madani then proceeded to convey a tacit threat to the Israelis.
“Until when do you expect the Palestinian people to continue endorsing the peace of the brave pronounced by the two late leaders Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin?” Madani asked the Israelis. “Till when will our people, who suffer under occupation, tolerate all the arbitrary measures that the occupation authorities continue to practice?”
The Prague Forum was initiated by an association of civil society organizations from Israel and across the Middle East known as the Arab Peace Initiative Regional Network, created in 2011.
Madani reiterated the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, claiming the issue was an internal Israeli matter. He also dismissed out of hand Israel’s security concerns regarding the Jordan Valley, where Israel is seeking a long-term IDF presence.
“Nothing can justify Israel’s intransigence in imposing conditions that no reason or logic would accept,” Madani said, “neither fake security pretexts that Israel uses to keep the Jordan Valley under its control, nor its insistence on keeping parts of the West Bank or East Jerusalem.”
Israel’s demands, Madani argued, were “groundless and unjustifiable” and were only raised “for the sake of blowing up peace.”
“Peace cannot be achieved as long as the occupation … continues to prevail and guide the current Israeli government, which has become hostage in the hands of Israeli extremists.”
In addition to Madani, a number of Palestinian officials and civil society leaders attended the gathering held in the Jerusalem YMCA, including former minister of prisoner affairs Ashraf Al-Ajrami, billionaire Munib al-Masri, Fatah Revolutionary Council member Abdallah Abdallah and Jerusalem-based activist and political scientist Walid Salem.
The two Israeli parliamentarians in attendance, Hilik Bar (Labor) and Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), spoke of the need to forge peace with the entire Islamic world rather than bilaterally with the Palestinians, as offered by the Arab Peace Initiative which also demands Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.
“The support of the Muslim countries is more important to me than the support of the Americans or Europeans,” Bar said. “They are our neighbors.”