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Municipal Boundary Conflicts Between Jewish and Arab Local Authorities in Israel: Geography of Administration or Geopolitics?

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Municipal boundaries shape the influence of local government on patterns of development and disparities. Based on a largely qualitative assessment of initiatives to change municipal boundaries of Arab localities in Israel between the 1960s and 2001, we aim to demonstrate the tension between geographical-administrative considerations and political, particularly geopolitical, issues at two levels: Arab claims and central government decisions. We emphasize that municipal boundary conflicts provide broader insights on societal transformations and dilemmas, as well as influencing them. Growing activism of Arabs and trends of political decentralization led not only to class-based demands, but also to ethno-national-based demands. In addition to development needs with an emphasis on equality, claims of Arab municipalities also reflect aspirations to reverse consequences of the 1948 war and to redefine the Jewish essence of the state. A major dilemma among Arabs is whether to emphasize geographic-administrative justifications or to explicitly take the ethno-national path. Among central government decision-makers, an explicitly political discourse has apparently given way to a professional one, which faces dilemmas of incorporating unique political-cultural attributes of Arabs in professional assessments, and balancing them with concerns of security and state identity. Whereas professional jargon is not value free and can mask political agendas, dialogues based on a professional jargon could lead to solutions in otherwise dead-end political disputes, although such dialogues could gain momentum only if showing results.
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Keywords: Israel; Jewish-Arab conflict; Local government; municipal boundaries

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The Hebrew University, Israel 2: Ministry of Interior, Israel

Publication date: 01 June 2004

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