There is no shortage of propaganda insisting that the Arab residents of Israel are mistreated and live sub-human lives, and want nothing more than to be part of an independent Palestinian Arab state.
And many Israeli Arabs, whether out of Islamic ideological fervor or just plain fear, will back up that assertion.
But many more will, when being honest with themselves and others, admit that life in the Jewish state is by far preferable to being ruled by the Palestinian Authority or even Hamas.
That topic has come up a number of times in the past 10 years, most recently when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was offering to divide Jerusalem and let the eastern Arab-dominated half of the city become the capital of “Palestine.”
The leader of an Arab village on the eastern side of Jerusalem spoke twice to Israel Today during Olmert’s tenure about why he was rallying Arab support to keep Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty:
Arab leader wants to remain Israeli
Arab Leader Rallies for United Jerusalem
With the international community, led by US President Barack Obama, again pushing hard for the swift conclusion of a final status Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, future control of Jerusalem is up for grabs.
The Palestinian leadership is trying to make sure everyone understands the division of Jerusalem is a foregone conclusion by insisting the negotiations will fail if Israel continues building homes for Jews on the city’s eastern side.
Israel is only timidly fighting back, and is using bureaucracy to slow the rate of Jewish construction there so as to not upset the international community and give it cause to blame Israel for any failures in the peace talks. At the same time, that policy fuels Palestinian claims that the eastern half of Jerusalem does not actually belong to Israel.
But no one is asking the Arabs of Jerusalem how they actually feel. No one is asking if they actually want to live in “Palestine,” or if they would prefer to remain Israeli.
One Arab Muslim journalist has for years been bold enough to answer that question, and to ask it of any fellow Arabs brave enough to talk to him.
In a paper for the Hudson Institute, Khaled Abu Toameh, a regular correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, insists that “those who think that Jerusalem can be split into two are living in an illusion and clearly do not know what they are talking about.”
The journalist wonders if any of the brilliant international peace brokers have bothered to think of what such a division would do to a geographically small but overcrowded city.
“Redividing Jerusalem will turn the lives of both Jews and Arabs into a nightmare, especially with regards to traffic arrangements. Every day, tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs commute between the two parts of the city freely,” writes Abu Toameh.
“Redividing Jerusalem will result in the establishment of checkpoints and border crossings inside many parts of the city. Jews and Arabs will find themselves confined to their homes and neighborhoods, which will be surrounded by security barriers and checkpoints.”
But more importantly, there is the issue of the political will of the 200,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem. Considering that the division of Jerusalem would affect them most, Abu Toameh is adamant their voice must be heard.
“This can be done through a referendum where the Arab residents would be asked if they would like to live in a divided city under the rule of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas,” he suggests. “Most likely, a majority of the Arab residents would say that they prefer the status quo to the other options.”
For a great number of reasons, Abu Toameh contends that most Jerusalem Arabs want to live under Israeli rule. As holders of Israeli ID cards, these Arabs are able to partake of Israeli medical care and other social benefits; they are also able to live in relative safety in a society that obeys the rule of law.
Abu Toameh says the Arabs of Jerusalem have taken the lessons learned from Israel’s Gaza withdrawal to heart. They know exactly what happens to a territory that comes under direct Palestinian rule.
“Redividing Jerusalem means bringing either the Palestinian Authority of Hamas into the city. The Arab residents of Jerusalem have seen what happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past 16 years and are not keen to live under a corrupt authority or a radical Islamist entity,” Toameh writes.
The local Palestinian Arabs were not asked by either the international community or Israel before the signing of the so-called “Oslo Accords,” which officially put Yasser Arafat’s PLO in charge of their lives. That was a miscarriage of justice, and Abu Toameh hopes the same will not be done to Jerusalem’s Arabs.