[Rivlin] is calling for a fundamental change in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, urging the founding of a "true partnership" between the two sectors, based on mutual respect, absolute equality and the addressing of "the special needs and unique character of each of the sides."
Rivlin was expected to say all this in an address to be delivered at the president's residence in Jerusalem on Monday. In his speech, Rivlin was to say that "the establishment of Israel was accompanied by much pain and suffering and a real trauma for the Palestinians (in large part due to the shortsightedness of the Palestinian leadership). Many of Israel's Arabs, which see themselves as part of the Palestinian population, feel the pain of their brothers across the green line - a pain they feel the state of Israel is responsible for."
"Many of them," Rivlin says, "encounter racism and arrogance from Israel's Jews; the inequality in the allocation of state funds also does not contribute to any extra love."
According to Rivlin, Israel's Arab population "is an inseparable part of this country. It is a group with a highly defined shared national identity, and which will forever be, as a collective, an important and integral part of Israeli society."
Rivlin remarks that most of Israel's Arab residents refuse to accept the idea that the state of Israel is the home of the Jewish people, and adds that some of the Arab leaders within Israel align themselves with Israel's worst enemies, and incite against it.
"The Arab population is an inseparable part of our homeland," he adds, however, saying that "we, the Jews, must send out a clear message that is apparent to us that our homeland is their homeland, and that we intend to live together with them, and that we reject all the calls for forced immigration or even expulsion."
"The somewhat European goal that most of us have -- to live alongside a Zionist minority which sings the anthem with sparkling eyes -- will not become a reality in our Middle East," Rivlin planned to say. "We can't pretend, or hope that our neighbors will go away, even if we close the window. Furthermore, we mustn't do it! We must see them as they are and tell them that we accept them as they are and that we seek a true partnership with them."
But who is Reuven Rivlin? Is he a member of Meretz, Israel's left-wing Zionist party? Or perhaps Labor or Kadima?
No, MK Rivlin is the Speaker of the Knesset, and a member of the right-wing Likud party. Which is why this speech -- which forthrightly acknowledges the "trauma" Palestinians faced along side the establishment of the state of Israel, recognizes the racism and discrimination faced by Israeli Arabs, and starkly lines himself against any efforts to uproot them as full and equal members of Israeli society -- struck me.
Rivlin seems like an interesting character. On the one hand, he was a vocal critic of the Gaza disengagement plan as well as crusading Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak. On the other hand, he tellingly chose an Israeli Arab town targeted by far-right demonstrators for his first official state visit (he denied his visit was related to the protests, but most observers thought it was meant to convey a conciliatory message).
In any event, the speech is a very good one, and it is a very good one to hear from a prominent member of Likud.