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Jewish-Arab Dialogue

IDI's Jewish-Arab Dialogue Group was made up of 20 Jewish and Arab intellectuals, all citizens of Israel, who met for a series of encounters that took place at IDI between January 1999 and January 2001. These meetings were designed to enable participants to explore the  deep divide between Jews and Arabs in Israel and formulate an agreement that would define the relationship between the majority and the minority in Israel and accommodate their mutual concerns.

The 17 sessions that took place at IDI during the two years of this project were extremely frank, avoided white-washing, and touched on the very roots of the problem. Against the backdrop of the violent events of October 2000 and the subsequent worsening of relations between Jews and Arabs, the members of the group eventually concluded that they could not reach a consensus due to the wide gulf between the Jewish and Arab sides and the lack of agreement about a fundamental issue: recognition that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and acceptance of this definition.

While this process of dialogue did not reach its intended goal, there is no doubt that this series of encounters is of academic value and was a major contribution to Jewish-Arab dialogue and to the understanding of such processes. For this reason, IDI, in consultation with the project participants, decided to make records of this deliberative process available to the public. A brief summary of this project, with links to the original Hebrew position papers and session transcripts, can be found below. The entire process was described in detail in the Hebrew book Whose Land is it?

General Overview

The first encounter was dedicated to an examination of possible modes of action. The group attempted to define its goal and explored whether its intention was to map the divide or to reach an agreement. The group similarly grappled with the question of whether its target audience was the general public or policy makers.

The second and third sessions were devoted to the implications of the definition of Israel as a "Jewish and Democratic State."  Participants explored the ramifications of each of the two components of Israel's dual identity—"Jewish" and "democratic"—and discussed whether there is a contradiction between them. They questioned whether the Arab minority is willing to accept this definition of a Jewish state and is prepared to grant it legitimacy, as distinct from de facto recognition. In retrospect, some of the points that came up in these early sessions later stood at the core of the irreconcilable disagreement between the participants.

The subsequent meetings all dealt with concrete issues. The fourth and fifth sessions examined the possibility of autonomy as a solution to the issue of the status of the Arab minority in Israel. Participants discussed the areas in which autonomy would be received, the implications of such autonomy, how would it be grounded, and how would it be received by the public. The sixth and seventh sessions examined the question of partnership and representation, focusing on whether policy should increase the Arab minority's representation in decision-making institutions and whether that could fit in with Arab autonomy.

After the discussion of partnership and representation, the eighth and tenth sessions explored the question of affirmative action, which is one way to increase participation and representation. Participants discussed whether affirmative action is effective, which model of affirmative action is most preferable, and whether the advantages of affirmative action outweigh its disadvantages.  The ninth session, which interrupted the discussion of affirmative action, was a special meeting with Maj. Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon, then director of the General Security Service, who would later draft a peace initiative with Prof. Sari Nusseibeh. Given the nature of this meeting and the content discussed, the transcript of this session has not been posted on this website.

The eleventh session was devoted to lands policy in Israel, focusing on whether it discriminates against the Arab minority, whether it should be modified, and if so, how? The twelfth and thirteenth sessions raised the issue of national service by the Arab minority. Participants discussed the goals of national service, whether it has potential to bring Jews and Arabs closer together, and whether military or civilian service would be more appropriate for the Arab minority. During the fourteenth session, the group discussed Arab autonomy, the Law of Return, and symbols such as the national anthem and the Israeli flag, after which they explored ideas for legislation that would entrench the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

The fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth sessions took place in the shadow of the violent events of October 2000. The group discussed the impact of these events on their continued work and on their ability to produce a document on which all members of the group could agree, even if only in some areas. When it became clear that it would be impossible to reach agreement, the process of dialogue was disbanded, and it was decided to share what had transpired during the course of the project with the public.

Below you will find a list of the participants in this project, summaries of the group meetings, and downloadable Hebrew transcripts of the sessions as well as the Hebrew position papers that served as the basis for the discussion. A full account of the project can be found in the Hebrew book Whose Land is It? by Uzi Benziman, published by IDI Press in 2006.



  • Prof. Ruth Gavison, Faculty of Law, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, Senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute; Faculty of Law, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Dr. Adel Manna, Director of the Center for the Study of Arab Society in Israel at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute


  • Dr. Khaled Abu-Asba, Manager of the Massar Institute for Research, Planning, and Educational Counseling
  • Prof. Moshe Arens, former Foreign Minister and Defense Minister
  • Mr. Talal Al-Krenawi, Mayor of Rahat
  • Prof. Ella Belfer, Chair on Society and Judaism at the Political Studies Department, Bar Ilan University
  • Rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun, Head of the Ein Tzurim Yeshiva
  • Prof. Eliezer Don-Yehiya, Department of Political Studies, Bar Ilan University; Director, the Argov Center for the Study of the Jewish People and the State of Israel
  • MK Michael Eitan, Chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee
  • Dr. Hala Espanioli, the Arab College for Education in Haifa
  • Adv. Osama Halabi, Jurist
  • Dr. Rassem Khamaisi, City Planner, Urban Developer, and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Haifa; Research Fellow at the Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies, and Manager of a Center for Urban Planning in Kfar Kanna
  • Prof. David Kretzmer, Faculty of Law, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Sheikh Kamal Rian, Leader in the Islamic Movement in Israel; Deputy Director General, The Center for Local Government
  • Dr. Ahmad H. Sa'di, Lecturer in the Department of Politics and Government, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev
  • Prof. Sammy Smooha, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, the University of Haifa
  • Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, the Department for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Research Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace
  • Dr. Elie Rekhess, Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University; Director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation, Tel-Aviv University
  • Prof. Edna Ullmann-Margalit, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for the Study of Rationality, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The first session of the Jewish-Arab dialogue group was an introductory session that focused on the group's working methods and goals. Topics explored included the method that would be used, the composition of the group, the group's target audience, and the political and social context in which the meetings were taking place.

The principle underlying the group's work was that the rift between Jews and Arabs in Israeli society is real and has a decisive influence on the nature and future of Israeli democracy. During the opening session, participants discussed the best way of dealing with the challenge posed by this divide. Questions that they considered included:

  • What should the composition of the group be in order to enable effective work, reaching an agreement, and have real public impact? To what extent can and should the group represent all parts of the Jewish and Arab sectors?
  • What is the expected outcome of the group's work? Assuming that the group reaches agreement, will this agreement include practical components such as policy proposals, or will it take the form of a social compact?
  • Who is the target audience of the agreement that the group will reach? Is it Israeli society as a whole or policymakers?

In addition to these basic questions, the members of the group also explored the influences of the political and social context in which they were meeting. This included the political process, the possible future establishment of a Palestinian State, and the two sectors' perception of a mutual threat. 


Read the transcript of this session (Hebrew)


The meaning of Israel's definition as a "Jewish and democratic state," as it impinges on the status of Arabs in Israel, was a key question that was in the air at all the meetings of the dialogue group. But the second and third sessions were devoted specifically to this issue. The deliberations at the second meeting focused on the underlying tension that stems from the definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and the question of whether there is a fundamental contradiction between "Jewish" and "democratic" or the tension between these two aspects of Israel's dual identity can be resolved without real harm to either element. The fundamental questions explored at this session were:

  • What kind of democracy is Israel? Is it substantially different from Western democracies? Has there been any change in Israel's democratic character over the years? If so, what are the implications of those changes for the Arab minority? In order to answer these questions, participants explored theoretical distinctions between different forms of democracy, with the emphasis on two models—liberal democracy and ethnic democracy—and Israel's relation to those models of democracy.
  • What is the meaning of the definition of Israel as a "Jewish" state? Does this definition relate exclusively to the national context or does it also embody a religious meaning? Does this definition, which the Jewish majority is not willing to concede, of necessity involve some infringement of the status of Israel's Arab minority and the degree of democracy in the country?

Many of the speakers mentioned the need to bolster the democratic character of Israel in order to increase Israel's moral power, stabilize its international status, and enhance the shared civic identity of Israel's Arabs and Jews. Several speakers emphasized that this is mainly an internal Jewish need and stems precisely from the fact that Israel is a Jewish state.


Position papers

"Migration, Return, and the Law of Return" by Prof. Ruth Gavison (Hebrew)
"General Policy" by Prof. Sammy Smooha (Hebrew)


Read the transcript of this session (Hebrew)


The third session picked up where the previous session left off and explored the meaning of the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, this time with the focus on the status of Arabs in Israel. While the second session had explored theoretical aspects of the tension between Israel's identity as a Jewish state and its identity as a democratic state, the third session focused on practical aspects of this tension. It explored the actual manifestations of the Jewish character of the state, as well as the central areas in which Israel's Arab minority is subject to discrimination (for example, inequality in the distribution of resources, exclusion from centers of decision-making, and denial of benefits that are conditioned on military service). The question of necessity was asked in both of these areas, namely: what are the essential expressions of Jewishness in the State of Israel (e.g., the Law of Return, the Jewish character of the State, the link between Israel and Diaspora Jewry) and is injury to the Arab minority a necessary corollary of those expressions of the Jewish nature of the State?

A large part of the discussion in this session was devoted to the issue of Arab identification with the State of Israel. Questions explored included: What are the sources of the difficulty that Israel's Arab citizens have in identifying with the State of Israel? Does this difficulty stem from the definition of the state as a Jewish state, a history of discrimination, the events of 1948, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What would be necessary to enable Israeli Arabs to identify with the State of Israel? The discussion emphasized the practical implications of the problem of identification and possible arrangements that could promote the integration of the Arab minority into the State of Israel and Israeli society. (This issue was explored in greater detail at the fourth, fifth, and fourteenth sessions, which addressed the question of autonomy.)

Position papers

"Migration, Return, and the Law of Return" by Prof. Ruth Gavison (Hebrew)
"General Policy" by Prof. Sammy Smooha (Hebrew)


Read the transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The fourth session was the first of three sessions devoted to the status of the Arabs in Israel as a national and cultural minority (it was followed by the fifth and fourteenth sessions, which focused on autonomy). Alouph Hareven, who worked on drafting a compact on this subject when he was a senior fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in the early 1990's, was a guest speaker at this session and shared his experience with the group.

The session dealt mainly with the broad context of the status of the Arabs in Israel and the fundamental question explored related to the tension between the character of the State of Israel and the status that Israel's Arab minority should receive. Questions explored included: Should the Arab citizens of Israel be granted rights as a national collective, with arrangements for autonomy, or should they only receive individual civil equality? Is the answer to this question affected by the way one chooses to define the State of Israel—as a "Jewish and democratic state" or as a "state of all its citizens"? How would the establishment of a Palestinian nation state alongside Israel affect this matter?

The group also discussed the tension between the identity of Arabs in Israel and the identity of the State, as well as the difficulty that Arab citizens have in identifying with the State and its symbols. They debated whether it is possible to create a common basis of identity for all citizens of Israel, and wondered what the content of this common identity could and should be. One possible means of creating a common basis of identity that the group explored is promoting equal participation and representation of Arab citizens in the institutions of the State and its decision-making processes; another is expanding the system of national service—military or civilian—to encompass all citizens.


Read the transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The fifth session addressed the question of granting autonomy to the Arab minority in Israel, in accordance with the assumption that Israel would continue to be a Jewish and democratic state.

The basic question discussed at this session was whether some form of autonomy could enhance the status of the Arabs in Israel, and if so, what type of autonomy it would be. Exploring the matter more deeply, participants weighed the possible price of such an arrangement against the benefits it could produce. Would autonomy promote the integration of Israel's Arab minority into Israeli society, advance their interests, and enable the needs of this community to be expressed in state institutions and decision-making processes? Or would it rather increase estrangement and feelings of difference between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel while relieving the State of the responsibility for dealing with the problems of the Arab sector?

The question of autonomy was considered in the context of the situation of the Arab minority, which is still the victim of inequality in many domains. This reality led to a discussion of whether autonomy can be effective when inequality persists, and—alternatively—whether autonomy can potentially contribute to increased equality.

The domains and scope of autonomy were also discussed: Would an ideal arrangement include education and culture, local authorities, and administration, or would it include other domains as well? Should the autonomy be enshrined in legislation or anchored in some other way? Regardless of the answers to these questions, the participants agreed that the desired type of autonomy was functional autonomy rather than territorial autonomy (the latter is a form of autonomy that had been raised in the Israeli public as a possibility in the Israeli-Palestinian context).

As with other topics, in this case the participants felt the need to examine the feasibility of implementing autonomy, both in terms of its potential to be accepted by the Jewish sector and its leaders, given the loaded nature of the term "autonomy" in the Israeli-Palestinian context, and in terms of the Arab sector's willingness to participate in such a policy. 


Read the transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The sixth and seventh sessions addressed the underlying principles of representation and partnership, while the eighth session examined practical policy possibilities in this area. Three position papers prepared by Prof. Sammy Smooha, Dr. Adel Manna, and Dr. Yitzhak Reiter served as the basis for the discussion in these sessions.

Partnership and representation, as discussed by the group, involves incorporating Arab representatives in the centers of Israel's political and bureaucratic decision-making, whether in public administration, government institutions and local authorities, or state-supported institutions. This integration would be implemented with an eye toward areas and issues that currently lack Arab representation.

During the sixth session, participants considered the connection and tension between partnership and representation, on the one hand, and autonomy, on the other. Are these two concepts contradictory or do they complement each other in the attempt to promote Arab equality and integration into the population as a whole? The group also examined the contribution that a policy of partnership and representation could make. They discussed whether a policy of partnership and representation is of value in and of itself or whether its significance depends on the extent to which it makes a real contribution to promoting the equality of Israel's Arab citizens and integrating them into the State.

The significance of this last question stems from the problems that some participants predicted would arise from the introduction of a policy of representation and partnership within the Israeli public, especially in the Jewish public and among Jewish representatives, whose power in centers of influence would be diminished. Building further on this point, the participants discussed the beneficial change that such a policy could bring about within the Arab minority. Would such a favorable policy deviate from the status quo, such that Israel's Arab citizens could be expected to take steps of their own to increase their identification with Israeli society and the State and accelerate their integration?


Position papers

"Representation and Participation," by Prof. Sammy Smooha (Hebrew)
"Representativeness and Partnership," by Dr. Adel Manna (Hebrew)
"Partnership and Representation," by Dr. Yitzhak Reiter (Hebrew)

Session 7: Partnership and Representation (II)

Building on the sixth session, the seventh session examined principles related to the implementation of a policy of partnership and representation, and explored several related issues in greater detail.

At the outset, the participants considered the tension between the proposed policy and the premises of liberal rights discourse, on the one hand, and the premises of the Jewish-Zionist discourse that dominates Israeli society, on the other. They discussed whether it is possible to make enhanced rights for Israel's Arab minority conditional on their increased participation in the system of civic obligations, and, conversely, whether it is possible to implement and apply such a policy in the Israeli context without such a condition. They similarly explored whether it is possible for Jews and Arabs to conduct a common civic dialogue, and if so, what the content of such dialogue would be.

Following the presentation of a position paper entitled "Politics of Exclusion or Politics of Arrangement? Israel and its Arab Citizens," which was prepared by group member Prof. Eliezer Don-Yehiya, the question of partnership and representation was discussed in light of the consociational model of political scientist Arend Lijphart. This model emphasizes the need for proportional representation of minority groups in decision-making processes in divided societies where the minority is excluded from these processes regularly. The discussion led to the question of the Jewish majority's obligation to show consideration for the positions of the Arab minority and the connection between the formal representation of Arabs in state institutions and the actual influence of Arabs on institutions and processes in Israel.

The link between representation, as a means to implement policy, and the creation of partnership was also examined in light of the normative implications of such a policy for the general disposition of Israeli society. Participants considered whether there is a basis of partnership and identification between Arabs and Jews in Israel and discussed whether such a policy could serve as a means of strengthening identification and partnership. They also considered whether such a policy could be implemented effectively, given that there are doubts that partnership and identification between the two populations really exist.


Position Papers

"Representation and Participation," by Prof. Sammy Smooha (Hebrew)
"Politics of Exclusion or Politics of Arrangement? Israel and its Arab Citizens" by Prof. Eliezer Don-Yehiya (Hebrew)


Read the transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The eighth meeting of the dialogue group continued the discussion of partnership and representation, focusing on practical aspects of such policy rather than the theoretical aspects was on practical aspects of such a policy.

During this session, the participants primarily dealt with dilemmas related to areas in which representation should be created and ways in which a policy of representation should be implemented. It should be noted that agreement was reached concerning the mode of representation in government and state institutions; however, no unambiguous conclusion was reached with regard to the inclusion of Arab representative bodies in the political process. The questions remained: should it be demanded that Israel's Arab citizens are represented in the political realm—that is, is it feasible for Arab parties to be part of the government coalition? Should the policy of representation include participation of representative Arab bodies in decision-making processes? If so, which bodies are the representative bodies of Israel's Arab citizens?

As part of this discussion, participants also discussed the mode of implementing a policy of representation and participation. Affirmative action was put forward as one possible way of implementing such policy. A number of questions were raised about the appropriate scope of representation and mechanisms for enforcing it, based on a review of affirmative action models that might be suitable for Israel. Should quotas be set for Arabs in relevant fields or should efforts be directed toward a slower, gradual process in which preference would be given to Arab candidates over Jewish candidates? To what extent would it be possible to implement such a policy in light of the unequal starting conditions of Arabs and Jews, which include differences in Hebrew fluency, proximity to the center of the country, higher education, and professional training?

Position papers

"Representation and Participation," a document prepared by IDI researchers (Hebrew)


Read the transcript of the session (Hebrew)

The ninth session of the dialogue process was a special meeting with Maj. Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon, then director of Israel's General Security Service, who would later draft a peace initiative with Prof. Sari Nusseibeh. As agreed prior to this meeting, a summary and transcripts of this session are not being made public due to the sensitive nature of their content.

Continuing the discussion that began in the eighth session, the tenth session was devoted to the theoretical and practical aspects of affirmative action.

Participants explored theoretical aspects of the connection between affirmative action and increased integration and equality of the Arab minority in Israel. Although it was agreed that affirmative action is first and foremost a tool for promoting equality, a number of questions arose: Is affirmative action an efficient tool, given the unequal starting points of Jews and Arabs in Israel? What other tools should be added in order to deal with the problem? Does affirmative action, which is an artificial means of achieving equality and integration, reinforce existing stereotypes of the Arab population or does it weaken such stereotypes, since it promotes actual integration and visibility? If affirmative action were to be implemented, would it be likely to have a negative impact on the frameworks in which it is implemented, especially academic institutions, which are committed to excellence? The participants also discussed the influence of affirmative action on the Arab minority itself, and examined the extent to which it improves the situation of only the elite and does not make a meaningful contribution to the Arab population in general.

The group also discussed the feasibility of implementing an affirmative action policy, taking into consideration Jewish and Arab public opinion on this matter. They explored the question of the appropriate scope of such a policy and discussed the need to strike a balance between an effective policy that could affect real change and the chances that such a policy would be accepted by the public and policymakers in Israel. Given these parameters, they examined the two main models of affirmative action: setting fixed quotas for Arabs in certain areas, or preferring an Arab candidate over a Jewish candidate when all other conditions are equal. 

Position paper

"Affirmative Action" by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer and Hilly Moodrick-Even Khen (Hebrew)


Read the transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The eleventh meeting of the dialogue group dealt with lands policy in Israel and its implications for the situation of the Arab minority. The first part of the session was devoted to a presentation of various facets of the topic by guest speakers; in the second half, the group discussed proposals for Israeli land policy in the future.

The session opened with a presentation by Prof. Oren Yiftachel of the Geography Department at Ben-Gurion University and Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Kedar of the Law Faculty at the University of Haifa. They presented their idea that Israel has an ethnocratic regime—that  is,  the regime aspires to consolidate the Jewish ethnic group’s control of the state—and their understanding of the implications of this regime on legal policy, land planning, and land allocations.

Mr. Uzi Wexler, of the Israel Lands Administration, countered that land policy is not always democratic and sometimes infringes the rights of the individual in order to benefit the public, and as a general rule, Israeli land policy is not motivated by a desire to deprive Arab citizens of their land. Dr. Yosef Ben-David of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies discussed the problem of Bedouin lands in the Negev, the claims of the Bedouin against the State, and possible solutions and arrangements. Dr. Haim Sandberg of the Law School of the College of Management presented the findings of his research in this area and said that, from a legal perspective, inequality and discrimination result mainly from land allocation policies rather than from expropriation policies.

In the second half of the session, the participants discussed ways to promote fair and equitable land policy, to find appropriate solutions to the land and planning needs of the Arab population, and to promote the inclusion of Arab representatives in the institutions that decide these matters. This discussion was based on a number of position papers that had been prepared by members of the group. (Links to these Hebrew position papers can be found below.) It should be stressed that the discussion of these issues—especially the discussions about the status of the unrecognized villages, compensation for internal refugees, and the ways of dealing with these problems among the Bedouin took place with an awareness of the relevant historical context and of the question of recognition of past injustices, if indeed there were any, and providing compensation for them.

In the wake of this discussion, a position paper about land and resource allocation—the last position paper presented in the list below—was drafted by Mr. Talal al-Karnawi, Prof. Rassem Khamaisi, and Dr. Yitzhak Reiter. 

Position Papers

"Land and Resource Allocation" by Prof. Rasem Khamaisi (Hebrew)
"Resource Allocation" by Mr. Talal al-Karnawi (Hebrew)
"Expropriation of Arab Land" by Sheikh Kamel Ryan (Hebrew)
"Resource Distribution in Israel" by Ahmed Saadi
"Land and Resource Allocation" by Mr. Talal al-Karnawi, Prof. Rassem Khamaisi, and Dr. Yitzhak Reiter (Hebrew)


Read the full transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The twelfth session was the first of two sessions on service to the state by Arab citizens of Israel. The debate in this session centered on the goals of such service, which include:

  • Creating equality of obligations alongside equality of rights
  • Promoting social integration and mobility
  • Strengthening social participation and identification
  • Reducing Jewish distrust of Israeli Arabs
  • Providing legitimacy for policy that is beneficial to Arabs.

These goals were considered in the context of their possible moral justification and the changes they may bring about in Israeli Arabs. Participants similarly considered current obstacles to the implementation of a policy of general conscription. These obstacles, which are intimately linked to the goals that underlie the policy, include a mutual sense of threat, the lack of Arab identification with the State, and the unwillingness of Israeli Arabs to find themselves on the front line against their Palestinian brethren in the course of military service.

The options for service to the state are diverse and were discussed at length. Participants explored whether such an arrangement would be specific to the Arab sector or would apply to all groups in Israeli society. They discussed whether Arab citizens would participate only in civilian service and national service, or whether they should be inducted into the military on a regular basis. Assuming that the proposed service would primarily be civilian service, the group discussed whether it should take place in special frameworks within the Arab sector and wondered whether the arrangement would result in young Arabs and Jews working together.

The question of the role of service to the state within the overall agreement that the group sought to formulate, and the importance of such service in such an agreement, was mentioned throughout this meeting. This issue was dealt with intensively in the thirteenth session.

Position Paper

"Service to the State" by Prof. Sammy Smooha (Hebrew)


Read the full transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The thirteenth session was the second of two sessions on service to the state by Arab citizens of Israel. A position paper by Prof. Sammy Smooha served as the basis of the discussion in this session.

The discussion centered on fundamental questions about the implications of introducing some form of service to the state, whether civilian or military, by Arab citizens on the agreement that the group was trying to formulate, as well as the impact that lack of such service would have on the agreement. Participants raised questions about the implications of the desired arrangement for the status of Arabs in Israel: Would they be required to serve the state in order to receive the benefits discussed in previous sessions? Would it be possible to promote the agreement that the group formulated with regard to the rights that would be granted to the Arab sector within the Jewish public and within the Israeli establishment without a payback in the form of service to the state? Is service to the State a means to strengthen a partnership between Jews and Arabs in Israel or is it actually an expression of such a partnership?

The order of implementation was also discussed. On the one hand, is it possible to demand service to the state of Israel's Arab minority before the rights of Arab Israelis have been firmly established and before their identification with the State has been consolidated? On the other hand, isn't such service a precondition for implementing a policy of equality and fostering identification? It is important to note that these questions do not stand on their own; rather, they rest on substantially different perceptions of the source of the mutual threat between Arabs and Jews in Israel and the origins of the inequality and discrimination in Israeli society. These perceptions were discussed during the session as well.

The first part of the fourteenth session, which took up the bulk of the meeting, focused on educational and cultural autonomy, continuing the discussion of autonomy in general that took place during the fourth and fifth sessions.

The current inequality between Arab education and Jewish education underlies the proposals for autonomy in Arab education that participants presented at this session. Various facets of this inequality were discussed: differences in inputs and resource allocation, achievement, dropout rates, and rates of acceptance to institutions of higher education. Special attention was devoted to how the content that is taught in the Arab educational system is determined, and it was noted that Arab professionals are not included in the process sufficiently and Arab national content is lacking from the curriculum. Some of the participants, both Jews and Arabs, asserted that the Israeli school system effectively serves as a mechanism for control and surveillance of the Arab sector. As in previous sessions,  it was agreed that the use of the term "autonomy" in this context poses a real problem, because it raises threatening associations for some Jews.

In addition to the fundamental question of whether there is a need for educational and cultural autonomy and a willingness to exercise such autonomy, several questions were discussed regarding practical aspects of such an arrangement, with an emphasis on the nature of the independent Arab educational administration that would be a central part of such an arrangement. How much independence would the Arab education administration have and what would be the nature of its relationship with the Education Ministry? Which educational system should serve as the model for such the Arab educational administration—the State Religious system or the ultra-Orthodox Independent system? How would its senior leadership be determined? Would they be appointed or elected, and by whom? And what criteria would be appropriate for determining the allocation of resources to an independent Arab school system?

The discussion of curricular content was a sensitive and essential part of the meeting and raised many questions. Is it possible to define or create a common core curriculum for Zionist Jewish education and Palestinian-Arab education, when for at least some of the members of the Arab sector, the Zionist enterprise and the establishment of the State of Israel was an injustice and disaster for the Palestinian people? Would this result in a system of incitement against the State? Other issues raised were related to the concern that an autonomous educational system would be a first step towards broader autonomy and to questions regarding how successful it could be in promoting equality.

The second part of the session was devoted to a discussion of legislation that would entrench the status of Israel as a Jewish state, with an emphasis on the symbolic and practical implications of such legislation and the implications of such legislation for the status of the Arab minority in Israel. The statutory expressions related to this definition were mentioned: the definition of Israel as "a Jewish and democratic state" in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation; the restrictions on lists running for the Knesset that are stipulated in paragraph 5 of the Political Parties Law and paragraph 7a of the Basic Law: The Knesset; the special status of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization; the status of Israel's national symbols—the Israeli flag and the national anthem; the status of Arabic as an official language of the state as compared to the status of Hebrew; and the inclusion of "nationality" as a field in the Population Registry.

The proposals for changes in this field were discussed based on a position paper on legislative changes by Prof. David Kretzmer. The discussion focused on the significance of the proposed change, exploring the question of whether the change would be formal or substantive, and on the question of the feasibility of the proposal.

Position Papers

"Cultural Autonomy for Arab Education" by Dr. Hala Espanioli (Hebrew)
"Establishing an Independent and Autonomous Administration for the Arab Educational System" by Dr. Khaled Abu-Asba (Hebrew)
"Legislative Changes" by Prof. David Kretzmer (Hebrew)
"Legislative Changes" by Prof. Ruth Gavison (Hebrew)


Read the full transcript of this session (Hebrew)

The fifteenth session took place about a month after the violent events of October 2000, which were a watershed in Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. The group devoted the session to a discussion of the social and political causes and implications of the events.

The discussion revolved primarily around the fundamental questions that had preoccupied the group from the outset: the Arab minority's difficulty in identifying with the Jewish state and expressing loyalty to it, and the consequent perception in Israeli society that the Arabs are a threatening minority. On the other hand, Arab citizens have a long history of being subjected to discrimination, lack control of their own lives and are not real participants in Israeli democracy, which intensifies and feeds the problem. The status of the political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority further complicates the matter, and this too was discussed at length. In light of the Arab minority's self-identity and its identification with the other side, what is the connection between progress of the political process between Israel and the Palestinians and steps towards granting equality to the Arab minority, in a situation of violent conflict? Is the realization of one of these processes a necessary condition for the success of the other?

Similarly, the participants examined the implications of the events of October 2000 on the group's future: Was there any point in continuing the attempt to reach agreement and to issue a general document? Was it possible to reach such an agreement, or would it be advisable to make do with drafting limited policy proposals in specific areas? If the latter, what added value would the group's proposals give to existing political plans, or to initiatives that may have existed in the past?


Read the full transcript of the session (Hebrew)

The sixteenth session focused on responses to a summary document that was prepared by the staff of the Israel Democracy Institute. This document was based on an attempt to produce a broad consensus about the steps that must be taken to improve the status of the Arab minority in Israel and to cope with the Jewish-Arab divide. When the group proved unable to reach an agreement about this position paper, the process effectively came to an end.

The key problem, which formed the core of the discussion, was the way in which the first section of the document described the nature of the State of Israel—as the "State of the Jewish people." The disagreement about this issue stemmed from the attempt to find a compromise between the demand that was being made that the Arab minority accept the nature of Israel as the "Jewish State" and recognize its legitimacy as such, and the difficulty that the Arab minority had in accepting this demand. This led to questions about the origins of this demand, whether it was justified, the needs that it sought to satisfy, and the origins of the Arabs' difficulty in accepting it. The answers that were given to these questions related both to the process of the establishment of the State of Israel and the different narratives of this process.

The question of what is the appropriate way in which to express the Jewish character of the State, if at all, also came up in the context of the discussion of how to market the summary document to the public and decision-makers. The group also discussed the implications of this matter for the future of the Jewish-Arab divide. The participants considered alternatives to drafting a single consensus position paper, such as issuing a consensus policy document with two separate introductions that represent the Jewish and Arab outlooks, or producing a document containing only practical policy proposals, without an agreed statement of principles. 

Position Papers

Proposed Summary Document prepared by the Israel Democracy Institute (Hebrew)


Read the full transcript of this session (Hebrew)

In light of the inability to reach agreement about the proposed summary document during the sixteenth session, and the inability to draft a comprehensive document about the Jewish-Arab divide in general, the seventeenth meeting marked the end of the process. In this session, the group summed up its work and considered its future.

At the end of the two-year process, a summary of the group's work was presented, which surveyed the reasons for the failure to reach an agreement and for terminating the process even though a joint document had not been produced. The reasons were related to the nature of the group and its members: the extent to which they represented the two sides and their degree of candor as representatives of the two groups, the flexibility (or rigidity) displayed by the participants, and the difficulty that they had in communicating the pain of their own sector and understanding the distress of the other. The group also discussed reasons that derive from the substantive problems that underlie the divide—problems that the group had addressed throughout the process.

The group explored the meaning of their failure to reach an agreement about ways to deal with the Jewish-Arab rift in the future, especially given the current context: the events of October 2000 and the convening of the Orr Commission of Inquiry.

Ideas that were proposed regarding the group's future included new possibilities for continued activity, such as a forum that would deal with current events related to the Jewish-Arab divide, or a forum that would continue the effort to reach agreement—whether comprehensive or regarding specific concrete issues.

It should be noted that we have published the transcripts of the sessions and posted them on this website in accordance with the agreement that was voiced at the closing session about the importance of the discussions that took place and the value that they may have for understanding the complexity of the status of the Arab minority in Israel. 


Read the full transcript of this session (Hebrew)