Israel is headed for another election following the Knesset’s failure to pass the 2020 state budget by the required deadline. March 23, 2021 will mark the fourth national election in under two years. This comes at an opportune time for Prime Minister Netanyahu, six months before he was scheduled to pass over the reigns to his political rival Benny Gantz and end his unprecedented grip on power as the country’s longest serving leader.
The last round of elections, which took place in March 2020, showed Israel the importance of one of its largest and most discriminated against communities: Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. The Joint List, a coalition of the four largest Palestinian Arab parties (Hadash, Balad, UAL, Taal), rallied record voter turnout. 64.8% of the Palestinian Arab community showed up to the polls, a level of engagement that hasn’t been observed in over two decades.
Such turnout hasn’t been seen since 1997, when 77% of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel voted. Over the past two decades, voter turnout within the Palestinian Arab community has been very low. In the 2001 Prime minster elections, only 18% of Palestinian Arabs voted. The boycott followed the suppression of peaceful demonstrations in October 2000, which led to 13 Palestinian Arab citizens being killed by police because of incitement from Ehud Barak’s (Labor) government.
However, the Joint List was jilted in the end, despite garnering enough votes to make it the third largest party in the current Knesset. Rivals Gantz (Blue & White) and Netanyahu (Likud) formed a government excluding Palestinian Arab voices.
Heading into the upcoming election, Netanyahu has made a strategic decision to pander to the Palestinian Arab community. This is an abrupt break from Likud’s past campaign messaging, which perpetuated unfound claims of voter fraud in Palestinian Arab communities and relentless incitement against them. Netanyahu spurred his supporters to vote by making an inflammatory statement in which he said that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”
Tense internal debate has been taking place within the Joint List over the past few weeks about the content and structure of the list’s platform. Secular Hadash and Balad strongly oppose many of the new positions of the Islamic United Arab List (UAL). At the same time, several Jewish parties are including Arab candidates in top positions an attempt to gain votes from the Palestinian Arab community in Israel. The result of these power plays is the fragmentation of the anti-Netanyahu opposition. Because of that, the effort to remove him from power is now severely weakened.
Netanyahu’s brazen political move has already received severe backlash from both sides of the aisle. Leader of right-wing New Hope party Gideon Sa’ar announced, “after years of neglect and inaction, the prime minister remembered tonight to talk about formulating a plan to eradicate crime in Arab society.” Meanwhile, Mk Ayman Odeh of the Joint List wrote, “a decade of indifference to crime, inciting violence and fanning hate won’t be erased in an election campaign.”
Violent crime and lack of allocated budgets have plagued the Palestinian Arab community for decades, with the situation severely deteriorating in recent times. Over the past four years, the murder rate of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel jumped by 50%. This violence directly stems from underfunded municipalities that lack the necessary budgets for education, welfare, and policing.
Now that Palestinian Arab issues are taking center stage in Israeli politics, it is time to act. The Mossawa Center is continuing to advocate for concrete changes while we still have the attention of political leaders. Our work has focused on securing funds for the Palestinian Arab community in terms of economic development, welfare, healthcare, as well as empowering women and youth.
In 2015, an unprecedented five-year economic development plan for the Palestinian Arab community titled Government Resolution 922 was passed. Resolution 922 was the first stage of a large-scale economic development plan was supposed to bring immense economic development and prosperity to Palestinian Arab localities. However, the second phase of the plan never arrived. After a one year extension, Resolution 922 is set to expire in 2021. And yet, there are still no budgets to address healthcare, industrial zoning, poverty, welfare, education or employment in Palestinian Arab municipalities.
The Mossawa Center is creating a comprehensive report, detailing the new budgets necessary to address Palestinian Arab Social – Economic needs. Our published papers are currently helping pave the way to new policies. Through one-on-one meetings with Knesset Members and government ministries, the Mossawa Center ensures that Palestinian Arab needs and demands are being addressed.
We recognize the untapped potential of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel as game changers in Israeli politics. We are focusing on empowering youth and women in order to build a society that is politically conscious and active on all levels. The Mossawa Center’s work is planting the seeds for monumental political and social change within Palestinian Arab society that will have immense positive reverberations on Israel and the region for years to come.
The upcoming fourth election is a crucial inflection point for Palestinian Arabs and Israel alike. The neglect of Palestinian Arab citizens in Israeli politics is holding back any profound change that many seek to achieve. It is time for such neglect to stop and for actors, within Israel and abroad, to recognize and embrace the political significance of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.