Will political change emerge from among Palestinians in Israel?

The PLO must accept the view that working within the framework of the Knesset is one way of strengthening the rights of Palestinians inside Israel and an opportunity to use the Israeli institution as a platform for the defence of the national rights of the Palestinian people.
Wednesday 07/08/2019
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C-R) speaks alongside Ran Cohen (C-L), Israeli former Knesset (parliament) member for left-wing Meretz party, as they attend the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Forum in Ramallah, February 6, 2019. (AFP)
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C-R) speaks alongside Ran Cohen (C-L), Israeli former Knesset (parliament) member for left-wing Meretz party, as they attend the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Forum in Ramallah, February 6, 2019. (AFP)

The crisis gripping the Palestinian national action is no longer confined to the Palestinian national movement represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Palestinian Authority and other factions. It has spread to political parties and forces of Palestinians in Israel as well.

We can see the manifestations of the crisis in the stagnation of their political movement, the disintegration of their forces and the sheer failure of the Follow-up Committee, headed by Mohammed Baraka, to form a national framework that would include them all.

This was most visible in the failure to form a common list during the Knesset elections in April, which has led to shrinking their voting power and to their loss of seats in the Knesset from 13 to 10.

We are talking about the nationalist movement of Palestinians living in Israel that is independent of the overall Palestinian political framework represented collectively by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). This reality produced a gap in the way the Palestinian people view themselves and has a negative effect on the Palestinian national movement as a movement representing all Palestinians and expressing their common cause in all its manifestations.

Second, we are talking about the leading forces of political action inside Palestinian society in Israel. These include partisan forces, which differ in their visions and structures -- the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, the National Democratic Rally and the Islamic Movement.

There is a fourth force that is centred on the personal status of Ahmad Tibi. This is the force that has been participating in the Knesset election with either one common list (as in the Knesset elections in 2015) or with two lists (as was the case in the Knesset elections of 2019).

Third, the above observations emphasise the reality that the Palestinian national crisis includes the Palestinian national movement in the 1948 territories and that any attempt to rebuild the Palestinian situation presupposes the centrality of this issue -- the unity of the people of Palestine and the unity of their cause, their history and their identity.

Therefore, the Palestinian national movement is one with room for the specificities of each group or faction.

This view is becoming the focus of the various viewpoints in the Palestinian arena, including papers presented at the Palestine Forum. The latter affirms that the reconstruction of the PLO presupposes that the organisation must correct the mistake of excluding representatives of the 1948 Palestinians.

The PLO must accept the view that working within the framework of the Knesset is one way of strengthening the rights of Palestinians inside Israel and an opportunity to use the Israeli institution as a platform for the defence of the national rights of the Palestinian people. That work can be reinforced by forming a political or parliament entity representing the 1948 Palestinians and expressing their national identity and their being part of a larger national group. This political or parliamentary entity must also be part of the Palestinian National Council.

The purpose of this is to remedy the inability of dominant forces in the 1948 Palestinians to develop themselves and to bridge the gap between them and their own people.

We cannot ignore that the Palestinian voting rate in the Knesset elections has shrunk. The four Palestinian political forces inside Israel received 35% of the Palestinian votes and only about 50% of Palestinian voters had participated in those elections. In the 2015 elections, the Palestinian participation rate was about 65%.

Part of the reason for the decline was that the Palestinian forces inside Israel refused to include on their lists independent, qualified and non-partisan Palestinian figures. Their mistake was in not considering the list as representative of all the Palestinians inside the 1948 territories rather than representing just the partisan members of the four forces mentioned above.

The debate has opened the way for Palestinian figures from academia, politicians and activists to sound the alarm. One movement that stood out was the movement led by As'ad Ghanem, a political science professor at the University of Haifa.

Ghanem is a well-known political activist possessing a comprehensive vision that links local issues to national ones. He defends the view that the Palestinian cause was not created in 1967 but arose as a result of the Nakba in 1948. This is why he is urging efforts to rebuild the Palestinian national movement on new foundations.

In his endeavour to establish a new political movement -- the Popular Unity Party -- Ghanem stresses the need to form a unified election list that would include non-partisan members. He argues that the elections concern all 1948 Palestinians and not just their political parties. He said, that, in case the dominant parties refuse to go in this direction, his party will enter the fray of the elections with the idea of urging a wider Palestinian participation in the elections.

For him, the battle is not about increasing the share of the Palestinian parties in the Knesset but about incentivising the 50% of the Palestinian voters who stayed away from previous elections, especially when 25% of the Palestinian voters gave their votes to Zionist parties.

Ghanem’s initiative deserves recognition, even if it were just like throwing a stone in stagnant waters. It is a legitimate endeavour to shake the status quo in the deadlock among the Palestinian political entities at home and abroad. These entities need to recognise that they are becoming outdated and calcified, with nothing new to add.

Some may argue that Ghanem’s initiative is hasty but are we going to have to wait another half a century to see some improvement in the stalemate created by ageing entities? What about factions that have no representation or role in Palestinian communities and in the struggle against their enemy?

It may be argued again that conditions are not ripe yet for a change but we must ask: Who is behind the stagnation of these conditions? Will the dominant mainstream Palestinian entities allow other political movements inside the Palestinian communities at home and abroad to contribute to bringing about a maturation of the conditions for change? Are there effective Palestinian legislative frameworks or research and study centres that can contribute to decision-making?

It may be said that Ghanem’s initiative may break up the Palestinians of 1948 but the question still stands: What kind of situations can we expect, at home and abroad, with political entities that operate with closed minds and have become like living in an authoritarian reality, rather than being in the reality of a national liberation movement for a people struggling for their national and historical rights against Israeli colonialism and racism?

Despite all of that, it is perfectly understandable that there are no political initiatives that are complete or error-free. Political developments cannot be engineered. Still, Ghanem’s initiative deserves attention even if it is adventurous. It carries the strong hope that similar initiatives and other changes will see the light in other areas and arenas of this Palestinian reality that continues to resist change. Will change emerge from among the 1948 Palestinians, after having been sidelines for a long time?