The fall of the coalition has forced the scheduling of new elections, on Sept. 17, and this gives Palestinian voters in Israel a chance to flex their muscles. Imagine the changes that might have taken place if their vote had come out in full force in April.
Only about half of Israel’s Palestinian voters participated in the election. As a result, the number of Arab representatives in the Israeli legislature’s 120-seat Knesset dropped from 13 to 10. If all of Israel’s Palestinian community voted, they could conceivably place 24 Arabs in the Knesset, significantly influencing change.
But while they refused to see their own potential strength, right-wing Israeli Jews recognized it and saw the potential damage an empowered Palestinian vote could cause.
Netanyahu’s anti-Arab allies did everything they could to discourage Palestinians living in Israel from voting. They installed 1,200 cameras at Arab voting locations to intimidate and bully voters. Many Jewish candidates and political parties embraced racist rhetoric to help fuel the growing sense of despondency among Israel’s Palestinian community. And it worked.
But the final decision on what Palestinians in Israel can do does not belong to Israel’s extremist leaders. It belongs to the Palestinians themselves. Netanyahu’s election stumble gives them one more chance to assert themselves. This opportunity is not only about helping to elect a more moderate Jewish leadership to govern Israel. It is about making a powerful statement that could awaken Israel’s near-comatose political Left, which is the last hope for a two-state solution. It is about making a statement of self-respect. Voting in the next election is about telling the world that Palestinians do have rights.
If the Palestinian community in Israel goes to the polls in force, it could change Israel’s political future, which is pointing toward a very troubling darkness.
It is a fact that Israelis do not act unless compelled to change. They will not compromise unless they feel threatened. Clearly, the threat that comes from violence has worn thin. Israelis are immune to the violence that continues to happen around them and have learned to live with it, accepting without a moral compass the brutality against non-Jews.
The Palestinian Authority is also no longer effective. Since the death of Yasser Arafat on November 11, 2004 the Palestinians have effectively been leaderless, stumbling around like chickens without heads. They have turned from effective diplomacy to anemic rejectionism. They are long on anger and short on solutions and ideas.
Longtime Israeli columnist Gideon Levy told me recently that Palestinians living in Israel have been drifting further and further away from the lives of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. This de facto division is being driven by a growing sense of hopelessness; Palestinians in Israel are focusing more on their own problems as victims of racism inside Israel, and the desire to defend their own civil rights as Israeli citizens, while not worrying about the human rights of Palestinians living under occupation.
It is a shocking admission and truth. The divisions within the Palestinian diaspora, the failures and the growing extremism have distanced the Palestinian cause from many, including their own people.
The self-anointed spokespeople for the Palestinian cause in the diaspora continue to spew failed rejectionist rhetoric. It is an activism that is incapable of conceiving an effective strategy to restore Palestinian rights. As a consequence, the Palestinian movement has pushed itself backwards by decades while allowing Israel’s right wing to strengthen its apartheid policies.
Netanyahu and his racist allies have moved forward with strategies to prevent Palestinian statehood and erase the Palestinian identity inside historic Palestine. They are even slowly but steadily winning quiet support among many of the nations that at one time were champions of the Palestinian cause, not only in Europe, Asia and Africa, but also in the Arab World.
The only way this spiraling deterioration can stop is if the Palestinians in Israel lift their apathetic heads out of the sand and vote to their maximum potential. The future of Palestine rests in their votes, now that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have collapsed into bickering, destructive rivals.
Israel’s Palestinian leaders, including Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, need to step up to the plate. They must show real leadership and bring all of the Arab parties together. They need to sacrifice their egos and campaign not for themselves but for Palestine.
There will be no end to Israel’s apartheid and racist policies if Palestinians fail to unite and speak with one unified voice that rejects racism and embraces peace.
Palestinians inside Israel have always had the power to confront the country’s increasingly racist policies. They came close in 2015, but the collapse of the right-wing coalition after it failed to form a government has given them one more chance to make a difference.
The choice is simple. Stand up for your rights as Palestinians — or be silent, submissive and bury Palestinian rights in a tomb of apathy. Palestinians living in Israel are making a huge mistake if they believe that they can go their own way without worrying about the Palestinians under occupation.