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Netanyahu, the Joint List and a history of demonising Palestinian voters

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Decline in turnout

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, many Israeli Jews were concerned about Palestinian parties "meddling" in an Oslo process they believed should be decided by Jews alone.

Ironically, concerns about the influence of Palestinian citizens have only deepened over the past decade at a time when no one in Israel is considering a peace process or talks with the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories.

And in another paradox, such fears among the Jewish populace have intensified at a time when the turnout among Palestinian voters in Israel fell to the lowest levels ever. In April, less than half the community cast a ballot, compared to more than two-thirds of Israeli Jews.

The rapid decline in voting among Palestinian citizens chiefly reflected the sense that there was no longer an Israeli left to ally with. Moreover, a series of moves from Netanyahu's government sought to alienate Palestinian voters.

Legislators face expulsion

The first move was the Threshold Law of 2014, which raised the electoral threshold to a point at which none of the four Palestinian parties could pass it. In a classic example of unintended consequences, however, the four combined into a Joint List, becoming the third largest party in the parliament after the 2015 election.

In response, the parliament passed the Expulsion Law of 2016, which empowered a three-quarters (Jewish) majority to expel any legislator whose politics offended them effectively a sword hanging over every Palestinian member of the parliament.

But even these initiatives have proved insufficient. For Netanyahu and the far-right, the need to neutralise the Palestinian parties and the voters who elect them has become ever more pressing.

A decade of rule by Netanyahu and the religious right has provoked a backlash from the secular Israeli Jewish public. They are mostly right-wing and anti-Palestinian, but nonetheless they are tired of Netanyahu's croneyism and his reliance on extremist religious and settler parties.

They are nostalgic for the days when Israel abused Palestinians quietly and stole their land less ostentatiously.

Paralysed Jewish politics

Representing a minority of the Jewish public, the secular parties cannot win power alone. In April all they managed and may do so again is to combine their votes with the Palestinian public's to block Netanyahu and the religious right from forming a government.

That is why Israel is currently deadlocked. The only apparent way out is a so-called unity government between the secular generals of Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud. But the generals may insist on the price being Netanyahu's ousting.

So while Palestinian voters can still not influence Israeli politics directly or in their own interests let alone push it in the direction of peace they can play a role in entrenching the divisions within Israel's tribal politics. They can contribute to its paralysis.

And this is why Netanyahu and the far right need to diagnose the Palestinian minority's right to vote in elections as a threat to the health of the Israeli Jewish body politic one that needs to be removed before "the Arabs annihilate us all".

Danger on the horizon

There is a further "danger" facing Israel's Jewish majority in this period of political deadlock, as the Joint List's decision to endorse Gantz this week highlights.

After many years of declining turnout among a Palestinian electorate disillusioned by Israeli national politics, there was a sharp reversal last week. In what largely amounted to a backlash to Netanyahu's growing incitement, some 60 percent of Palestinian voters cast a ballot.

The more Netanyahu and the far right show they fear the Palestinian vote, the more Palestinian citizens may sense their vote has some value after all, if only in curbing the worst excesses of Jewish ultra-nationalism. Polls show that Palestinian citizens want their legislators to have more influence in the political system, and are even interested in them working with Zionist parties.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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