Palestinian voters in Israeli elections must make their voices heard
After nearly 15 years as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is again pandering to Israel’s far right by telling voters before Tuesday’s election that he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, ending the creeping encroachment that has vexed peace and inflamed Israeli anti-Arab hate.
Like in many of Israel’s elections, its Palestinian citizens are being maginalized, focusing not on engaging in the election and changing Israel from within, but on whether or not they should boycott it. Abstaining tends to give most more emotional satisfaction.
Nearly half of the 2 million non-Jews in Israel who can vote have reportedly said they will boycott the election. But if they voted as if their lives depended on it — as many lives do — Israeli Palestinians could put as many as 24 Arabs in the Knesset (Parliament), making their voting bloc the joint second most powerful in the country. But over the years, the best they have achieved came in the last election in 2015, when the various Arab parties came together and ran as the Joint List. They won a record 13 Knesset seats, over 10 percent of its members.
With Netanyahu on the prowl, is boycotting this election smart?
What is not being considered among Israeli-Palestinian voters is the impact this election will have on the Arab world and the governments that support their rights. If Netanyahu is ousted, Benny Gantz’s alliance might spur new dialogue, leading to better relations with the Arab world. A Netanyahu victory would empower Arab extremists and rejectionists, and might make peace based on two states even less of a possibility.
Netanyahu’s extremist turn is really focused on the hardline challengers from inside his coalition, like Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Palestinian voters in Israel have, over the years, been manipulated by anti-Arab rhetoric and by pressure from within the non-compromise movement of Palestinian activists who want all or nothing — and ended up with nothing.
And what about US President Donald Trump, who is expected to unveil his “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace after the election? Trump will surely shift his plans to reflect Israel’s election results, giving Palestinians even less if Netanyahu’s coalition succeeds or maybe slightly more if he is defeated.
Israel has done everything it can to undermine its non-Jewish citizens. Through years of experience, the Israeli right has learned it can pull the rug out from under Palestinians’ feet through extremist rhetoric, such as Netanyahu’s pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. His move came at the right time. The Joint List has fractured, and that fact has discouraged many Palestinians from voting. The provocations from Netanyahu, as he attempts to outdo his rivals at being the most incendiary name on the ticket, has only fueled their outrage.
Politics in Israel is like politics in America, where election rhetoric always gravitates to the extreme but then moderates afterwards. If the Gantz coalition wins, its leaders may open the door to the Arab parties. It is even possible that the Palestinian voters in this Israeli election may surprise everyone and vote to their maximum potential and swing the election to the hard left. That development would empower a collective will in the Arab world to stand strong with Palestinian rights.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached at his personal website at www.Hanania.com Twitter: @RayHanania