By Ray Hanania
By virtue of overcoming the intense bullying and intimidation tactics of the Israeli government, Palestinian voters this week won a significant victory. It does not matter whether or not the Arab Joint List’s Knesset members are invited to partner in forming a new government. What matters is that the Palestinians in Israel — whom Israeli Jews refer to as the “Israeli Arabs” — stood up to the efforts to undermine their voting rights and made a significant statement that they will not be taken for granted.
They did so at a time when the most right-wing coalition of Israeli parties, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, collapsed over internal divisions. Lieberman rose to power at Netanyahu’s side, but this year decided to make a playfor political control himself, sending the PM’s future into turmoil in the April elections, which saw Netanyahu fail to form a government.
Lieberman made his move because Netanyahu had been politically weakened after being targeted in a widespread corruption probe, in which he is accusedby the Attorney General of “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” Netanyahu had hoped winning an election would give him the power to block the impending indictments.
Early results from Tuesday’s election showed that the “Arab” turnout rose from nearly 50 percent in the April vote to 60 percent. The Palestinian presence in the Knesset, which consisted of only 10 seats after the last election, has risen to approximately 13, according to projections.
But now it is time to do more. The first thing the Palestinians need to do is stop allowing Israel’s Jews to define them as “Arab.” While they are Arab in culture, politically and nationally they are Palestinian and they should demand that they be referred to as such. This would not be an insignificant move at all, but rather a major political strategy that not only challenges the apartheid of Israel’s Jewish society but also makes a solid declaration that the interests of Israel’s “Arabs” are a concern that regards the “Palestinian” identity.
The Arab Joint List that represented the fractured “Arab” political parties should be called the Palestinian Joint List.
It is clear that this election, no matter the final outcome, was one that tried to exclude the Palestinians. Both the extremist Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose long reign of oppression appears to have come to an end, and the tip-toeing politics of the Blue and White alliance led by Benny Gantz have been hesitant to include the Palestinians in their attempts to form a new government.
Palestinians overcame all kinds of intimidation and bullying tactics in order to go to the polls. Those tactics included efforts in the courts to block Palestinians from participating, to film them casting their votes, and preventing Palestinian candidates and political parties from placing their names on the ballots. Mysterious billboards and Facebook pages calling for an “Arab boycott” of the election also surfaced, and they appear to be the work of right-wing groups hoping to further suppress their vote.
There has never been a government coalition in Israel that has included any Palestinian political parties, reflecting the racism that is inherent in Israel’s government and societal structures. But the Palestinians need not be a part of any coalition. All they need to do is be a reminder to Israelis that the sacrosanct issue of Palestine will never go away. And, while Israel’s Palestinian voters continue to demand to not only be treated fairly and with total human and civil rights, they should also be acknowledged as being Palestinian.
There are many Arab voters who have abandoned the Palestinian identity. They vote for and participate with the Zionist parties, including Likud, Blue and White and the religious Jewish groups.
Palestinians in Israel being referred to as such, will provide significant support to the overall cause of the Palestinian people, the majority of whom live either under Israel’s brutal and oppressive occupation or in the diaspora, where discrimination against their interests is channeled by Israel’s powerful public relations and lobbying efforts.
Let this week’s election results be the beginning of a new effort by Palestinian voters to not only demand their rights as citizens, but to also nurture a new atmosphere of cooperation, through which Palestinian leaders like Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh can work together to secure a more powerful voice for Palestinian rights.
Palestinians deserve respect. They do exist and they exist inside Israel as well. They have a voice that cannot be ignored.