Palestinian Israelis look for elections to fight discrimination

As part of their fight for equal rights, some Palestinian citizens of Israel are going to take part in the Israeli elections September 17.
Saturday 03/08/2019
Challenging Israelisation. A 2018 file picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) speaking with Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh (R) during a session in Jerusalem.  (AP)
Challenging Israelisation. A 2018 file picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) speaking with Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh (R) during a session in Jerusalem. (AP)

Palestinian citizens of Israel are often referred to in the media as “Israeli Arabs” or “Arab Israelis.” They are the indigenous inhabitants of the historic land of Palestine who remained in what became Israel in 1948.

They live in “Green Line areas” or what they refer to as “the 1948 lands.” They make up about 21% of Israel’s total population of 9 million people, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics said.

They have no faith in the Israeli justice system or the country’s democracy because of what they describe as the “Israelisation policy” in which they are forced to abandon their historical roots and stripped of their national identity as Palestinians. They largely identify with the Palestinians and have long complained of discrimination.

Nevertheless, as part of their fight for equal rights, some Palestinian citizens of Israel are going to take part in the Israeli elections September 17. The voting is a rerun of the April elections, after which no coalition was able to form a government.

Four Arab parties have formed an alliance called the Joint List. The nationalist Balad party, led by Mtanes Shihadeh; Hadash party, led by Ayman Odeh; United Arab List, led by Mansour Abbass; and the Arab Movement for Change (Ta’al), led by Ahmad Tibi, registered their political alliance at the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset.

In the April election, the four Arab parties ran under two lists — Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List-Balad — but the turnout was only 49% and they won ten seats together. This time the Joint List will include 120 candidates and aims to get 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The alliance is encouraging Palestinian citizens of Israel to vote and raise their turnout to at least 65%. Turnout in the 2015 election was 64%.

The Central Election Committee said the number of eligible voters in the April election was approximately 6 million. More than 4 million people voted. Approximately 950,000 Arab Palestinians were eligible to vote and 460,000 exercised that right.

The four united factions pledged to battle to topple the government — the most right-wing in Israeli history — led by Binyamin Netanyahu, who is seeking a fifth term as prime minister after he failed to secure enough seats in parliament to form a government in April.

Odeh was tapped to lead the Arab alliance. He vowed to work with others to replace Netanyahu’s government and revoke the controversial nation-state law, which is deemed by critics as discriminatory and undemocratic.

Tibi said the Arab alliance would work to bring down the Deal of the Century, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

The merger of the four parties was considered a great success because of the groups’ varied ideologies. It will allow the parties to unite in dealing with the “great challenge” facing the country’s Arab minority.

It also serves as a lesson to Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens but live under Israeli occupation or siege. It reminds the divided Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the besieged Gaza Strip under Hamas’s rule that unity is possible and should be sought to face Israeli persecution.

It is worth noting that Israel’s Avigdor Lieberman, who is often accused of racism against Palestinians, helped enact a law that determines that a party can only win in the parliament elections if it receives 3.25% of the vote. Therefore, the only way Arab parties could surpass Lieberman’s hurdle is by uniting.

Those parties need a strategy to draw more people to their political project. They need to include all components of the Arab-Palestinian society and increase Arab representation in the Knesset to have a stronger influence in parliament and fight for equal rights for the largest minority in the country.

In addition to facing discrimination from the state, the parties face challenges from their own communities. There are calls from many members of the community to boycott the elections because, they say, they would legitimise the racist policies of the state without being able to change them.

The September elections will show if the Joint List will boost voter turnout and if it will deliver on its promises.

2