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Arabs an inseparable part of Israel, president says

In rebuke of FM Liberman, Rivlin says it’s up to Israeli Jews to prove country can be both Jewish and democratic

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the president's residence in Jerusalem, September 22, 2014 (photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the president's residence in Jerusalem, September 22, 2014 (photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In a scathing critique of other Israeli right-wing politicians, President Reuven Rivlin said on Tuesday that the notion of stripping Israeli Arabs of their citizenship — advanced by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman — is both impractical and immoral.

“There is a crisis on the right,” Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker and minister from Likud, told the Haaretz Democracy Conference in Tel Aviv. “It sees the Jewish and democratic state as a democracy for the Jews. This is something I cannot countenance.”

Rivlin, who has dedicated much of his time since taking office last July to healing the rift between Jews and Arabs in Israel, pointed to a larger malady in Israeli politics. Today, he said, the political system is guided by public opinion and PR agencies rather than by solid leadership.

“Our leaders look behind them at the public rather than lead,” he said. “This crisis may result in new elections in a year or a year and a half.”

Rivlin alluded to Liberman’s proposal that Israel relinquish Arab population centers to a future Palestinian state, saying such a notion was impractical since Jews and Arabs were destined to share the land.

“Even if the right says that Um Al-Fahm should be outside Israel, this is impossible,” Rivlin said.

As the demographic majority in the state, Jews must take the initiative in proving that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic. “We can establish a Jewish and democratic state, but the burden of proof is on us. We can’t say, ‘They’re our enemies, what do we owe them?'”

In that vein, Rivlin said that the new Palestinian city of Rawabi was a “clear Israeli and Zionist interest.” Israel’s reluctance to connect the city to the water grid was a grave mistake, the president opined.

“We should give them water immediately. Don’t we provide water to the settlements?” he asked, congratulating Haaretz for an editorial on the matter published Tuesday.

Addressing recent polls showing the Zionist Union and Likud neck and neck ahead of the elections in March, Rivlin said the task of forming the government will fall to the leader most able to form a coalition, not necessarily to the largest party.

“I won’t allow any party to evade the question of which leader they support for prime minister,” he said, contradicting last week’s assertion to the contrary by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This is the ABC of Israel’s constitutional tradition, and there will be no surprises, even though I’ve been known to surprise,” Rivlin concluded.

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