The Palestinians of the 1948 areas of Israel have chosen to reject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, and the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade. Last summer, Netanyahu declared that Palestinians of the 1948 areas, who make up a fifth of Israel’s population, were to be second-class citizens, officially. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” Netanyahu wrote on Instagram after passing the Nation-State law. “According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it.”
The Israeli government has done everything in its power to reject those of us who are Palestinians of the 1948 areas, but our influence has only grown. We will be the cornerstone of democracy. Palestinians of the 1948 areas cannot change the course of Israel alone, but change is impossible without us. I have argued earlier that if the centre-left parties of Israel believe that Palestinians of the 1948 areas have a place in this country, they must accept that we have a place in its politics.
Today, those parties no longer have a choice. At least 60 per cent of the Palestinians of the 1948 areas have voted in the recent elections, and the Joint List, our coalition representing Arab and Arab-Jewish parties, has won 13 seats and become the third-largest list in the Knesset. We will decide who will be the next prime minister of Israel.
End of Netanyahu era
This will be the most significant step toward helping create the majority needed to prevent another term for Netanyahu. And it should be the end of his political career.
We are aware that Benny Gantz has refused to commit to our legitimate political demands for a shared future, and because of that we will not join his government.
Our demands for a shared, more equal future are clear: We seek resources to address violent crime plaguing Arab cities and towns, housing and planning laws that afford people in Arab municipalities the same rights as their Jewish neighbours and greater access for people in Arab municipalities to hospitals. We demand raising pensions for all in Israel so that our elders can live with dignity, and creating and funding a plan to prevent violence against women.
We seek the legal incorporation of unrecognised — mostly Palestinian Arab — villages and towns that don’t have access to electricity or water. And we insist on resuming direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace treaty that ends the occupation and establishes an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders.
We call for repealing the nation-state law that declared me, my family and one-fifth of the population to be second-class citizens. It is because over the decades candidates for prime minister have refused to support an agenda for equality that no Arab or Arab-Jewish party has recommended a prime minister since 1992.
A shared future
Yet this time, we are making a different choice. We have decided to demonstrate that Palestinians of the 1948 areas can no longer be rejected or ignored. The only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without their full and equal participation.
The morning after the exclusionary “nation-state” law was passed, I drove my children to school and thought about raising them in a country that has repeatedly rejected Palestinians of the 1948 areas. Israeli governments have made this rejection clear time and again, from the years of military rule imposed on Arabs in Israel from the founding of the state until 1966, to the long-standing attempts to suppress Palestinian culture and the continuing decision to occupy the lands and lives of our sisters and brothers in the West Bank and Gaza.
Every time I take my youngest daughter, Sham, to her school, I see a passage written on the wall from the Book of Psalms: ‘The stone that the builders rejected became a cornerstone.’
Countless people in Israel and around the world will be grateful to see an end to Netanyahu’s long reign of corruption, lies and fear.
We will continue our work toward a better, equal future, and our struggle for civil rights, rooted in our national identity as Palestinians. There is room enough for all of us in our shared homeland, room enough for the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and the stories of our grandparents, room enough for all of us to raise our families in equality and peace.
— New York Times News Service
Ayman Odeh is head of the Joint List and member of Knesset.