Palestinians lose in Israeli poll


The Israeli right-wing may not have lived up to expectations, but the real losers of Israel's national elections on January 22 were the Palestinian people.

Though they lost ground to more “centrist” parties such as Yesh Atid and Labor, the right-wing Likud-Beitenu alliance remains the largest bloc in the assembly.

Although he will remain prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu will probably have to compromise with moderates to form a coalition.

The second place winner, Yesh Atid, drew a surprisingly high percentage of the vote by promising to abolish draft exemptions for Jewish seminary students, improve education and reduce Israel's housing crisis.

However, the party's leader Yair Lapid made clear in a Facebook post that its concern for social issues facing Jewish people in Israel was most definitely limited to Jewish people. The January 20 Israel National News reported Lapid said: “I do not think that the Arabs want peace. What I want is not a new Middle East, but to be rid of them and put a tall fence between us and them.”

Lapid insisted: “The Palestinians must be brought to an understanding that Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty and that there is no point for them in opening negotiations about Jerusalem.”

In his third term, Netanyahu has pledged greater “security” for Israel. However, the new Knesset will probably do little to further the peace process with Palestinian leaders. Instead, Netanyahu is more likely to ramp up tensions with Iran.

Further international isolation and an elevated likelihood of war with Iran may resonate well with Netanyahu's right-wing base, but unsurprisingly not with Israel's Palestinian minority.

In fact, no party made any notable attempts to engage Palestinian citizens of Israel and reverse declining voter participation rates.

In 2001, 82% of Palestinians did not vote; many of whom supported an organised boycott. In 2006, 56% of Palestinians voted, and in 2009 that figure dropped to 53%.

While they may appeal to Israeli voters, the resurgent centrists have little to offer Palestinians. This was made obvious two weeks before the election when centrist parties promised to end ethnic inequality within a decade.

Only one of the three main Arab parties actually attended the signing of what Jonathan Cook said in a January 18 Electronic Intifada described as “a desperate, last-minute gesture towards Palestinian citizens to encourage them to vote”.

Cook said: “The meeting received little coverage in the local Arab media. Of the few in the minority who were aware of it, most expected the covenant would become another quickly forgotten promise.”

Yesh Atid's campaign focused largely on appeasing the middle-class, from which Palestinians are largely excluded.

According to a report issued by Adalah The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel in March 2011, more than half of Israel's 1.5 million impoverished citizens are ethnically Arab. The vast majority of which are Palestinians.

Levels of unemployment for Palestinians are twice as high as Jews, and 66% of Palestinian children live in poverty.

Promises from Yesh Atid and other centrist parties of more jobs, houses, schools and other necessities should appeal to Palestinian voters; after all, these should be pressing issues for a population mired in poverty.

However, it's not hard to see why, just like the promise to end ethnic inequality, proposals to address other everyday problems will not woo most Israeli Palestinians.

This isn't because Palestinians aren't interested in these issues. A survey by the Abraham Fund Initiative (AFI) in 2011 found most Palestinians in Israel are more concerned with issues like education and crime than peace negotiations. But AFI also found only 30% of Palestinians surveyed felt that Knesset members (including Arab members) could be trusted to fairly represent them.

Although all the major parties attempt to draw Palestinian voters, the system itself repels them. Since the foundation of Israel in 1948, its Palestinian citizens have been treated as second-class citizens. First under martial law, then under what Ilan Pappe describes as “martial law by other means”, Palestinians within Israel have never enjoyed the same rights as other Israeli citizens.

Instead, they are discriminated against in “the fields of education, security forces, the judicial system, the government and more”, according to the 2012 report by The Coalition Against Racism in Israel. The report further states that “over 35 laws and bills discriminate against national and ethnic minorities in Israel”.

“In addition, these same groups face discrimination in budgetary allocation of state resources.”

Palestinians in Israel are often denied many basic public services granted to other citizens. According to the The Mossawa Center’s Analysis of the Government State Budget 2012, “2,029,034 NIS is allotted for housing grants and 1,464,517 NIS is allocated for housing subsidies specifically for new immigrants, settlers and Jewish housing projects in the periphery, including the Galilee and the Negev”.

However, the amount allocated to “the Arab community” for such grants is zero.

About 36,000 houses in Arab municipalities are considered to be illegally constructed, and 27% of all Arab houses lack sewerage connections. Furthermore, only 3.5% of private land is owned by Palestinians.

Palestinians are also effectively excluded from a slew of benefits granted by the state to citizens who undertake military service.

The new Knesset is unlikely to make any headway on addressing the concerns of Israeli Palestinian voters, let alone the majority of Palestinians completely excluded from the political process.

About 4.3 million Palestinians live under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, none of whom have voting rights in Israeli elections.

Palestinians (both citizens and non-citizens) make up nearly half of the population administered by Israel. Their lives are controlled by Israel, yet they are barely represented in what has long claimed to be the “only democracy in the Middle East”.

So while many Israelis will watch the Knesset closely in the following weeks to see what kind of coalition is formed by Netanyahu, the Palestinians probably will not. Although the predicted rightward swing never took place, Palestinians have no reason to believe the Israeli government will pay attention to their concerns.