The Israeli election is two weeks away, and a poll out today shows that the two biggest parties, Likud and Blue-and-White, are running neck in neck, at 32 and 31 parliamentary seats, both well short of a majority.
Everyone talks about the fourth-largest party as the kingmaker: Former Defense Minister and bouncer Avigdor Lieberman’s party polls at 9 or 10 seats. The rightwing settler wants to cobble together a “unity government” of the two top parties and his.
What about the third largest party in the polling? That’s the Joint List of Arab parties, now polling at 10 or 11 seats. You’d think they’d be in great demand.
But no one is talking about coalition building with the Palestinian parties because they’re not Zionist Jewish; and Israeli governments are Jewish and Zionist.
So Benjamin Netanyahu can make deals with messianic extremists and other rightwing anti-Arab racists, trying to squeeze out an extra three rightwing seats. And insiders can speculate about Labor joining Netanyahu to the point that the Labor leader shaves his mustache off in an ad to make a credible denial. And Netanyahu can try to paint Lieberman as a “leftist” to rally his voters on the religious right.
But the third largest party in Israel counts for nothing.
You’d think that– if Israel is a democracy— the Palestinians would be highly-sought-after. As highly sought-after as black and brown voters have been to the Democratic Party in the U.S. since the 60’s.
Anyone with the fantasy of seeing a center-left Israeli government needs those Palestinian voters. Add up all the Zionist/Jewish seats on the center-left (31 for Blue and White, 7 for Labor/Gesher, and 7 for the new Democratic Union Party of Barak/Meretz/Shaffir (and yes, one of those parliamentarians is Palestinian)), and you only get to 45, well short of a majority.
Throw in the 10 or 11 Joint List seats and you get to spitting distance of a majority. Right where Netanyahu and the right are now.
In fact, in the 1990s Israel Labor governments under Rabin and Barak depended on the passive support of Palestinian parliamentarians, to guarantee them five votes in crunch time inside a closely-divided parliament.
Today some of the Palestinian parties are said to be willing to play such a role again. Ayman Odeh has said he could imagine joining a Blue and White coalition. And Ahmad Tibi said today that he is open to participating in a “blocking” coalition to allow Blue and White’s Benny Gantz to become PM if Gantz promises higher status to the Palestinian community.
But the Israeli centrist parties don’t want anything to do with Palestinians. Benny Gantz rejected Odeh’s “historic” overture.
“We will not invite a party that does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” [Blue and White leader Gabi] Ashkenazi told Army Radio.
Likud and Blue-and-White were deadlocked after the April election, but Benny Gantz never even called the Joint List “to ask for its recommendation” to the Israeli president President Reuven Rivlin about forming the next government. Palestinian parliamentarian Yousef Jabareen said that’s “because of racism in Blue and White.”
The polling shows that Palestinian voters are open to these parties participating in a government (68-12), but Jewish voters are overwhelmingly against it (60-9).
Labor leaders have been just as resistant as Blue and White to appealing to Palestinian voters because the mood of the Israeli public is so anti-Palestinian. FP:
[Former] Labor leader Avi Gabbay said in an interview in 2017: “We will not sit with them, unequivocally. … I do not see anything that connects us to them [the Arab political parties] or allows us to be in the same government with them.” Former Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog said in 2016 that the center was taking away votes from the Labor Party because he claimed to hear, “in endless encounters with the Israeli public that we are always Arab lovers.”…
The Palestinian parties and mainstream Jewish parties don’t get along for the simple reason that the Jewish parties are all Zionist (with some softening on the Meretz left, which includes Muslim candidates), while Palestinians are generally anti-Zionist. And no wonder: Zionism has been a bad deal for Palestinians from its beginnings.
The Palestinian alienation from the Jewish political process has gotten worse in recent years, as Israeli politics have swung further and further right. Last year Israel passed a basic law proclaiming Israel the “nation state of the Jewish people,” that Palestinians see as a frank declaration of apartheid: Jews have the “exclusive” right to self-determination in the biblical land of Israel, and Jews have higher land rights and language rights than Palestinians.
Blue and White has been running to the right in this election, supporting illegal Israeli settlements and not coming out for a Palestinian state.
Some on the Israeli left continue to imagine a coalition of Palestinian and Jewish voters to break open the rightwing stranglehold. Earlier this year, Mikhael Manekhin and Ameer Fakhoury reissued the challenge to the Israeli left and Palestinian to work together to build a new society.
What does it mean to be a liberal or progressive in Israel today? Not only do we need to call for ending the occupation within a framework of two states, but we must also address the fundamental political inequalities of the Arab minority in Israel. The Jewish left and the Arab Palestinian parties in Israel must be able to seek a more common political and ideological ground; otherwise Netanyahu’s claim of Arab citizens as a political threat to the Jewish state will remain without an ideological and political alternative.
That dream remains more distant than ever. Jabareen said today:
“It is a fallacy that joining a Zionist party will bring real change,” he said. “We are not busy tailoring our suits. We will be in the opposition.”
And Peace Now’s Yossi Alpher said today, the likely outcome of the election is a unity coalition.
The only mathematically-possible coalition at this point appears to be one that involves both [Likud and Blue and White]. Liberman’s ten mandates give him leverage in this regard.
Palestinians will be completely left out from that government, like virtually every government before that.