Palestinians in Israel have the vote but can’t influence governments
As Israeli citizens go to the polls today in the third general election in less than a year, many observers are predicting continued deadlock between Netanyahu’s Likud Party, which secured most votes last April, and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White bloc, which nudged ahead in September. Neither was able to form a government and the election today might merely entrench that deadlock.
In contrast the Joint List, an electoral bloc of Palestinian citizens of Israel, is projected to significantly increase its share of the vote and emerge as the third-largest party in the incoming Knesset. From a 49% turnout of Palestinian Israeli citizens voting in the April election, numbers rose to 59% in September and the Joint List is hoping for 69% or even 70% today. Joint List leader Ahmad Tibi said they were hopeful of winning 15 to 16 seats — an increase from their current 13, and a record number for the List.
What might this mean for Palestinian citizens of a state that self-describes and is commonly reported in Western media as “the only democracy in the Middle East”, but which passed a Nation State Law in 2018 that restricts the key democratic right of self-determination in all of Palestine exclusively to Jews?
Only the two million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are permitted to vote in Israeli elections; over two million Palestinians of the West Bank under Israeli military rule and the almost two million of the Gaza Strip, where the UN recognises Israel as the occupying power, have no votes in these elections that determine their future.
It is difficult to see what difference the election results will make to the lives of Palestinians. April and September were contests between Likud and Blue-White to attract Jewish votes by promoting extreme and racist policies to the Jewish electorate. Both Netanyahu and Gantz confirmed the assumptions of the Zionist bloc – leaders and voters – that no Government would ever be formed based on a Parliamentary majority that depended on votes from the Palestinian-Arab parties.
A few days before last September’s election, Netanyahu’s official Facebook page warned against the danger of a “left-wing, secular, weak government that relies on Arabs who want to annihilate us all – women, children and men”.
Electoral competition led to Benny Gantz, somewhat misleadingly designated by the BBC and other media as a “centrist” challenger to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, publishing an election video that appealed to voters by stressing his credentials in the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza in 2014. The video showed Palestinian funerals as a Gantz achievement while a counter in the corner of the screen ticked rising numbers of “terrorists” Army leader Ganz killed in the attack.
Israeli elections are increasingly fought between right and extreme right political parties; the Labour Party that led the fight to establish the State and fought, arms in hand, to expel the native Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, has almost disappeared and will win only a handful of Knesset seats today.
In last April’s elections Netanyahu urged right-wing religious parties to form a bloc with extreme right wing, anti-Arab, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party led by followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose own party was made illegal in his lifetime.
The Joint List electoral successes today will not be translated into political, economic or social advance for its voters in a Jewish state that in 2018 removed the status of Arabic as an official language.
Ganz and Netanyahu will continue to compete on preparedness to incorporate the West Bank into Israel, while Palestinians living there, when they cannot be pressured to leave, will be kept under military rule. Palestinians will continue to be subject to mass incarceration, after being processed by a legal system with 99.7% conviction rates for those seized by the military.
Violent attacks on Gaza will continue under either Netanyahu or Gantz as long as President Trump maintains his current green light to Israel to do so.
The immediate future is not hopeful, nor is the long term prognosis. Public opinion polls show growing levels of racism among Israel’s Jewish majority, as shown by their increasing unwillingness to accept Palestinian Arabs as equal citizens. In a 2016 survey by Pew Research Centre 79% of Israeli Jews told pollsters that Jews should receive preferential treatment in state policies. Matters have not improved since.
There has long been a widespread popular readiness to expel the Arab “enemy” beyond the borders of the Jewish State; polls show almost half expressing this opinion.
Feeding a pessimistic view are other poll findings that, in marked contrast to popular opinion measured across Europe and North America, the views of younger Jewish Israelis are even more right-wing and racist than their elders.
The popular racism towards Palestinians is strengthened by the positions of the political elite: in how many countries could a Minister of Internal Affairs such as Israel’s Eli Yishai state openly that his country “belongs to the white man”?
Whichever government emerges from today’s elections will bring no hope to the one in five citizens of Israel who are Palestinians. Gantz may need a war to bolster his credentials with an increasingly right-wing electorate. Either election victor might prosecute such a war while promoting the never-ending peace process that seems to be all process and no sign of a just peace.
Mick Napier is a political commentator and a founding member of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.