Despite — or perhaps because of — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rampant racist rhetoric in the recent polls, around 60 per cent of eligible Palestinian voters participated in the elections, up by 10 percentage points over turnout in the April elections, which left no party able to form a government. The Joint List, the slate uniting non-Zionist Palestinian and Jewish candidates, will be the third-largest party in the Knesset, with 13 seats.
In the obscure political map still taking shape after a second election in less than six months, in which the right still reigns but is now fragmented, Palestinian voters proved they are a force to be reckoned with, which is impressive. Theoretically, this could grant the Joint List the ability to determine who ends up serving as prime minister; it would be the first time Palestinians could realistically consider joining the coalition or leading the opposition.
But in the shadow of an ostensible Palestinian electoral victory looms a truth as old as Israel itself: In a system built on Jewish supremacy, on one group’s unequivocal abuse of power over others, those who demand full equality have negligible political weight. The Joint List amassing more members in the next Knesset is a fleeting, even misleading success — no matter the turnout rate, no matter who ends up forming a new government.
After all, last year, the Knesset passed the Jewish Nation-State Law, a racist bill that enshrines Jewish superiority by claiming only Jewish people have a right to self-determination in Israel and the Palestinian territories, promoting Jewish colonies also on occupied territory, and abolishing Arabic as an official language of the state — even with the most ever Palestinian representatives sitting in Parliament.
Veneer of democracy
Upon Israel’s establishment, and then after its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem, the state invented different legal classifications for Palestinians. Palestinian citizens, the 20 per cent of Israel’s population whom the government labels as “Palestinians in 1948 areas”, are considered separate from Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and refugees in the diaspora. We hold Israeli identification cards and passports, while West Bank and Gaza, and East Jerusalem residents, are subject to Israel’s intricate yet arbitrary permit regime.
Through this false stratification, Israel can continue referring to us as a minority, even though Palestinians are a demographic majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By giving only a certain class of Palestinians the right vote, Israel maintains a veneer of democracy, even though more than 75 per cent of Palestinians who live under varying degrees of its rule are disenfranchised.
Despite this hierarchy of status, the state views all Palestinians as a threat, both collectively and as individuals. It treats Palestinians with similar policies of discrimination and dispossession, including home demolitions, confiscation of Palestinian land and police brutality — regardless of whether we are citizens.
This is how Netanyahu’s baseless warnings of Palestinian citizens “stealing” the elections last week can largely go unquestioned, or how a voter intimidation campaign exclusively targeting Palestinian citizens in April, when a settler-aligned public relations firm and Netanyahu’s Likud party sent 1,300 activists wearing hidden cameras to “monitor” elections in exclusively Palestinian or Palestinian-majority areas, can be spun as an attempt to prevent voter fraud.
Israel’s apartheid policies
Hours before election day, Facebook temporarily suspended Netanyahu’s chatbot on his official page for violating the company’s hate speech policy, after sending a message to his followers claiming “Arabs want to annihilate us all.” He later chalked it off as a staffer’s mistake, but the message had already been sent, and the existential fear of Palestinians resonates with many Jewish Israelis.
The alternative to Likud’s Netanyahu, the Blue and White party led by former Army chief of staff Benny Gantz, isn’t really any different on most questions that matter to Palestinians’ daily lives. Gantz’s party has no intention of ending the occupation, of stopping colony expansion, of granting full rights to Palestinian citizens, of considering the repatriation of Palestinian refugees.
Despite this hierarchy of status, the state views all Palestinians as a threat, both collectively and as individuals
Many of Blue and White’s members have either worked with Netanyahu or support his party’s policies. The differences between them are nominal: Whereas Netanyahu openly declares his intention to annex the Jordan Valley, perhaps emboldened by more than a decade of holding the premiership, Gantz minces words and says he is “in favour of leaving the valley in Israeli hands in any possible scenario.”
For Gantz, boasting about bombing Gaza “back to the stone age” is more politically expedient than even paying lip service to equality, revealing the extent to which Jewish supremacy has been normalised. Gantz has repeatedly said he does not see the Joint List as a viable political partner, as have other Jewish-majority parties.
For them, even Odeh’s watered-down campaign, made to appeal to Jewish voters, calling for a shared Jewish-Arab partnership is viewed as radical. Even if the Joint List did lead the opposition, which is highly unlikely given the politics, as the only party interested in ending the occupation, all it offers is the two-state solution — an outdated, irrelevant vision which ignores years of Israel’s de facto annexation and apartheid policies.
In modern nation-states, citizenship is a privilege, and the right to vote in democratic elections even more so. Millions of stateless Palestinians can attest to that. It’s time Palestinian citizens break from the shackles of Israel’s engineered separation, to imagine a future in which we are free in practice, not just in appearance.
— Washington Post
Henriette Chacar is an editor and columnist