After last week’s elections, Israeli-Arab parties become the third-largest force in parliament and hold the balance of power.
Israeli-Arab political parties representing Palestinians inside Israel have come out in support of Benny Gantz as the next prime minister of Israel in a bid to oust the current one, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This endorsement was a huge mistake,” says Inas Khateeb a Palestinian activist in Israel to TRT World reacting to the Joint List’s decision to support Gantz “and this is not the first time they have made such a mistake.”
The former Israeli army chief, Gantz, commanded the Israel Defense Forces during the brutal 2014 Gaza War which left more than 1,400 Palestinian civilians dead and thousands injured. Gantz is looking to form a coalition broad enough to allow him to form a government after last weeks inconclusive Israeli elections.
Palestinian political parties in Israel have united under a grouping known as the Joint List. Last weeks result saw the parties increase their parliamentary representation from nine seats to thirteen, making them third-largest party in the Israeli Knesset.
The rise in Palestinian turnout occurred despite attempts by Netanyahu to suppress the Arab vote or incite anti-Arab sentiment by declaring in the campaign trail that “Arabs want to destroy all of us.”
The decision by the Joint List to support Gantz marks a rare foray by Palestinian political parties into a hostile Israeli political stage. The last time Palestinian political parties in Israeli backed an Israeli leader was Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 on the back of the now failed Oslo accords.
“Gantz is not an alternative for Palestinians. They [Netanyahu and Gantz] are both war criminals; they are both apart of the colonialist project; they are both Zionists,” added Khateeb.
Gantz is currently fighting a civil suit in a Dutch court filed by a Dutch national of Palestinian descent on accusations of war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza assault by Israel.
While that case is ongoing, within the Palestinian community in Israel, there is a heated discussion on the wisdom of supporting Gantz who has rejected any of the political demands made by the Joint List even as his potential future premiership rest on their support.
“Some Palestinians think that we need to work within the system to get their rights. While many others argue that as long as there is a settler-colonial system, we can not secure our identity and citizenship.”
When Netanyahu managed to pass the Nation-State Bill in May 2018, he went on to declare that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens...Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and only it.”
Gantz for his part has vowed to “fix” the nation-state law but only for the Druze community, a clear indication that the 21 percent native Palestinian population of Israel is not high on his priority list.
Fighting for representation
For many Palestinians, the nation-state law is an attempt to reduce them to second-class citizens in their land, which also impacts political parties.
In both of the recent elections, there was an attempt to disqualify parties from the Joint List from running, rulings, which had to be overturned at the Israeli supreme court after the Israeli Central Elections Committee accepted a petition from right-wing parties.
“Every election since 2002 there has been an attempt by the Israeli Central Elections Committee to disqualify Arab parties if they do not accept the supremacy of the Jewish state and Zionism,” says Sawsan Zaher, the Deputy General Director of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel also known as Adalah.
In elections held in April of this year, it emerged that Likud party activists with the backing of Netanyahu installed observers at election stations with cameras exclusively in Arab majority constituencies in a bid to suppress the Arab vote.
“After the elections, Netanyahu came out and described how proud he was of that policy, we took the government to court to show that it was a clear criminal offence and attempt to profile Arabs racially,” said Zaher speaking to TRT World.
Arab voters being singled out for recording at the polling stations would have a distinct chilling effect with voters fearful how the footage may be used.
“The intention was to intimidate Arabs from voting, which would result in fewer Arabs in the Knesset. Netanyahu's party aimed to portray the Arab vote as illegitimate and prone to fraud and this creates an environment of incitement.”
Adalah, the organisation Zaher works for, has successfully overturned what she calls “right-wing rituals to exclude Arab parties from politics” and their bid to invasively monitor the Arab vote.
However, the ostracisation of Palestinians living in Israel has also meant that its backing of Gantz is fragile, his service in the military and support of the nation-state law is an indication that his ability to transform Israeli politics towards a more inclusive and less hostile climate for Palestinians is far off.
“Our role in the Knesset is to challenge the system not to play by Israeli rules,” said Khateeb.
Asked whether Gantz could offer a different vision for Israeli society she says “No, based on what I have seen there is no difference and there will not be a change of discrimination even if the Joint List supports him. Gantz will not change.”