Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyah with Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni. Photo:Getty Images
Why Palestinians no longer care about the Israeli election – disillusioned with the peace camp in Israel, they are now concentrating on legal challenges and building up international support instead
Raja Shehadeh, The Guardian, 17 March 2015
There is no enthusiasm or hope shown by Palestinians for the Israeli election on Tuesday. Scant attention is paid as to who is expected to win, and there is hardly any anticipation of the outcome.
These elections are happening at a difficult time for Palestinians. Since January, Israel has been withholding more than $100m in taxes it collects every month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. This is having a devastating effect on the economy. Land confiscation and the expansion of Jewish settlements are continuing, as are cases of vandalism by settlers, such as the destruction of olive trees. Torture of detainees is also on the increase, and acts of arson have occurred against religious buildings in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Such indifference was not always the norm. Before the big shift to the right that has taken place in Israel over the past decade, Israeli elections were followed closely by Palestinians who pinned their hope on the victory of the moderates. Now they do not see a viable peace camp in Israel. The big parties in Israel may pay lip service to the two-state solution – which remains the strategic position of the Palestinian Authority – but what they are willing to do to make this possible falls far below the minimum that would be acceptable to the Palestinians. None propose the dismantling of settlements or the sharing of Jerusalem as the joint capital of the two states.
It is no wonder, then, that there is little discussion taking place about these elections. When asked who they would prefer to win, the answer given by most Palestinians is Binyamin Netanyahu – better the devil you know.
‘Most Palestinians want Binyamin Netanyahu to win – better the devil you know’
Palestinians living in the occupied territories are in effect residing in “Greater Israel”, without being Israeli citizens. This is because – despite the fact that Israel has not annexed the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – it acts as a sovereign power, controlling the borders and determining policies that in every way affect the life of the people living there. Yet unlike the Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip do not have the right to vote. The unity of Palestinian political parties inside Israel in the Joint List does give a modicum of hope, particularly for Palestinian solidarity and for possible greater influence, yet scepticism for the Israeli political system runs very deep.
A striking Palestinian weakness in the struggle to end the Israeli occupation and win independence is the failure to devise a strategy aimed at the Israeli public in the coming elections. During the Vietnam war, the Vietcong made tremendous efforts to influence public opinion in the US against the war. In contrast, the Palestinians have made no attempt to convince the Israeli public that they are seriously interested in peace with their neighbours, to facilitate the emergence of a party of peace.
The Palestinian leadership is no more optimistic about the Israeli elections than the Palestinian public. Having given up on the prospects of getting anywhere with an Israeli government committed to building more settlements – and not expecting that the elections will bring about a real change – it pins its hopes on engaging the international community. The common expectation is that Israel’s rightwing government will be re-elected, making the US and EU more inclined to pressure Israel to stop settlement building and to release political prisoners, as conditions for restarting peace negotiations.
One of the last cards still held by the Palestinian Authority in its struggle to win statehood is to file cases against Israelis in the international court of justice in The Hague; one being considered is against the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. There would be no evidential difficulty in proving such a case or arguing its legal merits. The transfer of civilians by an occupier into the occupied territories is considered a grave breach of the fourth Geneva convention of 1949. Israel would have a hard time defending itself.