Permanent Status of the Political-Legal Status of Israeli Arabs

This concept explores how the establishment of a Palestinian state would affect the status of the Arab citizens of Israel and the issues related to it.


The concept "The Permanent Status of the Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs" refers to the Political-Legal Status of the Arab citizens of Israel in Permanent Status after a Permanent Status Agreement is signed and a Palestinian state is established.

The term Political-Legal Status refers to right to Citizenship, Representation (the right to vote and to run for office) and Self-Determination of the citizens of a state, as well as the unique rights and responsibilities deriving from the status of a National Minority.

The Re'ut Institute has identified two possible approaches on whose basis the Government of Israel can design the Permanent Status of the Issue of the Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs within a systematic relation vis-à-vis a Palestinian state:

  1. The Wall Approach - The erection of a juridical wall between Israeli-Arabs and the Palestinian state, intended to prevent the Palestinian state from establishing an official foothold - diplomatic, legal or political - concerning Israeli-Arabs.
  2. The Membrane Approach - This approach allows for a "penetrable membrane", which does not prevent the existence to some degree of official (or unofficial) association between Israeli-Arabs - as Palestinians - with the Palestinian state.

For a comparison of the two approaches Click Here.

General Background - What Is a Political-Legal Status?

The term Political-Legal Status relates to the following four components:

  1. Citizenship - the relation between a state and its population. With few exceptions (such as human rights), the state enjoys exclusive and total sovereignty over the population within its territory.1
  2. Representation - refers to the question of the right, authority and responsibility of a state or political entity over its population, and to the right of an individual to be represented by a state or political entity.
  3. Self-Determination - the right of a population with a distinct national consciousness to define its political status on a specified territory through free elections (independent of outside forces).2
  4. Unique Rights on a National or Group Basis - protective rights granted to a certain sector, deriving from its status as a national minority.

Political-Legal Status of National Minorities According to International Law

According to international law, explicit legislative recognition of a national minority is not required to protect these minorities. Nonetheless, on the issue of defending the rights of national minorities, the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities3 stipulates, inter alia, that:

  • A signatory is required to guarantee equal civil rights to the members of a National Minority and to take all necessary steps in order to bring about "full and effective equality" in the economic, social and cultural spheres (see Article 4);
  • The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities and are aimed at restricting the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention (Article 16).

As such, it is important to note that the convention does not include a definition of the concept of "National Minority"4 and does not contain provisions requiring the state to officially recognize the national leadership of a national minority" or to grant it autonomy.

It should be noted that Israel is not a signatory to the convention.

Do Israeli-Arabs Constitute a National Minority?

Many within both the Jewish majority and the Arab minority in Israel view themselves as belonging to two separate nationalities.

  • Some Israeli-Arabs identify with Palestinian national aspirations
  • In its declaration of independence, the State of Israel is considered to be the realization of the Jewish Right to Self-Determination

The State of Israel does not recognize the Arabs in Israel as a National Minority possessing protective rights.5 However, in certain respects - such as the separate education system - Israel recognizes group rights deriving from the Arab national identity.6

The Uniqueness of the Issue of the Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs

The sensitivity of the issue of the political-legal status of Israeli-Arabs stems from several characteristics of the system of relations between Israel and the Palestinian entities:

Map of the Palestinian People - This term refers to the geographic-demographic dispersal of the population that is defined according to international law and custom as the Palestinian People. These populations may be divided in two ways:

  1. Political-legal status - a distinction between Palestinian refugees and Palestinians who are not refugees.
  2. Geographical dispersion - a distinction between residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem7 and residents of Host Countries (Jordan, Syria and Lebanon), the Gulf States and elsewhere.

The Issue of Palestinian Representation - In connection with the Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs, the issue of Palestinian representation" relates to the following questions: who do the PLO and Palestinian Authority represent in the Interim Period? Who will the PLO and Palestinian state represent when the Palestinian State with Provisional Borders is established? Who will the PLO and Palestinian state represent in Permanent Status?

In principle, the State of Israel views itself as the sole representative of all its residents and citizens, including its population of Israeli-Arab citizens. Nevertheless, the Palestinian Constitution - Draft No. 3 (5/03), implies that Israeli-Arabs are part of the Palestinian People8 with the right to vote and to run for office in the future Palestinian state, as well as to be represented by its institutions.

The Issue of the Palestinian Right to Self-Determination - This concept refers to the way in which the Right to Self-Determination of the Palestinian People will be realized:

  • Does the founding of a Palestinian state realize the Right to Self-Determination for the entire Palestinian people and remove this issue from the political agenda (see Finality of Claims)?
  • Following the founding of a Palestinian state, will there continue to be groups who view themselves as Palestinians and claim that their Right to Self-Determination has yet to be realized?

The raison d'etre of the State of Israel is to realize the Jewish right to self-determination. As a democracy, the State of Israel must still represent all its citizens, including Israeli-Arabs and other non-Jewish segments of its population.9 However, many Palestinians contend that the Right to Self-Determination of Israeli-Arabs must be realized in their current place of residence, that is, the State of Israel.10

From this, it may be understood that Israeli-Arabs have the Right to Self-Determination as Palestinians. Within the State of Israel, this right collides with the Jewish Right to Self-Determination.

Israel-Palestine-Israeli-Arab Triangle - Forces and Trends

In Permanent Status, a system of relations is expected to be created between the Palestinian state (on one vertex), the State of Israel and its Jewish citizens (on another vertex) and Israeli-Arabs (on a third vertex). This triangle may be subject to tension due to a combination of several forces and trends:

As explained, some Israeli-Arabs identify with the Palestinian national struggle, and some even support the idea of Israel as a Bi-National State or a State-of-All-Its-Citizens;

  • The constitution of a Palestinian state - From the most recent Draft Constitution for a Palestinian state, it can be deduced that Israeli-Arabs will have some sort of a political-legal status in the Palestinian state, including the right to vote and to run for office (see Israel's Interface with the Palestinian Constitutional Structure and Palestinian Constitutional Structure);
  • The Irredentist Threat / The Phased Plan / Palestinian Ethos of Struggle - Factions in the future Palestinian state, with or without the backing of the Palestinian government, may continue the struggle against Israel by using the Arab citizens of Israel as a tool to continue the Palestinian struggle within Israel;
  • The Convergence Phenomenon / One-State Threat - In Permanent Status, the trend of delegitimizing the Jewish character of the State of Israel may continue by using Israeli-Arabs as a tool;
  • Today, the lack of trust between Israel and its Arab citizens has only intensified since the events of October 2000. The Arab population faces significant under-representation in various administrative and public bodies within Israel;11
  • Third parties - states such as Iran and groups such as Al-Qaeda or Hizbullah may encourage trends of sabotage among Israeli-Arabs, with or without the blessing or help of the government of the Palestinian state.

The above analysis indicates that the relations between Israel and its Arab citizens are likely to change from an issue of internal Israeli policy to one of foreign policy and security.

Significance for Israel

The Issue of the Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs raises several questions which will impact Israeli - Palestinian - Israeli-Arab relations:

  • Citizenship - Should dual Palestinian-Israeli citizenship (dual-passports) be permitted?
  • Self-Determination - Will the establishment of a Palestinian state fully realize the Right to Self-Determination for the entire Palestinian People, including Israeli-Arabs, and remove the issue from the political agenda (hereinafter the "Containment Approach")?12
    Even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, will Israeli-Arabs claim that their Right to Self-Determination has yet to be realized (hereinafter the All Its Residents/Citizens Approach)?
  • Representation - Does a Palestinian state represent only its citizens and residents? Are Palestinians living abroad represented by the state in which they reside? Will there be a complete overlap between the territory and the population represented by the Palestinian state (hereinafter the Overlap Approach)?
    Will the Palestinian state claim to represent every Palestinian - resident or citizen of its territory or outside of it - including Israeli-Arabs (hereinafter the Succession Approach)?
    Will the Palestinian state represent, exclusively, all of its residents - citizens and non-citizens, refugees and non-refugees, and them only (the Overlap Approach), but leave the PLO responsible for subjects such as the "Issue of Palestinian Refugeeism" (hereinafter the "Integration Approach")?
  • Special Status According to the Agreements - Does the State of Israel recognize the unique rights of its Arab citizens vis-à-vis the Palestinian state, especially in the areas of diplomatic representation, personal status and commercial operations?

1 Shaw Malcolm, International Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2003, p. 574.

2 Webster's Dictionary

3 The convention was drafted by the Council of Europe and entered into force in 1988. Today it serves as the most up-to-date and detailed document in this field of international law. (Rubinstein, Amnon and Alexander Yakovson, Israel and the Family of Nations: State of the Jewish People and of Human Rights. Tel Aviv: Schocken, 2003, p. 190 (in Hebrew)

4 Ibid., p. 195. In the Explanatory Report to the convention: "It was decided to adopt a pragmatic approach, based on the recognition that at this stage, it is impossible to arrive at a definition capable of mustering general support of all Council of Europe member States" (Article 12)

5 Ibid., pp. 188-195.

6 See the conclusions of the Dovrat Report, which confirm the group right of Israeli-Arabs to learn in Arab schools in the Arabic language, or alternatively, the (recently annulled) article noting Arab nationality on an identity card.

7 In "Israel Proper" (with the exception of Jerusalem) in 2004, there were 1,300,000 Arabs (with Israeli citizenship and/or an Israeli identification card), comprising (according to various estimates) 19% of the population of the State of Israel. See Gideon Shiloh, Israeli-Arabs in the Eyes of the Arab States and PLO. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1982 (in Hebrew); Amara Muhammad, "Israeli Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority," in Meria Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, March 2000.

8 See Article 12 of the Draft Palestinian Constitution (14/5/03) -

9 The Right to Self-Determination for every Jew, wherever he may be, is realized through the Jewish state, the State of Israel. The phrase "Jewish state" is found in UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (Partition Plan), as well as in the Declaration of Independence of Israel. "A state for the Jewish people" signifies the creation of a state where the Jewish people realize its Right to Self-Determination (Rubinstein, p. 150).

10 This perception arises through the language used in the Palestinian Constitution - Draft No. 3, in which Israeli-Arabs are defined as Palestinians and are granted the right to vote and to run for office in the Palestinian state (for more detail, see the Palestinian Constitutional Structure). In addition, the draft uses different terms to describe its constituencies - including "people", "national", and "citizen" - that build on this foundation in relation to the Issue of Palestinian Self-Determination and the Issue of the Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs.

11 Rubinstein, p. 176. See also "Or Commission report". Commission of Inquiry to Clarify the Clashes Between Security Forces and Citizens of Israel in October 2000 - Report (Or Committee Report), Vol. 1, Jerusalem, September 2003, pp. 33-60. (in Hebrew)

12 This approach was the basis of the Israeli position during "Permanent Status" negotiations from 1999-2001.

More Sources
Commission of Inquiry to Clarify the Clashes Between Security Forces and Citizens of Israel in October 2000 - Report (Or Commission report), Vol. 1, Jerusalem, September 2003 (in Hebrew);

Sara Oztzki-Lazar et al. (eds.) , Seven Ways: Theoretical Options for the Status of Arabs in Israel, Institute for Peace (The Study of Peace, Givat Hanina (in Hebrew);