Most political parties and movements represented in the Arab Higher Follow Up Committee support direct elections to the Committee, even in the event if such a decision is made without consensus. This was the conclusion reached at a workshop that Mada al-Carmel conducted on the subject, “The Arab Higher Follow Up Committee,” held in the framework of Mada's project on “Political Participation of Palestinians in Israel since 1948.”
The first to speak was the chairman of the Higher Follow Up Committee, Mr. Mohammad Zeidan. He surveyed the history of the Committee from the time it was first conceived to the present time. He noted the important political milestones of the Palestinian citizens in Israel, such as Land Day and the events of October 2000.
In his remarks to the participants, Zeidan said that: "In 1975, the National Committee of Heads of Arab Authorities was established. It was the first official representative body of the Palestinian citizens. Prior to its establishment, there was a Land Protection Committee. The National Committee of Heads of Arab Authorities did not reflect, at the time, the aspiration of the Arab public, and within the committee there was serious conflict over the decision on a general strike on the first Land Day. In 1980, the idea arose to establish the Higher Follow Up Committee to meet a public need, and in 1982, an official declaration was made of its establishment as a supreme framework of the Arab public and its aspirations".
Zeidan refuted the claim that the Israeli establishment conceived the idea of the Follow Up Committee. He further noted that arguments over the nature and form of the Follow Up Committee have existed since it first began, and that its various component organizations have not yet managed to reach agreement with respect to the goals and activity of the Committee. Zeidan emphasized that the Follow Up Committee must be a national framework of the Arab public as well as an umbrella organization of all the political parties and movements, acting to coordinate their activities. He pointed out that representation of the various component organizations and the manner of decision-making in the Committee delays his ability to take action as chairman.
The next person to speak was Mr. Abd Anabtawi, office manager of the Follow Up Committee. Anabtawi pointed out that there were two factors that brought about the establishment of the Follow Up Committee. The first was the crisis in the Arab authorities in the early 1980's, and the need to mobilize the Arab Knesset members in the struggle against discrimination in budgeting matters. The second factor, which was more decisive, was the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, which clarified the need for the establishment of a national higher organization that would combine national claims and claims for civil rights.
Mr. Raja Aghbaria, of the Abnaa Albalad movement, said that the clash on theoretical grounds between the platforms of the various political parties and movements constitutes a barrier to direct election of the Follow Up Committee. He pointed out that the Abnaa Albalad movement supports the holding of direct elections, the Communist party objects to direct elections, while the Islamic Movement-Southern Branch and the party of MK Ahmad Tibi state that they support the idea of direct elections, but act in opposition to it in practice. Mr. Aghbaria added that, within the Follow Up Committee, there is an initiative of six parties and movements favoring direct elections to the Committee.
Mr. Awad Abdellfattah secretary general of Balad, presented his party’s position. He said the need for development and advancement of the Follow Up Committee should be linked to the right to self-determination, and that it is necessary to take into account the fact that the Israeli reality does not enable disengagement, but at the same time does not enable integration. The Follow Up Committee as presently composed, he said, is not a national framework because of its Israeli component (Arab Knesset members and representative of the local authorities who are elected in the legal framework of Israeli elections). Abdelfattah added that people must elect their representatives on the Follow Up Committee in direct elections, and that it is necessary to establish a national fund to finance the Committee’s operations.
The position of the Islamic Movement-Southern Branch was presented by Mr. Mansur Abbas, chairman of the Movement’s general administration. He pointed out that the crisis in the Follow Up Committee is an expression of the crisis in Arab society. “The fundamental position of the Islamic Movement is in favor of holding direct elections. True, there is confusion among members of the Movement regarding reorganization of the Monitoring Committee, which results from the different conceptions held by members of the Movement.” Abbas added that it is important to think hard before holding direct elections, and expressed concern that the dispute among the parties would paralyze the Committee.
Mr. Salah Lutfi, a member of the political chamber of the Islamic Movement-Northern Branch, said that his movement views direct elections to the Follow Up Committee as an important step. Lutfi also said that an educational and public-diplomacy campaign among the Arab public must begin now, the goal being to build a new political awareness that will enable direct elections. Lutfi mentioned that the Palestinian national minority in Israel differs from other national minorities, in that it has a legitimate right in the country. It became a minority by means of physical force." Tthe Israeli establishment views us as a strategic threat, and we have managed to create a special kind of resistance" said Lutfi.
The position of Hadash was not presented at the workshop due to the absence of the representative of the Israeli Communist Party, who was supposed to speak at the workshop.