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Palestinian Citizens Wearily Eye Israeli Elections

By       Message Jonathan Cook     Permalink
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However, the Communist Front is reported to have vetoed the move, apparently worried that a union with the two other Arab parties would drive away Jewish support and end its tradition of being a Arab-Jewish party.

A more radical solution, again opposed by the Communist Front, would be to abandon the Knesset and set up an Arab parliament with direct elections. One of its first acts would be to demand cultural and educational autonomy.

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The idea of a separate parliament has been under discussion, so far fruitlessly, for more than a decade. But a very low turnout this time may push it higher up the Palestinian parties' agenda.

Center-left's anxiety

It is not only the Arab parties that are anxious about the expected low rate of participation. The Jewish "center-left" appears to have realized that it may harm them too, even though few Palestinian citizens now vote for Zionist parties. The damage is possible in two ways -- one strategic, the other pragmatic -- according to Amal Jamal, a politics professor at Tel Aviv University.

The first is that, if the Knesset no longer represents Palestinian citizens, either through a successful boycott or because of a ban by the right, Israel's rule over its Palestinian minority will look increasingly illegitimate, and more like a variety of apartheid. In such circumstances, the center-left's role in defending Israel's standing abroad -- its chief selling-point to its shrinking constituency at home -- is in danger of becoming irrelevant. The center-left could quickly find itself in vicious spiral of political and diplomatic marginalization.

The second, deeper concern for the center-left is one of "cold political calculation," says Jamal. A low turnout by Palestinian voters will be reflected in a low number of seats. And that in turn will make the chances of building a credible Knesset bloc to challenge Netanyahu and the right even more hopeless.

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Without a strong showing by the Palestinian parties, the center-left has no hope of tasting power. Instead they are more likely to end up squabbling with each other to be allowed to sit meekly on the margins of his coalition.

Jamal said: "Plenty of the members of the center-left parties have no real love of the Arab parties but still they understand that they need these parties strong to reduce Netanyahu's power."

Two weeks before polling day, the center-left parties made what looked suspiciously like a desperate, last-minute gesture towards Palestinian citizens to encourage them to vote. They signed a covenant committing to end inequality between Jews and Arabs within 10 years. Of the Arab parties, only the Communist Front attended.

The meeting received little coverage in the local Arab media. Of the few in the minority who were aware of it, most expected the covenant would become another quickly forgotten promise.

Ramez Jeraisi, Nazareth's mayor and a member of the Communist Front that signed the document, summed up the mood: "We have experienced talk and declarations that were never implemented, and I don't expect a change in reality."

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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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