St. Andrews (Brussels Morning) The formation of the new government and the fall of the longstanding prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, kicked off a conversation on the impact this transfer of power will have on Israeli Arabs. After all, for the first time in Israel’s political history, the emerging coalition includes Ra-am, an Arab-Israeli party. Other questions loom on this transfer of power and its potential impact on Israeli foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran, Arab states, Turkey and, of course, the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Domestic and international affairs often overlap in Israel and one question that may receive less attention is the impact of this transfer of power on Israel’s Armenian community. The community has been on the decline in recent years and their numbers are not as significant as previously. But they are mostly dwelling in the Old City of Jerusalem, the ‘apple of discord’ between Israelis and Palestinians. The Armenian Quarter lies between the Jewish Quarter and West Jerusalem and the Armenian Church is a major component in Jerusalem’s Christian affairs.
So, what do Armenians expect from Israel’s emerging ruling coalition?
There are four issues to look out for:
- The Recognition of the Armenian Genocide
For many years, Armenians, but also Israelis, pressed the government to acknowledge the Armenian massacres of 1915 as a genocide. Their main argument is that it is not morally tenable for a nation that has been a victim of genocide not to recognise the Armenian genocide. Over the last decade, Netanyahu governments were reluctant to proceed despite deteriorating relations with Erdoğan’s Turkey. Last April, US president Joe Biden became the first American president to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. On that day, the broker of the new and ideologically diverse Israeli coalition, Yair Lapid, praised Biden’s decision and called for the recognition of the genocide by Israel.
Lapid will serve as the Minister of Foreign Affairs until he comes to office as Israel’s new prime minister in two years, in a rotational arrangement with Naftali Bennett. For the Armenians of Israel and the global Diaspora, the international recognition of the Armenian genocide is of vital importance. The problem is that the United Arab List (Ra-am), led by Mansour Abbas, may stand in the way of this recognition given the party’s relations with Turkey.
- Preservation of the Armenian heritage of Jerusalem
The population of Armenians in Israel and in the Old City in particular has greatly declined over the past decades and the community struggles to maintain its standing. Today, many Israeli Jews reside in the Armenian Quarter, while Jewish nationalists claim the whole city as their own. Another issue is the leasing – and to a lesser extent selling – of Armenian property to Israelis by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Armenians expect more financial support from the incoming government that will allow them to maintain and preserve their religious and educational institutions.
- Rapprochement with Armenia
In 2019, Armenia decided to open an embassy in Israel. However, Israel’s supply of arms to Azerbaijan during the recent Nagorno Karabakh war led to the deterioration of relations with Armenia and the recalling of the Armenian ambassador to Israel. The new government is not expected to end cooperation with Azerbaijan, but Israeli Armenians do expect a more balanced approach. The new government could take some steps towards the normalisation of the relations between Israel and Armenia, with the recognition of the Armenian genocide being a significant step with domestic and international implications.
- Other issues
Life for an Armenian living in the Old City of Jerusalem is not easy. A major problem for Armenians is their citizenship status. A few decades ago, most Jerusalem Armenians held Jordanian passports, which was often problematic. Today, the Israeli State has granted many Armenians Israeli citizenship. However, the challenges for Jerusalem Armenians persist, both in terms of freedom of movement and ethnic violence. In 2013, the head of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem, Nourhan Manougian, went as far as to suggest that Armenians were being treated as third-class citizens.
Following thirteen years of uninterrupted Netanyahu rule, a number of minorities in Israel hope the longstanding and persistent challenges will be addressed. Israeli Armenians also see an opportunity for change.