Two Arabs Who Help Run Israel Parliamentarians Share a Hometown and the Goal of Palestinian Rights

Article excerpt

He wants to fight the system. She's trying to work within it. He's a political firebrand. She's a quiet crusader for equality.

Ahmed Tibi and Hosnia Jabara were born in the same year in this same town - a half hour northeast of Tel Aviv - 41 years ago. They went through the same schools. And they are now freshmen in the same Knesset, Israel's parliament.

But they followed very different paths to Jerusalem. Dr. Tibi was elected last month on the slate of a new nationalist Arab party that wants Israel to forgo its character as a Jewish state and become a state of all its citizens. Ms. Jabara joined Meretz, a secular left-wing party that's characterized as Zionist, though it favors Palestinian rights and eventual statehood, and became the first Arab woman to be elected to the Israeli legislature. While Jabara's seat has been welcomed as a victory for the country's most underprivileged and underrepresented citizens, Tibi's presence in the Knesset already has him embroiled in conflict. For the past six years, he's been a paid political adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He even negotiated on behalf of the Palestinians during peace talks at Wye Plantation in Maryland last fall. To Israeli Jews who still harbor doubts over Arabs' loyalty to the state, Tibi's rsum is a particularly egregious case in point. By serving Mr. Arafat at a time when Israeli and Palestinian interests have seemed so diametrically opposed, he was, in effect, working for the enemy. Now, he wants to be assigned to one of Israel's most confidential clubs: the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, whose members are regularly given top-secret briefings on Israel's most sensitive military, strategic, and security matters. Right-wing Israeli politicians say that's out of the question. They charge that Tibi's alliance with Arafat rules out his eligibility to hear top-level updates by Israeli intelligence officials. Tibi says that he should be allowed on the committee as an Israeli citizen democratically elected to the Knesset. And on this - as on all matters of equality for Jews and Arabs in Israel - his former classmate, Jabara, agrees. But they concur on little else, especially on the way to achieve some of the same goals: peace with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and equal rights for Arabs in Israel. Tibi and Jabara epitomize the ongoing identity crisis of the country's 1 million citizens who are Arab - about 1 in 6 Israelis: Whether to identify primarily with Palestinian nationalism, or to focus on getting a fair share of the pie as an ethnic minority in the Jewish state. Working from outside, or within Even the language they speak is different. In interviews with both Knesset members, he talks about representing Palestinian Arabs in Israel, and she talks about eliminating the gaps between Jews and the "Arab sector," the terminology Israelis have preferred for decades. Tibi says his position as a Palestinian Arab who holds Israel citizenship made him uniquely qualified to serve as an adviser to Arafat. Tibi was introduced to the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunisia in 1984. Tibi was fascinated by Arafat, and Arafat was eager to hear the politically astute Tibi's insights on Israeli politics. He's remained in contact with Arafat since, going on the Palestinian Authority's payroll after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. …


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