Despite Dwindling Interest in Israeli Elections, West Bank Palestinians Still Watching (with VIDEO)
Palestinians once considered elections in Israel pivotal to their future, but that is no longer the case
With only a week before millions of Israelis head to the polls to choose a new parliament for the fourth time in two years, Palestinians in the West Bank will be watching the outcome closely.
Honaida Ghanim, director-general of Madar, the Palestinian Center for Israeli Studies in Ramallah, told The Media Line that the Palestinians in the West Bank put a lot of weight on the Israeli elections.
“Usually, Palestinians view the elections as a pivotal moment that can change the scene as a whole and bring back to the table the issue of the peace process or even halt settlements,” she said.
Ghanim says that despite wishful thinking by the Palestinian leadership that next week’s elections may bring new faces and possibly a new Israeli prime minister, the outcome will most likely stay the same.
“I don’t expect changes and, if there is, it will be for the worse,” she said.
Ghanim says a quick look at the current political race in Israel shows that “they are mostly parties on the right. the competition that exists is not between a leftist and a rightist movement. Today’s competition for the next prime minister is confined among [Yamina head Naftali] Bennett, [New Hope leader Gideon] Sa’ar and [Likud Chairman and current Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu, or an alliance with a right-wing camp.”
Palestinians unanimously agree that there is no acceptable camp on the other side to negotiate with, and Ghanim says the internal Israeli political battlefield is getting more extreme.
She says the alternative to the current Israeli government isn’t appealing to the Palestinians.
“Let us say that for years the Palestinian issue has not been on the agendas of the Israeli parties. There is an almost complete absence of the Palestinian issue, and if you followed the last four elections, the present issue would be the struggle with or against Netanyahu,” said Ghanim.
There is no party now that constitutes hope for the Palestinians
Palestinians do not view the Israeli elections as an external matter, but rather an internal affair that directly affects their lives. Therefore, it is not surprising that Palestinians in the West Bank, more than others, follow the Israeli elections and anticipate their results.
Nihad Abu Ghosh, an Israeli affairs expert from Ramallah, told The Media Line that in the past Palestinians were eager to find out the results of the elections and its implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he said that the majority of Palestinians today do not see any qualified, or acceptable candidate to deal with.
“Israel always concerns the Palestinians. In the past, there was a bet on the peace camp or the left. Now there is no peace camp,” he said.
Officially, the Palestinian Authority says it doesn’t get involved in Israel’s internal matters, but since 2012 President Mahmoud Abbas has tasked a committee with outreach to Israelis in the hopes of altering their ballot choices.
“My advice to the PA is to put in mind the priority of arranging the internal situation. To restore national unity and regain its fighting options rather than try to influence the Israeli elections,” Abu Ghosh said.
There are more than 2.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank. They don’t have the right to vote in Israeli elections, but they say they are directly impacted by any Israeli government policies.
Ramallah-based journalist and analyst Fares Sarafandi says that with Israelis focusing on domestic issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been relegated to the back burner.
“The Palestinians have become less concerned with the Israeli elections and what is going on in the Israeli street, because they have tried all the sects and all the Israeli political trends, and nothing has changed for them,” Sarafandi said.
Esmat Mansour, a Ramallah-based expert on Israeli affairs, keeps a close eye and ear on Israeli politics. He says Palestinians in the past paid a great deal of attention to the Israeli elections, but because of lack of progress in peace negotiations, that interest is waning.
“There is no party or candidate among the competitors that holds any project or credible plan to solve the Palestinian issue. All of them have dismissed the two-state solution. There is disappointment that the Palestinian issue has not appeared on the Israeli political programs. There is no party now that constitutes hope for the Palestinians,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sarafandi does not believe the Israeli elections will usher in a new era of hope for the Palestinians, though he acknowledges that: “Everyone prefers that Benjamin Netanyahu be absent from the Israeli political scene.”