Palestinians should unite in wake of Israeli election success
Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White alliance prevented Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party from walking away with another election win, is not another Yitzhak Rabin. Gantz, an Israeli military general responsible for the deaths of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza — something he boasted about when he first entered the election cycle — is instead closer to Netanyahu, who has made racism against non-Jews an election strategy.
But Gantz does represent an Israeli society that is changing course from the racism it overwhelmingly embraced under Netanyahu’s leadership. Gantz is moving Israel in a new direction; not the most ideal direction, but one that could, like a boulder rolling down a mountain, gain momentum.
Israel remains an apartheid state that asserts a form of democracy founded on racism and religious discrimination. It’s not a true democracy: No society that discriminates against 20 percent of its population because of religion can ever become a real democracy.
That is the reality Israel’s Palestinian minority continues to face, but last week’s election proves it can be changed, even if only slightly. Palestinians rallied in a large part because they were provoked by outright racist campaign rhetoric from Netanyahu and his political allies.
Never mind that the West, including the US, remained silent in the face of Israel’s outrageous and open human rights violations. America’s silence only empowers Israel’s fanatics to even worse racist acts. Since its founding in 1948, Israel has adopted more than 65 laws that openly discriminate against non-Jews. These laws mean that Israeli democracy is an oxymoron.
But that should not discourage the Palestinians and other non-Jews, who account for 20 percent of Israel’s population. They make up a significant part of the population and cannot be easily brushed aside, unless the 20 percent brush themselves aside, as they have done over the past seven decades.
In 2015, the Palestinians — I reject the racist labeling of them as “Israeli Arabs” — voted in record numbers and won 13 seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The four Palestinian political parties had come together to form a unity slate that strengthened their voter power. But, in April’s elections, which were plagued by anti-Palestinian racism, many Palestinians boycotted and refused to vote. They were further discouraged as the four Palestinian parties had again split. Had Netanyahu won a majority, he would have formed a new government and the Arab presence would have dropped to about 10 Knesset seats.
Palestinian Knesset members can augment their political influence by bringing two dysfunctional groups — the occupied and the diaspora — into their new political organization.
But the Netanyahu-Gantz split, which caused the former to fail to craft a coalition government, gave the Palestinian voters a second chance to flex their muscle through a higher turnout. And this they did, going from a 49 percent turnout in April to 63 percent last week.
The reunified Palestinian political slates have again become the third-largest political party and, in the event that Netanyahu and Gantz form a “unified” government — with the two sharing the office of prime minister — the Arab Joint List would become the official opposition of that government; a privilege that brings certain powers.
It has taken too long — although much of the drag has been caused by the racism against non-Jews in Israel — but the Palestinians are finally in a position where they can strategically build on their gains and further strengthen their voice.
The Joint List can not only speak for Palestinians living inside Israel’s ugly, racist society, it can also become a voice for those who live under occupation in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as the diaspora, where Palestinians live in near total dysfunction and sometimes self-destructive rivalry.
With Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh leading a strong Palestinian coalition in the Knesset, there is no need for a weak government created through the flaws of the unachievable Oslo Accords. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is no longer needed.
The PA was never a real government, but a facade created by Israel and the failed peace process that was killed by successive Israeli governments. Odeh and Tibi should use their new platform to implement a strategy to reach out to and represent Palestinians everywhere.
Palestinian Knesset members can augment their political influence by bringing two dysfunctional groups — the occupied and the diaspora — into their new political organization. It does not matter that Israel’s government will refuse to recognize this new coalition.
They should do what Israel’s Jews do: Embrace the non-existent. Israel claims to be a democracy, but we know that is not true. Force the Israelis to prove the impossible — that the Palestinians in the Joint List have no moral right to speak for the occupied and the diaspora.
Israel’s new Palestinian voice can overcome the single greatest impediment to Palestinian statehood; that is overcoming the divisions that separate the Palestinian people into three different entities — Palestinians in Israel, occupied Palestinians and diaspora Palestinians.
Bringing them together would create one very powerful Palestinian voice that would shake Israel’s racist practices to the core.
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania