By Ben White, Middle East Monitor, 11 March 2015
On 17 March, Israelis will go to the polls to elect a new government. Here are 10 facts about the Knesset elections and the Palestinian vote.
- One in seven Palestinians can vote in Israel’s elections.
Only one in seven of the total Palestinian population live inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders and have citizenship. A third live under Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and can’t vote (though the Jewish settlers living among them can). Meanwhile, around half of all Palestinians are prevented from returning to their homeland by Israel; expelled and denationalised, their forced exclusion is the reason why the majority of Israel’s citizens are Jewish.
- Israel has only ever had two non-Jewish ministers.
Since the creation of Israel in 1948, around 600 ministers have served in 33 governments. Only two of them have been non-Jews, and they served for a combined total of approximately three years.
- No Arab party has ever been part of a ruling coalition.
After the 2013 elections, centrist Yair Lapid explicitly ruled out forming a tactical alliance with Arab parties, saying he would “not join a blocking majority with Haneen Zoabis” – a reference to the Palestinian MK from Balad. It is not impossible, however, that this time around they could be invited to form part of a ruling coalition or, that Palestinian MKs could recommend the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu’s main challenger for premier, to President Reuven Rivlin.
- Palestinian voter participation is expected to rise.
Voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel is set to rise, and could return to levels not seen since the 1990s. In 2013, voter participation was 56 percent – in 1999, it was 75 percent. One of the key factors is the decision by Arab parties to form an alliance, the Joint List (Balad, Ta’al, United Arab List, and Hadash, a joint Jewish-Arab party).
- Some Palestinian factions urge a boycott of Knesset elections.
Political groups that advocate a boycott of the elections include the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, led by Sheikh Raed Salah, and the Abn’a el-Balad movement, along with unaffiliated activists and student campaigners.
- The Arab parties’ Joint List will boost votes.
In 2013, Arab parties secured a combined 11 seats in the Knesset. This time round, the Joint List could gain as many as 15 MKs in the new parliament. The new electoral threshold is 3.25 percent of the vote, up from 2 percent last time around.
- Palestinian voters worry about employment, education, discrimination.
The main issues facing Palestinian citizens of Israel are economic concerns (i.e. unemployment and job creation), education, town and regional planning restrictions, home demolitions (especially in the Negev), racist or ultra-nationalist legislation, and other issues that stem from the structural discrimination faced by non-Jews.
- Palestinian MK Haneen Zoabi was initially disqualified from running.
Israel’s Central Elections Committee voted to ban two candidates: Haneen Zoabi – by 27 votes to 6 – and far-right Jewish nationalist Baruch Marzel – by 17 votes to 16. Both decisions were overturned by the High Court, though Zoabi’s disqualification was backed by most candidates – including the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog. Under Israeli law, a candidate or party can be banned from the elections for, among other things, negating the existence of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’.
- Knesset rules restrict Palestinian MKs’ ability to challenge structural discrimination.
Knesset rules of procedure mean that proposed bills which undermine Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people – as opposed to all its citizens – are thrown out.
- Palestinian MKs are often targeted for political persecution.
Once in the Knesset, Palestinian MKs are frequent targets for politically-motivated persecution. In the past, this has included suspensions from the Knesset, investigations for visiting an ‘enemy state’, and criminal prosecutions based on trumped-up charges. More broadly, the Shin Bet is on record as stating it thwarts activities of any group seeking to undermine Israel’s Jewish character, while in 2008, the internal security agency’s then-chief Yuval Diskin, told US officials that many of the “Arab-Israeli population” are taking their rights “too far.”