Palestinians are active players in Israeli politics; not just marginal ones

Palestine Update 300

Palestinians are active players in Israeli politics; not just marginal ones
By Dr Ahmad Tibi

Ahmad Tibi is Deputy Speaker of the Knesset

For most of the international community, Israel is simply a state for the Jews. Very few visitors seem to care about meeting the indigenous Arab Palestinians living here and who make up more than 20 per cent of the country’s population. Perhaps they don’t want to see for themselves how the old western slogan of Israel being “Jewish and democratic” is a myth. But now that Palestinians comprise a significant percentage of the electorate, mainstream Zionist parties are trying to deprive us of our rights – including by using racist incitement. During his electoral campaign a few weeks ago, for instance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the latest polls were about “Bibi or Tibi”. We Palestinians have realized that nobody will give us our rights if we do not work hard to claim them. Racism and institutionalized discrimination have been normalized

Mr Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition government last week says it all. The Likud party he leads has failed to garner enough seats in the Knesset and the Joint List – the political alliance of the main Arab-majority political parties, of which I am a part of – is proud to have made this happen. It is still early to talk about the prospect of Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White party, to form a government. But we are prepared for any scenario – even if there is a call for a third election this year, one in which we are certain to win more seats even as Likud is set back even farther by the corruption scandals tainting the prime minister.

We Palestinians have realized that nobody will give us our rights if we do not work hard to claim them. Racism and institutionalized discrimination have been normalized, with international parties having essentially green-lighted the establishment of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. Just look at the European Union’s representative to Israel repeating lines such as “Israel and the EU share the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law”. Even some of what the US ambassador to the country has said makes some members of Mr Netanyahu’s administration seem like left-wing politicians. This helps to explain why no mainstream Jewish-Zionist party or alliance talks about peace or equality.

Aside from occupying Palestinian territories, there are more than 50 laws that discriminate against the non-Jewish populations. And yet countries such as France and Spain, and traditional friends of Palestine such as Ireland and Greece, still refuse to recognize the Palestinian state. Not one EU member-state labels settlement products and settlers enjoy visa exemptions to travel within the Schengen Area. Knowing that they will not be held accountable by the West, Israeli politicians therefore continue their systematic discrimination.

European countries have powerful tools with which to confront Israel, such as reviewing existing agreements and questioning the government’s human rights record. But they seem unwilling to use them. To make things worse for the Palestinian cause, the world has seen the establishment of right-wing populist leaders such as Donald Trump and Viktor Orban who are trying to change the basic rules of the international system. Like Mr. Netanyahu, these leaders are also setting dangerous precedents such as the acquisition of land through the use of force or open incitement and racism against their own citizens.

But we are seeing a pushback against such divisive politics in Israel. Only a few days after the latest elections, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said that members of the Joint List were not political opponents but “enemies”. To this I responded by saying: “We are the sons and daughters of this land.” It is a sentiment shared by almost 500,000 Palestinian citizens and Mr Lieberman’s statement, among other statements of this nature, have helped mobilize the people and given the Joint List 13 seats in parliament. What we have achieved is significant and we have essentially told the people that we want to be active players in the country’s politics – not just marginal ones. We are a transformative force indispensable to achieving regional stability. Our struggle is to end discrimination in all fields, help build a conducive environment for peace and end Israeli occupation through the establishment of the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.

We have set an important precedent in the latest elections. We have unveiled Israel’s mainstream racism to everyone while contributing to the blocking of the so-called deal of the century, which is essentially Mr. Trump’s plan to normalize Israel’s control over the Palestinians. But we need international support. We need, for instance, the Europeans to hold the Israeli government accountable and help us put an end to the government’s ambition of establishing an apartheid state in the Middle East.

*Dr Ahmad Tibi is the deputy speaker of the Knesset. He represents the Arab Joint List, the third largest political party in the Israeli parliament
Is Gantz an alternative to Netanyahu or is there a real difference?
By Joseph Dana

For the first time in more than a decade, an Israeli politician other than Benjamin Netanyahu will be given a presidential mandate to form a new government. Now that Mr Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz has been given a mandate to try to form a coalition government after the incumbent prime minister tried and failed to do so twice, it might seem that Israel is divided beyond recognition and the political stalemate reveals systemic problems at the core of Israel’s democracy. This, however, is not the case. The two elections should instead be seen as referendums on Netanyahu the person, not the politician.

Former military general Mr. Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, will now have 28 days to form the next Israeli government. It is unclear whether Mr. Gantz will be able to negotiate the tricky seas of Israel’s political landscape but one thing is clear: the negotiations will not really discuss the nature of Israeli policies. Those appear set in stone, especially when it comes to the Palestinians.

Far from being divided, Israel is paralyzed over Mr. Netanyahu and his waning grasp on power. He is under investigation in several corruption cases that also implicate members of his family. The first indictments could take place as early as December. Throughout this year of election campaigning, Mr Netanyahu has barely shied away from his desire to use the prime minister’s office to protect himself from criminal prosecution. Yet despite these brazen attacks on the cornerstone of Israel’s democracy, a majority of Israeli voters continued to vote for Mr Netanyahu.

Using his vulnerability to their advantage, Israeli politicians have tried to extract large concessions from Mr Netanyahu in exchange for their partnership in the next government. No party has ever won an outright majority to govern Israel’s 120-seat parliament. That means small parties play an outsize role in the complexion of ruling governments. This election was no different as small parties offered Mr Netanyahu their partnership in exchange for a promise that ultra-orthodox Jews would continue to be exempt from mandatory military service. This has ruffled feathers of leading right-wing political blocs that have pushed to remove this exemption in recent years.

Over the past month, Mr Netanyahu attempted to form a government based on an alliance of right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties. Missing from the coalition was the real kingmaker throughout this year of elections: the head of right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman. While Mr Lieberman’s positions have fluctuated recently, he has pushed for a secular nationalist government comprising Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beiteinu. This would require Mr Netanyahu to abandon the ultra-orthodox , which he refused to do, and Mr Gantz to backtrack on his position that he would not partner with Likud as long as Mr Netanyahu was facing indictment. In the end, the deal fell through, leaving Mr Netanyahu with no viable options. No party has ever won an outright majority to govern Israel’s 120-seat parliament. That means small parties play an outsize role in the complexion of ruling governments.

The majority of international coverage of Israel’s political woes has painted a picture of a country in search of core identity and unable to agree on core principles. This is not the case. Rather, this is an election about Israel’s most powerful politician and whether the country will allow him to use his power to fend off criminal investigations. When it comes to actual policies and the major questions facing the country, there is little difference between the main parties. Mr Gantz, who has been portrayed as a real alternative to Mr Netanyahu, has helped entrench his polices with regard to the Palestinians. Mr Gantz will now attempt to sway centre and left parties, including the majority Palestinian Joint List, which won an impressive 13 seats in the September election. The Joint List publicly supported a Gantz government over Mr Netanyahu after the last election but no Palestinian party has ever joined a ruling Israeli coalition. Moreover, three Joint List politicians from the Balad party refused to back any candidate so it is unlikely that Mr Gantz could form a government with Joint List participation. Mr Gantz will have to court Yisrael Beiteinu but Mr. Lieberman – who has not ruled out joining a Gantz government — has repeatedly stated he will not join Palestinian parties in a coalition. The Blue and White leader has his work cut out for him over the next 28 days but the notion that Israelis are deeply divided is not based in reality.

The former general has stated that the West Bank will never be given back to Palestinians and he has presided over several vicious Israeli military campaigns in Gaza. There simply will not be any significant change on the ground regardless of whether Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz are able to form a government, and this confirms something important about the nature of Israel and its underlying Zionist ideology.
Israeli journalist Tom Segev argues that the “price of Zionism” is permanent conflict, which can be managed but never resolved. After months of Israeli elections with little mention of the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian West Bank or the myriad unsolved issues between Israel and the Palestinians, Segev’s point is that Israelis have accepted the permanent state of conflict to such a degree that they have no issue squabbling for years over whether they want corrupt politicians ruling them.

*Joseph Dana is the editor of emerge85, a project exploring change in the emerging world and its global impact