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Low Turnout and Divided Palestinians After Israel Elections

Umm al-Fahm, Israel – Omayya Jabareen spent the morning of the Israeli elections preparing traditional zaatar pastries for breakfast.

Surrounded by family and friends at her home on the winding slopes of Umm al-Fahm, one of Israel’s largest Palestinian cities, the 51-year-old said she doesn’t believe in voting in Israeli elections.

“I have never voted, and I didn’t vote this time,” he told Al Jazeera from his home earlier in the week, as the country voted for parliament on Tuesday. “Arab members of the Knesset [the Israeli parliament] they are simply a cosmetic face for Israeli dominance and racism.”

The problems facing most of the 1.8 million Palestinians inside Israel, he said, such as crime and overcrowding, are “the result of systematic policies practiced against us by the state of Israel. They will remain as long as it exists.”

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Whether for political reasons or simply a lack of interest, Jabareen was one of many Palestinians in Israel who chose not to vote in this year’s elections, which are Israel’s fifth in less than four years due to a protracted political crisis. since 2019.

The final results came Thursday, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, Israel’s largest party, set to return after being ousted in 2021 after 12 years in power.

This year, Netanyahu ran alongside controversial far-right figures who openly call for violence against Palestinians, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his harassment of families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and for leading raids on the compound. of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“I feel bad about the results,” said Kamila Tayyoun, head of media for the Palestinian political bloc led by Ayman Odeh. The alliance, which ran for election and won five seats, is made up of the Arab Movement for Change party and the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, known in Hebrew as the Hadash-Ta’al list.

A Netanyahu government, Tayyoun told Al Jazeera, “will be very bad at the Palestinian level,” describing it as “racist” and “having a political party campaign based largely on hatred and demonization of Arabs.”

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“The situation is not comforting,” added Tayyoun, who hails from Shaab, on the outskirts of Akka (Acre), in the north.

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a woman sits in an armchair
Omayya Jabareen says Palestinian Knesset members are just a ‘cosmetic face for ‘Israeli racism’ [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

A breakdown of Palestinian voter turnout

Historically, voter turnout among Palestinians in Israel has hovered between 40 and 50 percent, with the majority of those who vote for parties led by Arab politicians.

In Tuesday’s election, Palestinian voter turnout stood at about 55 percent, which analysts said was higher than expected but marked a drop from previous years when Arab parties joined forces. under the Joint List alliance.

“The Arab lists were divided and functioned separately. The campaigns and the competition in the last days before the elections, and the fear of Ben-Gvir and his party, increased the level of voting, but not to a high degree”, Saeed Zidani, a political analyst in the city of Tamra in the northwest. outside Haifa, he told Al Jazeera.

This year, three Palestinian blocs stood for election, two of which exceeded the national electoral threshold of 3.25 percent, equivalent to four seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset. The parties that presented themselves had to obtain some 157,000 votes to obtain the four seats.

As for the number of votes, Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List (UAL), which was criticized for joining former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition government last year, got the most with 190,000 votes. Most of those votes came from Palestinian Bedouin living in the Naqab (Negev) desert.

“The UAL was the one that got the most votes but the one that lost the most in terms of the influence it hoped to have,” Zidani said. “Neither Netanyahu nor the other side needs it anymore. Netanyahu can form a government without him, and the opposition cannot form a government with him or without him.”

The third Palestinian list to run, Tajamu (also known as Balad in Hebrew), enjoyed increased support and popularity in this election, but did not translate into seats.

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The party’s leader, Sami Abu Shehadeh, who hails from al-Lydd (Lod), played a key role in connecting with the Palestinian street during the May 2021 Palestinian uprising inside Israel, during which widespread clashes with Israeli forces broke out. Israelis as a result of forced displacement in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and a war in the besieged Gaza Strip.

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“The Tajamu party gathered their strength and there was a higher popular regard for them among Palestinians in this election, despite their loss,” Zidani said, noting that they needed only 18,000 more votes to pass the threshold of national elections.

Do Palestinians believe in the Knesset?

Israeli Jewish turnout is believed to have exceeded 70 percent, a significant gap compared to Palestinian voter turnout.

Zidani noted that Palestinians have no problem voting (in municipal elections, turnout is often above 90 percent), but the sentiment is different when it comes to parliament, and turnout is always much lower.

Palestinians make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population and hold Israeli passports. They became an involuntary minority during the violent ethnic cleansing of Palestine from 1947 to 1949 to create a “Jewish state”.

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Policies practiced against them, described as “discriminatory” by human rights groups, have led to Palestinian areas of Israel suffering a myriad of problems, including restrictions on land ownership, high crime rates, and home demolitions. .

Umm al-Fahm, which is located in the northern area of ​​the Triangle, is the third largest concentration of Palestinians within Israel, home to 60,000 residents, after the city of Nazareth in the north and the Naqab city of Rahat.

It is known for being the home of the now banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which split in 1996 from the southern branch, now the LAU, by deciding to participate in Israeli elections.

Considerably less than half of the nearly 40,000 eligible voters in Umm al-Fahm turned out in Tuesday’s election, according to the results, with the lowest turnout of the three largest Palestinian areas.

Ahmad Khalifa is the head of the popular committee in Umm al-Fahm and a member of the political office of Abnaa el-Balad, another Palestinian party that boycotted the elections.

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Khalifa told Al Jazeera that he believed that electoral turnout among Palestinians, coupled with Netanyahu’s return, showed that many Palestinians believed that politics is more than just parliament.

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“The Palestinians have understood that the Knesset is not the place where we go to solve our biggest problems, or where we go to build a national project, and it is not the place where you can prevent fascism or right-wing parties,” Khalifa said. .

Khalifa added that for Abnaa el-Balad and like-minded Palestinians, the events of May 2021 cannot be pacified simply by participating in the elections.

“Our political context goes against the project of cornering us in Israeli politics and in the Israeli public as citizens.

“The two-state solution has failed. Israel forced it to fail by increasing settlement construction, taking over Jerusalem, preventing the return of refugees,” Khalifa continued.

Those who voted in Umm al-Fahm are not necessarily opposed to the Abnaa el-Balad reading of the situation; however, they feel there may be some improvements in everyday life, as well as in crime and overcrowding.

And on top of that, some feel that Palestinian representation in Israel’s highest legislative body is important.

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“For me, it is enough that our candidates … simply bring up the issue of the Palestinian people and bring up the Palestinian national and civil issues here,” said Hussein Mustafa Mahameed, a dentist.

“[But] As Palestinians in this state, I believe to the fullest extent that our civil problems will not be resolved without resolving the broader problem of the Palestinian people,” Mahameed said. “Any government that comes will fight against the Palestinian people, and we are part of the Palestinian people.”

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