A new book published by Subhi Rayan, a thinker in the Southern Faction of the Islamic Movement, depicts Ra’am’s strategy as a formal doctrine and long-term vision that is meant to deliver solutions to the two main issues facing Arab society in Israel: its loss of direction and political weakness.
Ra’am’s “New Way”, as presented here by Rayan, is embodied in three revolutionary innovations: the change in attitude towards the State among Arab citizens; the aspiration to achieve influence by integrating within the leadership of the regime; and the independence of national decision making for the Arab sector in Israel and the development of political maneuvering ability that will make it possible to maximize benefit to Arab citizens.
The book also describes three strategic goals that Ra’am needs to achieve in the future: to become the political home for the entire Arab population; to tighten its ties with the Jewish population; and to become a role model for Muslim minority communities around the world.
The experiment being promoted by Mansour Abbas is not an isolated political episode but rather it reflects a deeply-rooted process in Arab society in Israel. The success or failure of this project will have a material influence on Jewish-Arab relations and the attitude of Arab society toward the State.
Professor Subhi Rayan is a thinker associated with the Southern Faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel (which Ra’am - the United Arab List - represents) and a senior lecturer at the Al-Qasemi Academic College in Baka Al-Gharbiyya (Israel). Rayan has recently published a book called Al-Nahaj Al-Jadid – The New Way (or Method). The book provides an in-depth analysis—and the clearest one so far—of Ra’am’s strategy and interprets the party’s actions during the past year as the expression of a long-term vision.
The book describes the events in Arab politics in Israel as an outcome of an organized body of thought based on an insightful analysis of the reality in Israel and on the setting of objectives for the future. Already at the start of the book, Rayan makes clear that MK Mansour Abbas, the Chairman of Ra’am, is the thinker behind the strategy he is presenting and its moving spirit and indeed his picture appears on the cover of the book.
Rayan begins his analysis with a description of the double crisis in Arab society in Israel: on the one hand, there is social and cultural friction, largely as a result of the tension between tradition and modernity. Rayan who is identified with the Muslim Brotherhood movement describes this friction as a source of weakness and a loss of direction for Arab society. It is manifested in the undermining of the family unit, the alienation of the younger generation, the weakening of the Arab social and political leadership and the rise in crime and violence in Arab society (Rayan, like Abbas, feels that the full blame for crime cannot be placed on the State; both of them urge Arab society to self-reflect and to recognize its own responsibility.)
On the other hand, Rayan describes a deep political crisis, at whose center are parties that have become addicted to slogans, have lost their ability to influence and get things done and refrain from any self-criticism. These claims are an unsubtle hint to Hadash – the Communist Party and longstanding political rival of the Islamic Movement.
Ra’am’s solution to the crisis rests on a combination of realpolitik and Islamic Law. On the one hand, it will liberate Arab citizens from the internal crisis, primarily by encouraging a return to religion, and on the other hand it provides a political paradigm that will allow Arabs to integrate within the government and Israeli society much more effectively than in the past and thus solve day-to-day problems.
The proposed paradigm is essentially meant to mitigate the long-standing tension between the Arab’s nationalist-Palestinian identity and his civilian-Israeli identity. Rayan’s analysis is reflected in Abbas’ approach and he makes clear that in contrast to other Arab leaders—who are forcing the Arab citizen to adhere to his national identity in a way that leads to alienation from the State and traps him in a reality of marginalization—Ra’am is presenting him with a formula for “have your cake and eat it too”, namely a national identity as a Palestinian and a civilian identity as an Israeli (p. 134).
“The New Way” described by Rayan is based on three revolutions that Ra’am is seeking to initiate. The first is a change in the Arabs’ view of the State – no longer an effort to undermine its Zionist character and to establish a “state of all its citizens”, but instead the state's recognition of a national minority (Aqaliyyah Qawmiyyah) with equal rights and the Arabs' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, as declared by Abbas in recent months. His statements have generated a storm in both Jewish discourse and Arab discourse in Israel. That approach rests on a multifaceted legal discourse known as “minorities jurisprudence” (Fiqh Al-Aqaliyyat) which has developed in recent decades among Muslim communities living in non-Muslim countries, particularly Western ones. These laws present a formula according to which those Muslim communities can maintain their beliefs and their identity, but at the same time can integrate into the societies where they live and achieve influence – with the goal of increasing overall benefit to the Muslim community (Maslaha).
The second revolution is to put the last nail in the coffin of the “old Arab politics” which refrains from integration within government and prefers barricading behind protests and slogans. As an alternative, Rayan proposes that Arabs seek influence by joining the ruling establishment. The main objective is for Arabs to become a sought-after source of influence, one that can determine the balance of power between the political camps in any scenario and thus achieve gains for Arab society.
The third revolution is based on the insight that the support of the Arab public is not guaranteed to any political camp and particularly not the Left. According to Rayan, the Left has disappointed the Arabs repeatedly, including during periods when it formed the government. Rayan adopts the call for the “independence of nationalist decision making”, an old PLO slogan that he uses in order to express the desire of the Arab public in Israel to independently decide its fate, according to its own criteria and its unique circumstances and constraints. In order to further clarify this statement, Rayan explains that the reality of Arab society in Israel is an “unprecedented paradigm in the history of Islam.” (p. 129)
Rayan also calls for the adoption of a more balanced approach to the Palestinian issue: continued identification with their brethren on the other side of the Green Line, but combined with a focus on the problems of Arab society. According to Rayan, the Arab public is demanding that its leadership give it top spot on the agenda, as can be seen in the results of numerous surveys in recent years. In this context, Rayan asks as follows: “Is there any meaning to a homeland without any citizens? And is nationalism only slogans and symbols?”—subtle criticism of the Joint List— “Or is it also improving the situation of citizens living in their homeland and on their land?” (p. 79)
The main issue that Rayan emphasizes is the need to adopt an open-eyed approach and to abandon the dreams of the past. According to him, this point differentiates Ra’am from the other Arab political parties. According to Rayan, Ra’am’s revolution is not a “betrayal”, as its rivals on the Arab street claim, but rather the ability to change according to circumstances, as Arab leaders have always done. As proof, he describes the difference between the policy of the Palestinian Authority today and the intransigent approach adopted by the Palestinians in 1948. He claims this to be an example of changing with circumstances, which is not a “betrayal” but rather a realistic approach that benefits all.
As a member of the Islamic Movement, Rayan feels it is important to provide legal justifications for the arguments he is making and to present them as consistent with the path of Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, who founded the Islamic Movement 40 years ago. Darwish decided that the movement would accept the existence of the State and would seek to integrate within it.
In the book’s conclusion, Rayan presents dilemmas regarding the future alongside ambitious goals. He presents three overarching objectives: (1) to establish Ra’am as an address for the entire Arab public and not only supporters of the Islamic Movement; to this end, there is a need to reshape the ties between the party and the movement and perhaps even to separate between them (on the condition of course that Ra’am does not lose its fundamentally conservative character); (2) to tighten the bonds between Ra’am and the Jewish public in Israel by nurturing alliances and increasing familiarity with the party and the needs of the Arab public among Jews; and (3) to make the party into a role model for Muslim communities worldwide who live in non-Muslim countries.
As mentioned, the book was written in Arabic and is meant for an Arab audience. The fact that it employs the same arguments as Abbas makes in public—in both Arabic and Hebrew—somewhat blunts the frequent accusations against him that he is speaking with “two tongues” – that he has a secret agenda and hidden motives and is seeking to camouflage the real philosophy and goals of Ra’am.
In his book, Rayan describes the sunset of the old era and the beginning of a new and as yet uncertain one, which is now taking shape. He makes clear to the Arab public that you can’t have your cake and eat it too – you can’t give priority to the Palestinian identity and objectives (sometimes based on identification with entities that most of the Jewish public define as enemies), support the goal of a “state for all of its citizens” (which most Jews reject) and refrain from integrating within the government, while also gaining influence, achieving legitimacy among the Jewish public and alleviating the distress of the Arab public. This old thesis is no longer valid, and it in fact an entity that represents the traditional-conservative end of the spectrum in Arab society and is to some extent familiar to the Jewish public that can usher in a new era and preach for change.
The historic attempt led by Ra’am is being made at a fateful junction in time, at which the relations between the Arab public on the one hand and the State institutions and Jewish society on the other are located between a descent into friction and alienation, which are liable to overshadow the gravity of the events in of May 2021, and the creation of balance and a paradigm for stable coexistence between two societies. Abbas’ strategy has met intense opposition from rivals on the Arab street (primarily from the Joint List and the Northern Faction of the Islamic Movement), as well as suspicion and attacks from many Jews.
In between them are problems developing that may foil Abbas’ strategy, such as the recent crisis in the Negev due to the disputes over land between the Bedouin public and the State that has not yet been resolved. Abbas’s efforts are therefore not a passing political episode and the path on which it develops may determine whether the relations between Jews and Arab flourish or wither.
Rayan’s call to adopt an open-eyed approach is directed at both sides. Both are continuing their unending and hopeless search for “unicorns”, i.e. ideal partners whose outlooks and goals are consistent with their own, rather than understanding the need for compromise. In most of the Jewish parties, there is a stubborn attempt to identify “Zionist Arabs” who reject their identity as Palestinians, while the Arab parties are looking for a partnership with anti-Zionist Jews whose efforts and positions are rejected by most of the Jewish public. Jewish recognition of Arabs as a minority with equal rights and the Arab recognition of the original character of Israel can serve as a basis for creating a revised and more stable framework for coexistence between the two societies, an issue that has not been resolved since the establishment of Israel and has never been grounded in law.
Dr. Michael Milshtein is the head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, and a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
 Subhi Rayan, Al-Nahaj Al-Jadid wa-Qadayya Al-Mujtama' Al-'Arabi fi Israi`il [The New Way and the affairs of Arab society in Israel] (Kfar Kera: Dar Al-Huda, 2022). [in Arabic]