Elections are key to re-energizing Palestinian politics (Excerpts from an article by Oman Rahman)

Palestine Update 454

Elections are key to re-energizing Palestinian politics (Excerpts from an article by Oman Rahman)
Scholar Dana El Kurd has delivered a thorough critique of the Palestinian Authority’s track record of deepening authoritarianism and the futility of holding elections in such a context. She argued that “rather than pursuing PA elections, Palestinians should turn their focus instead to reviving the Palestine Liberation Organization,” the chief organizational framework and representative body of the Palestinian national movement. The PLO, she continued, needed to be reformed and repositioned in status ahead of the PA; this had been the intended institutional hierarchy, before the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the commencement of the Palestinian state-building project steadily marginalized the PLO.

El Kurd is far from alone in her election cynicism; various Palestinian intellectuals who are pro-democracy voices have objected to the upcoming elections on substantive grounds. They have offered comparably valuable critiques alongside El Kurd, while promoting the same recommendation of focusing on PLO reform. Yet, all these analyses, do not offer a clear pathway to carrying out this reform, or suggest a means of overcoming the obstacles that stand in its way, or fully account for the fundamental power dynamics at play. There are no easy answers to this problem; but that doesn’t make the challenge of finding appropriate solutions any less germane.

Who is the political agent?
Over the years, there have been many policy recommendations seeking to incentivize or enable the Palestinian leadership to bypass persistent obstacles to political reform, as well as to advance reconciliation between the divided political parties, chief among them Fatah and Hamas….So, where does that leave Palestinians seeking to reform and revitalize the PLO? The process of reform requires leaders who will not act as obstructionists to it. There are essentially three ways to change who is in power: “through popular uprising or coup d’état; by establishing rival institutions capable of usurping the popular mandate; or through elections. Of these, only elections are straightforward, timely, and practicable.” While the limitations of PA elections should be acknowledged – especially the circumstances of repression and interference, it would be misguided to ignore the potential that these elections inherently hold to bring about some change, or to ignore the desire of the Palestinian electorate to participate in them.

Around 93 percent of eligible Palestinian voters in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza have registered to cast their ballot. Half have not previously voted due to the 15-year gap since the last national election in 2006. Palestinian voters are young, and younger voters are less tied to the old factions that have dominated politics, and are eager for something new. It is not just younger voters who want change. Recent polling show Fatah and Hamas are deeply unpopular among the Palestinian population. In the context of the PA’s new electoral system of proportional representation, smaller parties have chances of entering the political fray, and could gain significant leverage in negotiations to form a governing coalition.
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In Support of Joint Struggle (Excerpts of article by Daniel Fischer)
More than six thousand Israeli Jews and Palestinians assemble in Tel Aviv, waving Palestinian flags and denouncing Israeli policy as apartheid. Thousands of young Ethiopian-Israelis march against police brutality, blocking highways, even throwing stones at police, and some chanting, “Free Palestine.” Mizrahi Jews petition Israel’s High Court to reject the Nation-State Law as anti-Arab and therefore both anti-Palestinian and anti-Mizrahi. An increase in draft-dodging leads Israel’s army to lament a “decreased motivation to serve” among the population. Such incidents from the last couple years remain absent from Haymarket’s anthology Palestine: A Socialist Introduction, published in December 2020, and from Steve Leigh’s review. The section titled “Workers of the World Unite” does not invite masses of Israeli Jewish workers to join the Palestinian liberation struggle. In fact, one of the book’s contributors, Daphna Thier, even declares the Israeli working class “Not an Ally.” Leigh insists that “the Israeli working class is not a potential revolutionary force.”

 More than six thousand Israeli Jews and Palestinians assemble in Tel Aviv, waving Palestinian flags and denouncing Israeli policy as apartheid. Thousands of young Ethiopian-Israelis march against police brutality, blocking highways, even throwing stones at police, and some chanting, “Free Palestine.” Mizrahi Jews petition Israel’s High Court to reject the Nation-State Law as anti-Arab and therefore both anti-Palestinian and anti-Mizrahi. An increase in draft-dodging leads Israel’s army to lament a “decreased motivation to serve” among the population.

Thier argues that the Israeli Jewish working class is “an exception to this rule” and is “incapable of solidarizing with Palestinians” due to “their material conditions.” In 1954, Draper argued that Zionism went against ordinary Israeli Jews’ material self-interest and well-being. A Zionist state “will be a hell for the Jews as long as it insists on being a Jewish ghetto in an Arab world.” Draper proposed that Jews and Arabs could engage in “joint struggle from below, cemented by common national-revolutionary aims and common social interests.” The reality is that the Zionist state has been a disaster for Israel’s Jews. Zionism has enriched Israeli elites, but it has not liberated Israeli Jewry from financial precarity. Some 18% of Israeli Jews live below the poverty line. Despite the Israeli government’s frequent invocations of Holocaust history, even a quarter of Israel’s Holocaust survivors live in poverty. This impoverishment is connected to Israeli militarism. As Israeli refuseniks—who choose jail time over performing their mandatory military service—point out in their 2021 open letter, Israel’s high military and police spending takes away from funding on “welfare, education, and health.”
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B’Tselem & Kerem Navot Report:  “This Is Ours-And This, Too: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank” (Excerpts from the reports)
A new report issued last week by B’Tselem and Kerem Navot, “This Is Ours – And This, Too: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank”, exposes the mechanisms Israel uses to encourage its citizens to move into the occupied territory. Two key aspects of Israel’s policy are examined:

First, the report details the official and unofficial ways in which Israel encourages Jews to move to settlements and develop financial ventures in and around them. Among other things, the state offers settlers housing benefits, allowing lower-income families to purchase homes. These benefits are one factor contributing to the growth in the settler population, which in 2019 numbered 441,619 people (in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem) – an increase of 42% since 2010 and of 222% since 2000. In 2019 alone, the settler population grew by 3.2% – 68% more than the overall population growth rate for Israeli citizens and residents that year, which was just 1.9%. The state also grants benefits and incentives to Israeli industrial zones in the West Bank by offering discounted land fees and employment subsidies to factories, encouraging their steady growth. More incentives, provided by various authorities, encourage settlers to take over Palestinian farmland and pastureland.

Second, the report analyzes the spatial impact of two settlement blocs that cut across the West Bank. Some 121,000 settlers currently live in both blocs together, and expansion plans are underway to add tens of thousands of residents. Similar plans have rapidly increased the population in both blocs over the last decade.

Israel’s policies regarding the settlements are a clear expression of the Israeli apartheid regime, which employs various methods to promote and perpetuate the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another group – Palestinians – in the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel’s massive investments further entrench its hold on the West Bank, clearly demonstrating the regime’s long-term plans. These include cementing the position of millions of Palestinians as subjects denied rights and protection, which are deprived of any ability to influence their own future and are forced to live in disconnected, dwindling, economically suppressed enclaves. They are forced to look on as they are dispossessed of more and more land, while communities and infrastructure are built for Jews. Two decades into the 21st century, Israel appears more determined than ever to continue upholding and perpetuating an apartheid regime throughout the area under its control, well into the coming decades.
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