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Proposed Knesset reforms would undermine Palestinian representation

January 23, 2014 at 4:27 am

On Wednesday, the Knesset is expected to vote for parliamentary reform allegedly intended to preserve unity and enhance the government’s prospects of serving a full electoral mandate. Based upon the previous electoral results, smaller parties risk total exclusion from the Knesset unless party leaders decide to lay political differences aside and amalgamate into one larger political party. The reforms would also significantly target Palestinian representation – with Arab parties risking possible political exclusion.

Raising the threshold of votes from 2% to 4% would allegedly bring stability to the Israeli government. According to a simulation by Tal Schneider, summarised in the Times of Israel, the Knesset would consist of only six parties if the threshold was raised to 4%, allowing larger parties to weather any criticism or threats of bringing down the government in case of major disagreement.

While smaller Israeli political parties are likely to be affected by the proposed reforms, Palestinians will face the greatest obstruction. All Israeli political parties support varying discriminative forms of governance which highlight a continuous effort to maintain oppressive policies against Palestinians. Their minor ideological differences are unlikely to bring about radical change in the apartheid government’s policies. What the reform could curb is the use of ‘no-confidence’ motions used during disputes which have pitted parties in the Knesset against the government. Ideological differences have not hindered the Zionist aim of expansion. While on a national level Israelis have protested against the government with regard to legislation affecting economic concerns, political parties are largely synchronised with the Zionist ideology permeating a considerable segment of Israeli society.

On the other hand, the already fragile representation of Palestinians in Israel would be doomed to annihilation. Restrictions have already been placed upon Palestinian representatives, who have to take an oath to the ‘Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state’, thus repressing political freedom. If the reform is passed, the possible extinction of Palestinian political parties would promote further exclusion of Palestinians. Balad’s representative Jamal Zahalke deemed the decision racist during a Knesset Law Committee debate, stating “You need to prove to your voters that you’re harming the Arabs. It helps you [at the ballot box] when the Arabs are hurt”.

Laying bare the anti-democratic nature of Israeli politics, the proposal is reminiscent of the Zionist preoccupation with demography and political representation, fearing a hypothetical situation where the existence of the State of Israel as Jewish and Zionist would be up to debate. In 2007, writer Jonathan Cook quoted Israeli professor Arnon Sofer as stating that “In their hands lies the power to determine the right of return [of Palestinian refugees] or to decide who is a Jew. In another few years, they will be able to decide whether the state of Israel should continue to be a Jewish-Zionist state”. While the possibility may look remote, considering the multitude of restrictions placed upon Palestinians in Israel with regard to participation in politics, the possible ousting of Arab parties may be considered as evidence that Israel will not be risking its political supremacy

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.