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Unequal treatment under a flawed democracy

Mar 25,2021 - Last updated at Mar 25,2021

This year's elections reflect the status of democracy in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In Israel, a 73-year old state, the political system is broken and the appearance of democratic legitimacy is sustained by repeated elections.  In the virtual state of Palestine, elections provide minimal legitimacy for leaders who have failed to deliver statehood.

While boasting it is the only democracy in this region, Israel is a flawed democracy, which discriminates against the nearly two million citizens of Palestinian origin and denies rights normally accorded by democracies to the five million Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Furthermore, Israel is losing the demographic contest. Palestinians now form the majority population in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 

Early Zionists touted "Palestine as a land without a people for a people without a land." This was a lie.  At the time Lord Balfour issued his infamous declaration promising that Britain would facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, there were only 76,000 Jews, most of whom had entered the country over the previous 40 years, while there were 641,000 indigenous Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians.   At the time Israel was established in 1948, only one-third of the population was Jewish while two-thirds were Palestinian Arab. While the UN partition plan allocated the Zionists 55 per cent of Palestine, they were not satisfied with this division and launched a war which enabled them to seize 78 per cent of the country and expel 750,000 Palestinians.  Around 150,000 remained in this area and have stayed on.

Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians living under occupation in the land the Zionist movement chose to colonise have shaped Israel, its politicians, and its politics, and not for the better.  Palestinian citizens of Israel were never granted equal treatment with Jews.

They were fourth or fifth class citizens and lived under martial law from 1948-1967. They faced similar treatment meted out to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem after 1967. They were expropriated, their homes were demolished, their movements circumscribed, and their towns refused municipal status and denied adequate funding.

Their unequal treatment has always been reflected in Israeli attitudes towards Palestinians. Right-wing Israelis dismiss Palestinians as "Aravim", or "Arabs". Calling them "Palestinians" amounts to recognition of their right to remain on the land Israelis claim as their own and undermines Israel's legitimacy. Consequently, although Palestinian citizens of Israel vote in elections and chose representatives in the Knesset, Israeli political parties have, so far, refused to invite an Arab list to join a ruling coalition. 

Furthermore, anti-Arab attitudes have contributed to the fracturing of the body politic into numerous parties which are forced into uneasy coalitions as they cannot rule on their own.

This has led to the rise of the right-wing Likud and supremacist religious, secular and settler parties. It is significant that ahead of Tuesday's parliamentary election, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made advances to the Otzma Yehudit Party, the successor of the extreme anti-Arab Kach movement, which was banned in Israel in 1994 and branded a "terrorist movement".  While he was criticised for this, his move has been tolerated by most Jewish Israelis. 

Otzma Yehudit calls for the expulsion of "disloyal" Palestinians from Israel proper and the occupied territories, annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, and imposition of compete Israeli rule on the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean. The party opposes negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, rejects a Palestinian state and advocates imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Haram Al Sharif, the mosque compound on Mount Moria in East Jerusalem where, by tradition, the second Jewish temple stood until its destruction in 70 AD.

After Israel invaded and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Palestinians living there had no popular means of expressing their political demands until elections were held in 1996 under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accord.  This was the first time Palestinians in the occupied territories were able to vote for a president and legislature. Although bound to permit Palestinian elections by the Oslo Accords, Israel was determined to deny the Palestinians the legitimacy elections accorded them and did its best to curb campaigning and voting.

Israel hindered voter registration and blocked most East Jerusalemites from voting in the city, forcing them to go outside to vote. Israeli roadblocks and check points prevented ballots, ballot boxes and voters from reaching polling stations.  

Israel also did what it could to influence the outcome of the elections. It interfered in the 2005 presidential election by hindering campaigning by rivals of Mahmoud Abbas.  Israel also intervened in the 2006 legislative elections with the aim of preventing a victory by Hamas.

Israel failed and Hamas won a solid majority in the legislature which was never allowed to meet freely and operate properly by Fatah, Israel and its Western backers. 

Despite Israeli machinations, these elections were well run by the Palestinian election commission and declared "free and fair" by former US President Jimmy Carter who monitored all four.

Palestinians can expect more Israeli interference when they go to the polls in assembly elections in May, the presidential election in July, and the election to the Palestinian National Council in August.  Israel has already arrested West Bank Hamas activists and tried to intimidate others who might stand for the legislative council. A majority of Palestinians believe the elections, held under Israeli's increasingly hostile occupation, will not be free and fair.

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