By Chung Man Leung, MSc International Politics
For Palestinians, this is not an election between moderates and extremists, it is a choice between two parties that both aim to occupy more territories from their hands.
The political deadlock in Israel is still to be resolved after two inconclusive elections in this calendar year. The first election was held in April, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party managed to narrowly win against the Blue and White Party lead by Benny Gantz. However, Netanyahu’s unsuccessful attempt to form a coalition government with other parties meant another election in September was needed. The re-election, interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, came up with an almost identical result. Both parties winning 32 seats in the Knesset, and until now, neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has been able to form a government. Thus a third election in less than a year is definitely possible now. The Knesset has a total of 120 seats, and a party has to gain a majority of seats in order to form a government. Historically, due to the complex and vibrant multi-party phenomenon that is Israeli politics, no party has ever formed a government without forming a coalition with other parties.
One of the more significant differences between the last two elections is the higher level of engagement from the Arab minority. Despite making up 20 per cent of Israel’s population Arab citizens living in Israel have long been marginalized from society and its political system. Half of them are living below the poverty line and have been consistently labelled as ‘class B citizens’. In 2018 a ‘nation-state’ law was implemented to give exclusive rights to Jewish citizens. It also revoked Arabic as an official language of the country. Similarly, Netanyahu frequently employs rhetoric which labels Arab citizens as non-Israelis. Under these circumstances, most Arabs and Palestinians in Israel have shown little interest in politics as they assume they do not have enough bargaining power to change their own situation or the fate of the Palestinian state.
Nevertheless, the current situation seems to have posed an opportunity for them. In the election in September, the Joint List – an alliance formed by four Arab parties, won 13 seats, becoming the third biggest party and the key ‘kingmaker’. The party originally backed Gantz for prime minister albeit disagreeing with his policies. But recent news reported that the coalition talks between them have failed. The Arabs have taken a rare approach in endorsing a Zionist candidate for Prime Minister (for the first time since 1992). The question is, will such an approach be beneficial in improving the current situation of Palestinians? Or in other terms, is it prudent if the final goal is to create a free Palestine? To be fair, the intention of the Joint List in supporting Gantz was to prevent Netanyahu from returning to power. But does that mean Gantz and his party will bring something different? Probably not.
Neither of the candidates has actually proposed a peace plan. Nobody has suggested ending interventions in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. In fact, both of them have pledged to annex a larger area. Netanyahu maintains that he will expand Israel’s sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea if he forms a government. Gantz has a similar stance as he stated that his party has made it clear in the past that Jordan Valley is a part of Israel forever. He even criticized Netanyahu’s promise as a strategy to divert voters’ attention from recent rocket attacks. He further claimed that he will use substantiating ‘actions and deeds’ instead. The expectations that Gantz will resolve the conflict with Palestine in a softer manner than his predecessor is wishful thinking. For Palestinians, this is not an election between moderates and extremists, it is a choice between two parties that both aim to occupy more territories. Israel might be having its third election. Perhaps drawing more Arabs to the poll. Yet it is sheer optimism to conjecture that their involvement will be of major consequence.