A group of specialized Palestinian academic experts, who are fluent in Hebrew, gathered and analyzed information and monitored developments in Israel on a day-to-day basis, directly and not through translation agencies. The Report provides means to monitor developments inside Israel that in their turn influence developments in the region. The importance of the Report lies in the fact that it provides a brief narration of developments inside Israel during last year, in a manner that informs concerned Arab politicians, media specialists and academics about major events and their orientation, in addition to the major factors that direct events in Israel. The report is consequently a daily useful instrument to those as well as to other concerned parties.
The Report provides a detailed explanation of the developments that took place in Israel last year in six major areas, as demonstrated below:
1- The Israeli Policy towards the Arab Palestinian people:
The year 2004 was an important and articulate year in a number of issues pertaining to the Palestinian Question. During that year, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon consolidated his "Unilateral Disengagement Plan". Israel also attained an historic achievement, namely the U.S. "Letter of Guarantees," that expressed an official and serious shift in the U.S. policy towards the Palestinian Question, especially in issues of the borders, settlement and refugees. In that year too, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who had led the Palestinian national struggle for almost four decades and had placed the Palestinian national liberation movement on the gateway of establishing a Palestinian state, passed away.
Dr. Mahmoud Muhareb, Director of the Institute of Regional Studies at the University of Jerusalem prepared this report, which focuses on Israeli policies and practices towards the Palestinian people and land. In the wake of the year 2004, Sharon organized his thoughts and vision, and presented his plan officially and publicly at the Hertzilya Conference, a plan that is currently known as the "Unilateral Disengagement Plan". In addition to freezing the Road Map, this plan essentially aims at dismantling Israeli occupation and settlement in the Gaza Strip, and assembling and enhancing them over the land of the West Bank.
As the American Administration responded to Sharon's plan and started to negotiate it with him, Sharon had already achieved a major accomplishment that was far-fetched few months earlier. Based on the premise of American support to Sharon's Plan, Israel has succeeded to a large extent, in improving relations with each of Egypt and Jordan, amidst Sharon's continuous attempts to restrict the role of these two states to the realm of security affairs, and to place them within the circle of political pressure on Palestinians.
At the level of the Palestinian- Israeli relations, and despite a certain degree of "flexibility" on behalf of Sharon and his Government towards the Palestinian Authority following the passing away of Yasser Arafat, yet there will be no radical change in his policy. This momentary shift comes as a response to International and American positions that maintain that the opportunity for peace has enhanced following the passing away of Arafat. Israel cannot claim anymore that there is no Palestinian partner to peace, as we observe the "flexible" statements of the Israeli leadership. As the Israeli position and attitude towards Arafat was essentially a position towards the Palestinian people, we do not expect any real radical change, so long as Sharon maintains his post as Prime Minister. Attempts to implement the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and to market it to the World as the Sharon peace program, while settlement activities are enhanced and the construction of the Wall continues in the west Bank, will persist.
2- The Political and Partisan Perspective:
A report prepared by Dr. Mohammad Amara, of the Bar-Ilan University, observes and describes the changes and developments in the major parties and movements not represented at the Parliament, as well as the Cabinet and ministries, and judicial affairs that have an impact over the political scene.
The 2003 elections had grave consequences over the Israeli political scene. The main Leftist base (Labor and Mertz) was gravely defeated. We also see that "Shinui", the "Middle" party, occupied an advanced position in the political map, superseding its competitor, the Eastern Haredi party, "Shas". Thus, the Right became the focal point and propellant of the political arena.
Following the resignation of Shinui, a new Israeli Government was formed, and it received the Knesset's confidence vote on 10 January 2005. The current Government constitutes of the Likud, the Labor and the Haredi Agudath Hatorah. Thirteen Likudist Knesset members voted against this Government, while one Agudath Hatorah member abstained. The Government also received the confidence of Yahed Party and the Arab parties. The Labor Party was not given major political ministries, such as the Foreign Affairs, Defense or Finance (The most important ministry they received was the Ministry of Interior Affairs). The Labor Party alleges that it is giving priority to speeding up the disengagement from Gaza. In fact, the weakness of the party at the Israeli political arena, the poll surveys that reveal that the party will not win a sufficient number of seats that enable it to establish a coalition and the acute internal rifts, all make the National Unity Government the best available option for the Labor Party.
The central partisan and political events during 2004 were the continuous dwindling of the Left, the hegemony of the ruling party, deteriorating democracy and aggravating racism in addition to assassinations and separation policies.
The data included in the report reveal that no government will last long, and that early elections will be conducted before their scheduled date in mid 2006. Even if elections are conducted soon, political analysts expect that the political map will be extremely close to the current one. All poll surveys support this expectation.
3- The Strategic and Military Perspective:
A report prepare by Dr. Mustafa Kabha, of the Open University in Israel, states that the year 2004 was from a military and strategic point of view, a decisive year regarding the strategic position of the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular.
After the strategic Iraqi threat has been eliminated (because of the American occupation of Iraq), and the Syrian strategic threat has accordingly been diminished, Israeli policy-makers felt relatively relieved. U.S. military presence in Iraq has prevented (and will prevent in the immediate future) the emergence of a potential anti-Israeli strategic alliance between Syria, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq and Iran. This occupation will place each one of these parties under perpetual pressure that prevents it from contemplating any offensive against Israel, and alternately puts it in a defensive position, preferring safety to the possibility of joining the list of targets of the "War on Terrorism" led by the U.S.A.
These developments hardened the Israeli position towards possible negotiations with Syria, and based them on the principle of "security for security", instead of the earlier principle of "land for peace". This evidently means that peace with other Arab states that have neither signed peace agreements nor normalized relations with Israel is no more a strategic goal that Israel may express basic willingness to achieve in return for regional concessions.
At the level of the Palestinian Intifada that has entered its fifth year, Israeli politicians succeeded largely to convince their counterparts in the U.S. that their war against Palestinians is part of the "World War against Terrorism". This made the U.S. ignore Israeli violations, and close its eyes to the continuing construction of the Wall by Israel, despite the decision of the International Court of Justice and wide International opposition.
4- The Economic Perspective:
Dr. Husam Jiryis, of Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, prepared this report that details the characteristics of and changes in the Israeli economy, that help understand all developments of the year 2004. It presents the enormous economic problems that Israel suffers from, starting with unemployment that reached 11%, to the increasing rate of poverty, as official data reveals that around 1.5 million out of 6.5 million live under the poverty line. The report also presents the main crises in the labor market: The failure of the Government as well as other economic organizations to control the demands of strong labor groups; the failure to integrate a number of Israelis in the labor market for various reasons; the obvious deficiency and deformation in the work of direct and indirect taxation departments that aggravate economic discrepancies and inequalities between different population groups; the many structural changes emanating from both internal and external, political and security factors that influence the economy etc. Consequently, a basic design for a new economic plan that will relieve Israel from this economic crisis has been put.
This economic plan included two major parts: the first included cutting down the state budget and reducing the 2003 deficit to 2% of the (GDP) product by 2008, instead of the 6-7% deficit of 2003. This meant enhancing the long-term structural efficiency and reforming the public sector. The second part included creating an enabling environment so that the Israeli economy would go back on track and achieve long-term growth, efficiency and stability.
Upon evaluating this 2004 plan, we conclude that it triggered economic revitalization, with an unexpected 4.2% GDP growth, instead of a 2.5% that had been projected at the beginning of the year. The real standard of living of the Israeli population increased by 3.8%, in comparison with a continuous decrease in both GDP and standard of living for three or four years starting at the end of 1999 and ending at the end of 2002, or the second half of 2003.
5- The Social Perspective:
According to a report prepared by Dr. Khawla Abu Bakr, 1.2 million Israelis applied for Welfare assistance during 2004, increasing by 30,000 from the previous year. The Red David Star Society (The Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross Society) claimed that citizens requested hospitalization merely to ensure receiving meals. The number of persons seeking assistance from charitable societies increased in 2004 by 45%, in comparison with the previous year.
Demonstrations and sit-in protests of lonely women were among the most significant protest movements against the Netanyahu economic policy and his cuts on welfare. The educational personnel budget item decreased by 15% between 2001 and 2004, despite a 7% increase in the number of students during the same period. This meant that parents would have to finance the remaining budget.
This led to widening the education gap between the Arab and Jewish communities, as well as between schools in rich and poor areas. The reduction in personnel would also lead to the dismissal of teachers from the educational system.
The "Dovrat Commission", that was formed in order to examine the educational level in Israel, recommended organizational changes and budget cuts through the cancellation of administrative units. This recommendation will lead to widening the gaps in the educational system, because of the existing wide socio-economic gaps between local authorities in different Israeli areas. Other recommendations included that schools should become competition-oriented, and increasingly autonomous.
Following the Second Intifada, Israel was shut down for Palestinian laborers, and relied almost completely on foreign laborers, who were employed under conditions that violated International laws, and deprived laborers of basic services that ensured provision of Welfare to their children who were born in Israel.
6-The Palestinians inside Israel
The report prepared by Dr. As'ad Ghanem and Mr. Mtanes Shehadeh presents the major manifestations of the suffocating conditions that the Arab minority in Israel suffers from.
In 2004, the number of Palestinians living inside Israel (not including occupied Jerusalem and Golan) amounted to one million and thirty three thousand persons, constituting 17% of the total Israeli population that amounted to around 6,650,000. They were distributed in the following manner: 821,000 Muslims, 100,000 Christians and 108,000 Druze.
With respect to the socio-economic factors, more than 50% of Arab households were below the poverty line in 2004, with 60% of Arab children below poverty line (in comparison with 15% of Jews). Arab families that were below the poverty line constituted 30% of the overall number of poor households in Israel, while Arab children constituted 50% of the overall number of children who were below the poverty line.
Political Partisan organization of Palestinians in Israel in 2004 took the form of parties, movements and voluntary organization. It is worth mentioning that the variables and general political changes that took place in Israel ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 have, among other things, influenced the reality of Arab parties in Israel. These parties were particularly influenced by the internal change and transformation of the Arab Society inside Israel, and the emergence of new intellectual and partisan streams.
With respect to discrimination against Arab citizens, the report attempts at monitoring the different patterns of discrimination that Arab citizens face inside Israel and their manifestations in 2004. A number of basic facts pertaining to the relationship between the Palestinian minority and Israel are indicated:
1. 1-There is an evident overall feeling of uneasiness among Arabs in Israel towards the internal and external state policy, and this includes the majority of Palestinian population inside Israel.
2. 2- There is no real essence for Arab citizenship in Israel. The discourse on "citizens", pertaining to the Palestinians inside Israel, has initially been formulated within the Israeli academia, and later transferred to politics and media. Such a discourse constitutes a launch pad for practicing authority and domination and for separating Arab Palestinians inside Israel from Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza. This explains why this concept has been developed and promoted after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Except for their participation in the elections, which by itself has quite a limited meaning, Arabs inside Israel do not receive any protection or guarantees of their basic rights that emanate from the fact that they are citizens.
3. 3- Palestinians inside Israel have few allies within the Jewish society. During crises, Jews belonging to different political and ideological streams unite as one group to explain, justify and "advocate" their Government's policy.
4. 4- Moreover, an ethnocratic, rather than a democratic system prevails in Israel, a system that the majority uses as an instrument in order to systematically violate the minority and its basic rights.