Dyala Hamzah

Al-Shabaka policy member Dyala Hamzah is an associate professor of Arab History at the University of Montreal. She served as editor of the 2013 Routledge volume The Making of the Arab Intellectual and is author of the forthcoming text, Muhammad Rashid Rida ou le Tournant Salafiste (CNRS Éditions, 2019). Dyala has published with Princeton and Oxford University Presses, as well as in academic journals including CSAAME, REMMM and Égypte-Monde Arabe. She is currently conducting a project on Mandate Palestine and Arab Nationalism. Her upcoming Palestine. Le Sionisme est-il réformable? is under contract with Presses de l’Université de Montréal (PUM, 2020).

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Israel arrests Palestine’s Jerusalem Minister Fadi al-Hadami

Israeli police said they have arrested Jerusalem Affairs Minister Fadi al-Hadami of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – a move Palestinians said was “routine” and part of a “harassment campaign”.

The Jerusalem Affairs Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Israeli forces raided the minister’s home before taking al-Hadami into custody.

Israeli police say he was arrested for conducting political activity in occupied East Jerusalem, according to The Associated Press.

Al-Hadami is charged with allegedly breaking a law prohibiting political activity by the PA in Jerusalem. The PA governs the occupied West Bank.

“He is being questioned by officers from the Jerusalem police district,” Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld, told Al Jazeera, without giving further information.

Israeli authorities also summoned Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, and his son when they raided Ghaith’s home in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem, early on Wednesday morning, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

Ghaith is being sought for the same offence according to the Associated Press.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas‘s Fatah movement condemned the harassment of Palestinian officials in Jerusalem, saying the move was part of Israel’s efforts to consolidate its grip over the occupied city by not allowing any official Palestinian presence or activity in the city, Wafa reported.

Al-Hadami had been previously arrested in June. His lawyer was then quoted by Wafa as saying that the arrest was related to his accompanying Chilean President Sebastian Pinera during a visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Ghaith has also previously been arrested numerous times by Israeli forces.

“Anyone who is in any way associated with the PA in Jerusalem, they’re routinely arrested because Israel wants to make sure that there is no Palestinian representation in Jerusalem,” Diana Buttu, a Haifa-based analyst and former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators, told Al Jazeera.

Yara Hawari, a Palestine policy fellow at Al-Shabaka think-tank, told Al Jazeera that the arrests are part of a harassment campaign and an attempt to sever Palestinian political connections to the city.

“They’re doing this in multiple ways – culturally, physically and this is a political attempt,” Hawari said.

“The accusations are often levelled against Hadami because of his various activities which include meeting foreign dignitaries or taking people on tours around Jerusalem, so it’s hardly anything that warrants arrest.”

The PA appoints officials for East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed in 1980 in a move never recognised by the international community.

Aside from daily affairs, the role of PA officials in East Jerusalem is mostly symbolic as Israel has full control over the city, which the Palestinians consider as the capital of their future state.

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Palestinian Opposition to Social Security: Revolution or Devolution?

Overview

Social security functions as a safety net to protect workers in cases of illness, injury, and disability, and as a source of income after retirement. Its origins can be traced to the end of the nineteenth century, when Germany introduced the first mandatory social security system in response to workers’ demands for more equity in a capitalist economy. Social movements and labor forces across the globe joined this struggle and over the decades workers gained more rights. 

Today, social security is considered a social and economic human right according to Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is a signatory party to the latter and has an obligation to fulfil the rights enshrined in the covenant.

While the PA has attempted to put a social security system in place in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) for decades, its efforts have come up against various forms of opposition. Most recently, civil society, the private sector, and laborers protested against the PA’s 2016 social security law so vociferously and successfully that in June of 2019 a presidential decree halted the law’s implementation.

Why did Palestinians, including Palestinian workers, fight against a right that other workers around the world have historically fought for? 

This commentary addresses this query through an examination of the neoliberal nature of the social security system proposed as well as the PA’s mismanagement of public funds and the current fiscal crisis. It concludes with thoughts on what a social security law beneficial to the Palestinian people would look like, and the steps needed to achieve it. 

Social Security in the OPT

When the Palestinian Authority was formed via the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Legislative Council began drafting various laws, including the first version of the social security law. The law’s enactment eventually took place in 2003 and was to come into effect in 2007, but that year the World Bank recommended that the PA not enforce the law due to a lack of sustainable funding and high enforcement costs. Moreover, much of the Palestinian private sector opposed the law because it would have required employers to pay contributions to the social security fund and thus bear extra costs. 

The PA followed the World Bank’s recommendation and ultimately annulled the law by a presidential decree in 2007. Analysts speculated that pressure from the Bank and other external organizations seeking to support the private sector, as well as pressure from the private sector itself, brought about the annulment. 1

The second attempt to introduce a social security law in the OPT proved even more controversial. The law – Law by Decree No. 6 of 2016 on Social Security – was drafted with the assistance of the International Labor Organization in a process described by many as lacking in transparency and participation by Palestinian society. Indeed, neither trade unions nor the private sector were consulted. Firas Jaber, a researcher at Al Marsad – the Social and Economic Policies Monitor, argued that civil society organizations’ criticism of the decree’s drafting process stemmed from the absence of justice, fairness, and equality.  

The new law also revealed the PA’s desire to access workers’ salaries. Article VII(4) of the 1994 Paris Protocol – the parameters for the economic relationship between Israel and the OPT – regulates social security deductions from wages of Palestinians who work in Israel. The article mandates that the deductions be transferred to the PA upon the establishment of a social security fund. Many critics have cited this ability of the PA to draw on workers’ wages as a major factor behind its attempts to introduce a social security law in PA-controlled areas. 

The PA initially dismissed opposition to the law. However, as public outrage increased, it began a consultative process that culminated in Law by Decree No. 19 of 2016 on Social Security. This version improved on its predecessor in that it made the PA a guarantor for the fund, thus requiring it to cover any potential fiscal deficit. The new law also gave women the right to maternity leave after making three contributions to the fund, compared to six under the previous law. 

Further, under the previous law workers’ funds from savings accounts, retirement plans, and health insurance plans would be transferred to a supplementary fund for investment. Workers opposed this arrangement because the supplementary fund was to be separate from the social security system and therefore more vulnerable to market risk. The new law did not direct these resources to a supplementary fund, but instead kept them in workers’ institutions. It also stipulated that the supplementary fund would become optional for workers and its management transferred to the social security system. 

Despite these changes, opposition to the law from the Palestinian private sector and its labor force only increased. The private sector’s main concern remained the same, namely that the law would oblige it to pay contributions to the fund. The law would also oblige it to pay minimum wage. According to Palestinian government data, 16% of the Palestinian labor force in the West Bank receives a salary below the official minimum wage. However, it is likely that this percentage is higher due to a lack of PA supervision and enforcement. 


Privatizing social security and placing it in the hands of a high-risk, profit-driven sector carries many risks
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The new law would also have required private sector employers to pay their employees severance. Under Palestinian labor law, workers are entitled to end-of-service benefits in the form of a month’s salary for every year they have worked for their employer. Because the social security law would replace that provision, employers would be obliged to pay all their employees severance – as if they had stopped working – for the new system of contributions and benefits to begin.  

Many small, medium, and large businesses could have failed due to their inability to pay these large sums. Naturally, employers in the private sector were unhappy with any arrangement that would reduce their profits, increase their costs, and potentially close their doors. Yet Palestinian workers also staged many strikes and protests. Though employers may have encouraged their workers to protest due to their economic interests, this should not negate the workers’ interests in opposing the law. The opposition succeeded: On June 28, 2019 a presidential decree froze the law’s implementation. 

Why did Palestinian workers fight against a right that would ostensibly benefit them? The answer lies in the neoliberal nature of the law, as well as the public’s mistrust of the PA.  

Privatizing Social Security 

The framework under which the social security law would operate is of a neoliberal nature, whereby the PA only manages the fund and does not contribute to it. Rather, it would invest it in the private sector. 2 Even in a sovereign state with a more stable economy, such as the once similarly neoliberal Chile, such privatization of social security has proven disastrous

Much like the OPT today, Chile was once a laboratory for neoliberal US ideologies. The Chilean government created a privatized social security system funded solely by contributions from employees. This closely resembles the system proposed in the OPT, though OPT employers would also be required to contribute to the fund. The contributions in Chile were placed in private accounts in the private sector. With the 2008 global economic crisis, the value of these accounts dropped 30-35%, prompting a large-scale reform movement.

Privatizing the social security system and placing it in the hands of a high-risk, profit-driven sector thus carries many risks. In the case of the Palestinian economy, one must also take into consideration its unique external and internal factors. Similar to Wall Street’s financial collapse, the current growth of the Palestinian economy is fueled by an unsustainable expansion in credit to the PA, its employees, and the private sector. 

Palestinian banks, like pre-2008 US banks, have lax lending and credit scoring systems. One only need tour Ramallah, the PA’s administrative capital, to view the glut of high-end cafes, villas, and cars funded by this credit expansion. Many analysts believe that a burst in the OPT’s credit bubble is only a matter of time.

Furthermore, the Palestinian economy is at the mercy of the Israeli occupier who controls borders, trade, Palestinian clearance revenues, and natural resources. At the time that Palestinian workers were protesting the social security law, Israeli raids in West Bank cities, particularly Ramallah, served as a reminder of who in fact controls the OPT.  

Therefore, should the security situation deteriorate, Israeli raids coupled with a curfew could cost the Palestinian economy millions or even billions in lost revenue. Any such losses, whether due to a credit bubble burst or the Israeli occupation, would affect the proposed social security funds that would be placed in Palestinian banks and invested in the Palestinian economy.

Palestinians well understand this situation, and as such they voiced their anger and dissatisfaction with the law – even with the PA pledged as a guarantor of the funds. Indeed, the public’s deep mistrust in the PA’s political and economic functioning spurred its opposition. 

A Corrupt and Incompetent Authority

A 2017 survey indicated that Palestinians view PA corruption as the second largest issue they face, with the economic crisis ranking first and the occupation third. It is therefore hardly a surprise that many Palestinians contend that the lack of public confidence in the PA is a prime reason behind their rejection of the social security law.   

One of the reasons for this is that the PA is built on neopatrimonialism – according to Marwa Fatafta, “a hybrid model in which state structures, laws, and regulations are formally in place but overridden by informal politics and networks of patronage, kinship, and tribalism.” Accordingly, public positions are often offered in accordance with loyalty to those at the top of the political hierarchy rather than because of merit. In this system, officials use their public positions for personal gain and often deploy them as a path to the state’s resources and to strengthen their power or influence. 3


The PA has shown that its survival techniques resemble a game of Russian roulette, with only a matter of time before its luck runs out
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For instance, a 2017 report from the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) documented eight cases in which officials did not pay customs and taxes on their purchase of private vehicles. The amount of wasted public funds reached $357,600, which would have otherwise gone to the public treasury. These funds, the report noted, were sufficient to cover three months of a Ministry of Social Development program that supplies 1,670 needy families with cash resources.

The PA’s inability to manage and act as a guarantor for the Palestinian people’s funds was also made clear in 2016 when it borrowed around $2 billion from the state’s pension fund. This led to a fiscal deficit in the fund and further deteriorated public confidence in the leadership. 

The current fiscal crisis also shows the PA’s short-sighted economic policies. In recent years, the PA has shifted away from donor aid and become more dependent on clearance revenues and credit expansion. While a shift from donor aid may be desirable, these policies, in which the PA has focused on increasing imports and deriving revenue from import taxes to meet the market’s demands, rather than investing in a productive local economy that would become a prime source of revenue through local taxes, are unsustainable. As Yasser Salah has argued, the PA’s shift to revenue from import taxes as a main source of income demonstrates its short-term profit orientation and inability to form long-term development policies.  

The dangers of this approach were demonstrated in February 2019, when the Israeli government implemented a July 2018 law through which the Israeli authorities deduct around 6% (in addition to the 3% they deduct based on the Oslo Accords agreement) from the clearance revenues they collect on behalf of the PA – an amount they deem equivalent to the sum the PA pays to the families of Palestinian martyrs and prisoners. In response, the PA rejected any clearance revenue transfers, which represent 65% of its income and cover over half of its expenditures. To meet its basic obligations and pay public sector employees, the PA began to borrow from local banks, but so far it has only been able to pay 50% to 60% of public employees’ salaries. 

The crisis puts the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian economy’s viability into question. It is hardly surprising that one of the main slogans for the campaign against the social security law was, “This social security law has no security.” Not only has the PA demonstrated that it is incapable of creating egalitarian and beneficial living conditions for Palestinians, it has also shown that its survival techniques more closely resemble a game of Russian roulette, with only a matter of time before its luck runs out.  

Hence the Palestinian public’s anger at the social security law emerged from the PA’s desire to access its population’s salaries, its inability to act as a guarantor, and its long history of mismanagement of public funds. What can be done to reverse – or at least amend – such a course? 

Ways Forward: Accountability and Democracy

A social security law beneficial for the Palestinian people would be very different than the one proposed by the PA. It would first and foremost not be contingent on high-risk private investment mechanisms. Indeed, profit should not even come into play, as the law should be primarily concerned with providing real social security rights to Palestinian workers. Investment should therefore be elective, and the fund would be best managed by workers’ unions. 

Such a social security fund would derive its contributions from the PA, income tax (with those with lower incomes exempt from contributing), and employers, whose contributions above the minimum level required would depend on their profits. This means that if one employer derives more profits than another, it should contribute more than its counterpart. 


The ability of Palestinians to lead a successful campaign against one of the PA’s policies could be the start of a rights movement calling for deeper changes to a deficient and corrupt system
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To create the conditions ripe for such a law, deep changes are required. First, the PA should push for presidential and parliamentary elections and initiate a nationwide campaign to combat corruption on an institutional and individual level. Officials cannot be held accountable to voters in the absence of democracy. Without genuine efforts to combat public corruption, the status quo is likely to remain. Although such reforms will not change the fact that the OPT is under military occupation, genuine efforts by the PA to improve itself are likely to create public trust and support for future policies. 

Efforts are also needed to reach a reconciliation agreement between the two dominant ruling parties, Fatah and Hamas. The division, which has lasted for more than 12 years, has been a major obstacle to the PA’s quasi-state project. When Hamas won the legislative elections in 2006, the PA, headed by Fatah, should have respected the Palestinian people’s decision by not yielding to international boycott and pressure regarding Hamas. The PA should now work to remedy this history by engaging with Hamas politically.  

The campaign against the social security law succeeded in halting the legislation – a great accomplishment. But the win may signal something even more important: the birth of a movement by the Palestinian public. As Majed Al-Arouri wrote, before the social security law, the Palestinian street used to growl but not bite. The ability of Palestinians to lead a successful campaign against one of the PA’s policies could be the start of a rights movement calling for deeper changes to a deficient and corrupt system.    

Notes:

  1. As Rita Giacaman, Islah Jad, and Penny Johnson contend, Oslo has resulted in the institutionalization of the PA as only one actor shaping national economic and social policies, with international organizations, foreign donors, and state parties also exerting significant influence on policymaking.
  2. On paper the social security fund is independent from the PA, though this is not the case in practice as PA employees would run it.
  3. Jamil Hilal, “The Palestinian Political System After Oslo: A Critical Assessment” (in Arabic), Muwatin, second edition, 2006.

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Palestinians preparing for their day in court against Israel

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian leadership moved on several fronts this month to implement its threats to redefine and limit relations with Israel. The PLO took steps toward taking Israel to court on a number of commerce- and labor-related issues and amending the Paris Economic Protocol, the agreement governing the economic relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians have repeatedly accused Israel of violating the provisions of their arrangement.

In March, Palestinian President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had made the decision to resort to international arbitration against Israel. A source at the Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Finance who requested anonymity told Al-Monitor that at the weekly ministerial meeting on Sept. 2, the government had asked Finance Minister Shukri Bishara to prepare cases to submit to the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The following day, Bishara announced that the leadership would ask the court to rule on 11 commercial and financial issues involving Israel and inquire separately into amending the Paris agreement. The file is expected to be officially presented to the court at the end of September.

The commercial issues over which the Palestinians have complaints include obstruction of trade, whereby Israel bans certain Palestinian goods from Jerusalem and Israel and also decides what goods can enter the Palestinian territories. The Paris agreement provides for Palestinian laborers to work in Israel, but Israel has unilaterally barred workers from Gaza from entering to work there. The Palestinians are also prohibited from introducing a national currency, and must instead use the Israeli shekel, the US dollar or the Jordanian dinar.

PLO and Israeli leaders signed the Paris Protocol in 1994 to manage economic relations between them in regard to the West Bank and Gaza during what was supposed to be a five-year transition period, as established in the Oslo Accords. With no peace agreement having been reached between the two sides, the protocol remains in force, covering labor, trade relations, financial relations and financing for the PA. “The protocol has turned the Israeli occupation into a lucrative project,” Bishara charged. Human Rights Watch has reported for instance on how Israeli companies contribute to the confiscation of Palestinian lands to build settlements, which in turn financially benefit from the industrial zones established within their confines.

Amendment of the Paris Protocol became a major issue for the Palestinians in 2017, when, according to PA Finance Ministry figures, Israel withheld some 1.29 billion shekels ($369 millions) from the import tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the PA, as per the agreement. Israel claims the deducted amount is equivalent to the financial support the Palestinian authorities provide Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and their families as well as the families of Palestinians killed in armed attacks against Israel. Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Aug. 29 that Israel collected a total of 3.5 billion shekels (about $984 million) between February and June this year.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki had revealed on Dec. 8 that France, the sponsor of the protocol, had agreed to the Palestinians’ formal request to amend the agreement. Abbas announced on Dec. 28 that Israel had informed the PLO of its preliminary approval for a review of the protocol. In the meantime, Israel has remained silent on the issue.

Ramallah Azmi Abdel Rahman, head of the Policy Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Economy, told Al-Monitor, “The Palestinian leadership is reviewing [all] agreements signed with Israel in light of the latter’s failure to abide by them, namely the Paris Protocol, which was supposed to end in May 1999.”

According to Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, Palestinian losses due to the Israeli occupation and the Paris Protocol amount to $7 billion a year. To cite a few examples, such losses stem in part from the Palestinians being unable to exploit their own lands located in Area C, which is under Israeli administrative and security control. Moreover, Israel does not allow Palestinians to exploit gas fields off Gaza’s shore or the natural resources of the Dead Sea. It also restricts the areas in which Palestinian telecommunications businesses can operate and requires Palestinians to use Israeli-registered companies for certain services.

Abdel Rahman clarified that one of the most serious Israeli transgressions involves the joint economic committee, which is supposed to convene once every six months to follow up on the execution of the Paris agreement and to consider amendments if either party deems it necessary. Israel suspended its work in 2000, after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. The committee has only met once since then, in September 2009, to discuss various issues, including granting visas to Palestinian businessmen to enter Israel and increasing the quantity of Palestinian goods to markets in Jerusalem and other issues.

Nabeel Kassis, a former PA finance minister and head of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute-MAS, told Al-Monitor, “Palestinians believe that this protocol has become more expensive to them and more beneficial to Israel given the fact that Israel does not respect the articles of the protocol.”

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Should Palestinian Citizens of Israel Boycott the Elections?: An Al-Shabaka Debate

Overview

Palestinian citizens of Israel earlier this year organized a campaign to boycott the April Knesset elections. Under the banner of the “Popular Campaign for the Boycott of the Zionist Elections,” the campaign called on Palestinians to refuse participation in the Israeli general elections so as not to recognize the Knesset as a legitimate entity.

As a result – and also due to disillusionment with the Arab Joint List, which had split from four united parties into two competing pairings – Palestinian voter turnout dropped below 50 percent. (Such turnout had been, for instance, 63 percent in 2015). In the run-up to the September 17 elections, the Joint List has again fused, with the hope for a larger Palestinian turnout. Whether the move succeeds remains to be seen, but for those who advocate for a boycott of the elections, the status of the Joint List has little bearing on the argument for non-participation.

On the occasion of the imminent elections, Al-Shabaka is recirculating this roundtable debate, first published in April 2019, in which Al-Shabaka Policy Analyst Nijmeh Ali and Al-Shabaka Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari argue against and for boycotting Knesset elections, respectively.

What do Palestinian citizens of Israel gain by participating in the Israeli elections? By boycotting them?

Nijmeh Ali: Participating in the elections allows Palestinians to organize themselves internally, conduct political debates, and lobby for their civic and national rights in Israel and beyond. Participation should not be viewed as a position of principle, but rather as a tactic to use until opportunities arise to adopt more far-reaching strategies. Essentially, Palestinians must ensure that suitable political ground is created, as the act of rejection without constructing a solid alternative establishes a political passivity that is dangerous for a colonized, occupied, and oppressed people.

For instance, boycotting the elections could result in the dwindling of the Arab parties, which would lead to a leadership vacuum. Despite criticism and frustrations, parties still operate as the main organizing mechanism for political, social, civil, and national issues. Weakened parties would likely lead to the strengthening of familial and sectarian communities and their  political organizing mechanisms, such as the hamula (clan) and mukhtars (elders). These mechanisms have historically been vulnerable to co-optation by the Israeli regime and encourage fragmentation.

The leadership vacuum could also be filled by Palestinians who operate within Zionist parties. These figures, who have been active since 1948, polish Israel’s democratic image without presenting challenges to it. With the state’s support they would be poised to take on more prominence: 16.8% of Palestinians already voted for Zionist parties in the last elections – the lowest percentage since 1948.


Electoral rejection without constructing a solid alternative establishes a political passivity that is dangerous for a colonized, occupied, and oppressed people
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The elections are therefore not simply an electoral battle, but one over Palestinian representation more broadly. With the strengthening of familial and sectarian mechanisms and the “Arab Zionist” model of leadership likely results of a successful boycott, it is more important than ever for Palestinians to maintain electoral participation.

Yara Hawari: Far from being a sign of apathy, election boycotts are a political tool used to convey an electorate’s dissatisfaction and disaffection. Indeed, other colonized, oppressed, or marginalized groups have used abstention or casting blank ballots as an expression of rejection. For instance, Sinn Fein – the largest republican party in Northern Ireland – takes part in the British elections but refuses to sit in the British House of Commons or vote on any bills in rejection of the centuries-old British claim of sovereignty over Northern Ireland. Black South Africans fighting for liberation from colonial apartheid also did not seek inclusion within the system, but rather sought to dismantle it and create a new, just, and fair one. In this way, they directed their energies toward a political alternative rather than “patching up” a broken system.

Boycotting the Israeli Knesset elections follows a similar ideological stance in that it refuses the legitimacy of the colonial political institution. It explains that the elections serve to bolster the image of Israel as a democracy, while in fact at least 65 laws indirectly or directly discriminate against and target Palestinians in all areas of life, including the Nakba Law, which allows the Israeli finance minister to reduce or withdraw funding from any institution that marks Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning. Moreover, Israeli electoral law does not allow for the participation of those that question the Jewish character of the state of Israel, meaning that Knesset members cannot challenge Israel’s definition of being both Jewish and democratic.

How does the historical context of Palestinian political participation inform your stance?

Nijmeh Ali: Historically, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been willing to participate in the political process, even in moments of tension and alienation. From 1949 to 1973, average voter turnout among Palestinians in Israel was 86%, though this was mainly due to the military rule imposed on them between 1948 and 1966. The dominant Israeli Labor Party, Mapai, maintained its hegemony for 30 years and controlled the Palestinian vote by creating affiliated Arab lists headed by co-opted leaders who would guarantee the party virtually all Palestinian votes.

After the end of military rule and the events of Land Day (March 30, 1976), Palestinians’ political awareness increased, and the average voter turnout remained high at 72%. While voter turnout declined during the 1990s and after the Second Intifada, it rose again in 2015 with the creation of the Joint Arab list. Turnout in those elections rose to 64%, with the vast majority (82%) casting their ballots for the list. This history signals Palestinians’ embrace of the political process, which should be capitalized on rather than stifled.

Further, the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was able to move the peace process forward in the 1990s because of Arab parties, which had five seats in the Knesset and helped maintain Rabin’s small coalition of 58 seats, which needed the minimum of 61 to pass any law. This example demonstrates how Palestinian citizens of Israel can use political power effectively when the circumstances allow it – either by bolstering or blocking a coalition’s influence.

The massive efforts of the right wing to marginalize the Palestinians aims to prevent them from practicing this power. This was clear in 2014 when the Knesset voted to increase the electoral threshold to 3.25%, with the aim of excluding small parties from the Knesset. The Arabs’ response was the formation of the Arab Joint list, which was comprised of four small parties. Legal actions also continue to marginalize Arab parties, including attempts to ban political lists and candidates from election participation. 1 

Yara Hawari: The Palestinian citizens of Israel have always been a politically active community. In the 1950s and 1960s, voter turnout reached as high as 90%, with the aim of making as many political gains as possible in the hope that full and equal citizenship could be achieved. In the 1990s the Abnaa al Balad movement began organizing calls to boycott the Knesset elections in response to Israel’s military attacks in southern Lebanon. 2 The 2001 prime minister election saw Palestinian voter turnout plunge to only 18%, and of those, a third cast blank ballots. This was in response to the events of October 2000, when Israeli soldiers gunned down 13 Palestinians in the streets, 12 of whom were Israeli citizens, who were protesting in solidarity with demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Far from being a sign of apathy, election boycotts are a well-used political tool
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Yet history also shows that regardless of electoral participation the Palestinian citizens of Israel have not made any significant gains within the Israeli political system. This is particularly demonstrated through land and space, as no new Arab towns or villages have been built since 1948, and building permits are frequently denied. In contrast, the Israeli government is constantly building new Jewish-only neighborhoods and settlements. This has resulted in overcrowding of Palestinian Arab areas, with many Palestinians resorting to building without “permission.” Palestinian Arabs are also not permitted to buy property in most of the country and are even prevented from residing in certain communities by admissions committees that can deem their ethnicity or religion “unsuitable.” And while some Palestinians have achieved senior positions in Israeli institutions, including a judge on the Supreme Court and an ambassador, their cases are exceptions that prove the rule. Thus, the Israeli system does not allow for non-Jewish equity. As a result its glass ceiling cannot be broken within the current political framework.

How do recent events such as the passing of the nation-state law and the dissolution of the Arab Joint List come into play?

Nijmeh Ali: The nation-state law embedded Jewish supremacy and Palestinian inferiority by defining Israel as a state for Jews only. It does this through privileging Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens legally, symbolically, and politically – turning the reality of segregated life into an official apartheid state. It also reflects the political reality in Israel, which has seen the rise of the right and the inability of the Arab Joint List to counter this rise alone. It is crucial to reconsider broad coalitions and to push for structural change in Israeli politics.

However, the Joint List did succeed in creating public awareness of the implications of the law as well as a significant political debate. Thousands of Palestinians and progressive Jewish citizens took to the streets in Tel Aviv to protest the law, led by various Palestinian political leaders. Apartheid terminology is now consistently deployed in Israeli political debates at an institutional level. Though the dissolution of the Joint List was disappointing it was not surprising because the list was constructed mainly for electoral reasons. The most obvious implications of its demise will be the likely loss of voters and Knesset seats. After the election, if both Arab lists (Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-United Arab List) pass the threshold, they are likely to work together as they did during the multi-parties era.


Palestinian citizens of Israel can act when circumstances guarantee mass support politically and on the ground
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Yara Hawari: The passing of the nation-state law in 2018 and comments by Netanyahu affirm that Israel is a state for Jews alone. Unlike the international community, many Palestinians were not shocked by the law or Netanyahu’s comments, as they simply confirmed what is already in place in order to appease the growing Israeli right. However, the law and the commentary about it did highlight more than ever that Palestinians will never be considered equal citizens of the state, particularly while Israel’s separation between citizenship and nationality allows for discrimination against non-Jews.

The nation-state law also highlighted a failure of the political representation of the Palestinian community inside Israel. The Arab Joint List failed to muster a strong response. Several of the Palestinian Knesset members boycotted the parliament for a short period, and others led the rally against the law in Tel Aviv, but they did not present a collective strategy. They could have, for example, collectively refused to sit in the Knesset but continued to run in the elections to maintain their electoral mandate (similar to Sinn Fein, as discussed above). Earlier this year the Joint List dissolved, a reflection of an internal struggle of egos within the various parties. In this context, it is clearer than ever that Palestinians must pursue political mobilization outside the Israeli system.

What role does voting or boycotting have in the continuous and future struggle for Palestinian liberation?

Nijmeh Ali: Participation in the elections is a double-edged sword. Israel uses its Palestinian presence to prove that it is a democracy, at least rhetorically. However, what really threatens Israel is a Palestinian who is a producer at all levels, who is economically independent and pays the bills every month without relying on Israeli national insurance. This is the model that can break the hierarchical relationship between master and slave and rearrange the boundaries of the political game. The greater the strength and influence of the Palestinians in Israel – through their presence as consumers, taxpayers, and a core component of the labor force – the greater the impact of their protests in the future (and the more racism they will be targeted with). Thus change that can bolster the Palestinian citizens of Israel should involve establishing an internal financial support system related to a strategic plan of protest.

Maintaining political parties and engagement in the political system, such as voting, should also be a priority, at least in the short to medium term. It would be risky to demand a change in the political mechanism today. Leaving the Knesset cannot be done without planning. In the context of an exhausted society that lacks confidence in its leadership, a strategic political plan, and regional and international support, change must be considered carefully.

Palestinian citizens of Israel must set aside the romantic notion of sumud (steadfastness) in order to politicize and mobilize their masses, establishing links between daily needs and national demands, between the private and the public, and between the civil and the political.

With economic and political mechanisms in place, Palestinians can act when circumstances guarantee mass support politically and on the ground. Otherwise, Palestinians will fall into a trap of political passivity and chaos.

Yara Hawari: Recent political maneuvers in Israel do not reveal anything new; rather, they reaffirm the state’s position, which sees Palestinians as a fifth column to be tolerated only if they remain segregated, ghettoized, and passive. It has never been timelier for Palestinian citizens to reject this structure and to demand that their political leadership do so as well.


Boycotting the Knesset elections must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel
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Yet boycotting the Knesset elections does not, on its own, qualify as a strategy. Rather, it must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Those wanting to help create a new Palestinian political strategy must harness the momentum gained from boycotting to develop alternative political spaces outside of Israeli institutional politics. One practical way to do this is for people to organize meetings on the day of the elections to discuss the revival of a collective strategy and the steps needed to implement it. All of this, however, must also be done in the larger political context of the Palestinian people and their fragmented communities.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel must reaffirm their place in the Palestinian project for sovereignty, asserting that they are part of the struggle and not simply an internal Israeli affair. Their intimate experience with Israel places them in a strong position to take a leading role in discussions about new political models and leadership structures. In this way, they could radically contribute to changing the discourse on who and what is Palestine, paving the way for Palestinians across all geographies to unite and demand the fulfillment of their quest for self-determination and human rights.   

Notes:

  1. The Central Elections Committee disqualified the Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List and Ofer Cassif, a member of political alliance Hadash-Ta’al, from running in the April 2019 elections. The decision was referred to the Supreme Court for approval. On March 17, 2019, the Supreme Court reversed the Central Elections Committee decision.
  2. Abnaa al Balad is a Palestinian political movement established by university students in the 1970s. The movement called for the end of the occupation of the 1967 territories, the return of Palestine’s refugees, and the establishment of one secular and democratic entity in historic Palestine that would not be based on ethno-religious rights. Ideologically, Abnaa al Balad is close to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

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Focus On: International Aid to Palestine

The Trump Administration’s decision to cut aid to the Palestinians and cease USAID operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) must serve as a wake-up call for Palestinian policymakers to lay the Oslo Accords aid model to rest. Neither this model nor the masses of aid funds that have poured into Palestine – more than $35 billion since 1993 – have brought Palestinians closer to freedom, self-determination, or statehood, or provided for sustainable development. In fact, the opposite has been the case: Palestinians are forced to live in an aid-development paradox, with increased amounts of aid associated with major declines in socioeconomic and development indicators.

In this selection of pieces, Al-Shabaka policy analysts examine the effectiveness of international aid to Palestine, problematize its consequences and the harmful ramifications of aid dependency, and suggest ways forward to reform and re-invent Palestinian aid. The analysts argue that development cannot be understood as a mere technocratic, apolitical, and neutral process. Rather, it must be recognized as operating within relations of colonial dominance and rearticulated as linked to the struggle for rights, resistance, and emancipation.

The Failure of Aid

Donor Complicity in Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights

By Nora Lester Murad 

Nora Lester Murad elucidates donor practices that violate basic human rights, outlines eight questions that must be asked about aid complicity, and suggests mechanisms for oversight of the aid industry. Read more…

Persistent Failure: World Bank Policies for the Occupied Palestinian Territories

By Alaa Tartir and Jeremy Wildeman 

Alaa Tartir and Jeremy Wildeman assess the World Bank’s irrelevant and sometimes harmful policy recommendations and argue that until the Bank better understands the real conditions of Israeli occupation, it will continue to provide unrealistic recommendations that are based on a long-dead era of Oslo rapprochement. Read more…

Unmasking “Aid” After the Palestine Papers

By Samer Abdelnour

Samer Abdelnour examines the integral role played by the aid industry in ensuring the de-development of the Palestinian economy and argues that in the absence of accountability mechanisms the aid industry will continue to be complicit in the deliberate devastation of the people it claims to serve. Read more…

The Reinvention of Aid 

Can Oslo’s Failed Aid Model Be Laid to Rest?

By Jeremy Wildeman and Alaa Tartir 

Jeremy Wildeman and Alaa Tartir argue that donors are reinforcing failed past patterns associated with the so-called peace dividends model while making only cosmetic changes to their engagement. Read more…

Defeating Dependency, Creating a Resistance Economy

By Alaa Tartir, Sam Bahour, and Samer Abdelnour

Alaa Tartir, Sam Bahour, and Samer Abdelnour point to the need to consider how Palestinians can institutionalize and eventually create a bureaucracy around a democratic people-driven development agenda, and argue that any new Palestinian economic vision must embrace dignity in aid. Read more…

A New Model for Palestinian Development

By Samer Abdelnour

Samer Abdelnour analyzes Oslo-inspired pitfalls of Palestinian development and misguided donor attempts to promote private sector development, and argues that a Sustainable Local Enterprise Networks (SLENs) approach to development and reconstruction can work in the Palestinian context. Read more…

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How will the Joint List fare in Israel’s snap election?

Less than six months since Israelis went to the polls, September 17 will see a fresh national election after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure a governing coalition last time around.

For Israel’s myriad political parties, the unusual rerun represents an opportunity to correct strategic errors made during the April vote.

Those hoping to benefit include parliamentarians representing Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Before April’s vote, an electoral alliance of four smaller Palestinian parties had split into two competing pair-ups, leading to a weaker-than-expected showing in the polls as the Hadash-Taal alliance picked up six seats, while the United Arab List-Balad bloc won four.

But legislators from all four parties have reformed the Joint List alliance ahead of next month’s polls in a bid to boost voter turnout in the Palestinian community and secure more seats in the Knesset.

When the same parties combined on a single slate for the 2015 election, the alliance secured 13 seats, making it the third biggest bloc in the Knesset at the time.

Disjointed list

The disintegration of the Joint List began in February when Taal’s Ahmad Tibi announced his party would run independently. Soon afterwards, the rest of the list fragmented.

As well as ideological differences, much of the infighting within the Joint List had centred around the allocation of Knesset seats to the constituent parties. The dismal showing in April, however, convinced the four parties of the need to reunite, which they eventually did.

“It was clear that our people punished us for splitting apart,” Haneen Zoabi, stepped away from national politics this year after a decade in the Knesset with the Balad party, told Al Jazeera.

Amjad Iraqi, a policy analyst at Al-Shabaka think-tank, told Al Jazeera “the parties realised early on that they had made a grave mistake by breaking up the List.”

In the days preceding the April vote, “party members were in panic trying to get Palestinian citizens out to vote”, he said. “Though the two slates managed to scrape past the threshold, the damage was evident,” he added.

But analysts and voters are sceptical as to whether the newly-reconstituted Joint List will repeat the success of 2015.

Ibrahim, from Nazareth, voted for Hadash-Taal in April and says he will vote for the Joint List this time, despite frustrations with recent events.

“I think everyone is disappointed with what happened,” the 33-year-old told Al Jazeera. “They should concentrate on actually representing us, instead of focusing on getting more seats for each party.”

“This is the last chance I will give them,” he said, adding that he did not expect them to get as many votes as in 2015.

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An Artist’s Ode to Al-Shabaka

The Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata has created a work of art dedicated to Al-Shabaka, the global Palestinian think tank. All proceeds of its sale are going to support our mission.

The artist dedicated this limited edition of a silkscreen print to Al-Shabaka because of his belief in our unique role in establishing a platform for solid Palestinian analysis and debate across borders and walls, helping to transform the difficulties of dispersal into an intellectual  force.

Titled Qasida, the print’s geometric components mirror the rhythmic structure of the classical Arabic ode. The silkscreen is hand-printed on acid-free MultiArt Silk, 400 gr. and produced in the studios of Martin Samuel in Berlin in a limited deluxe edition of 50, titled, dated, numbered and signed by the artist with 10 artist’s proofs noted in Roman numerals.  

To acquire a copy of this exclusive print please email [email protected]

About Kamal Boullata

The award-winning Palestinian artist and writer Kamal Boullata was born in Jerusalem. In her review of his book Palestinian Art From 1850 to the Present, the British art critic Jean Fisher wrote, “Kamal Boullata’s magnum opus stands alongside the works of Mahmoud Darwish and Edward Said as a testimony to a Palestinian generation that refused to relinquish its faith in a just and radical humanism.”

Public collections holding Kamal Boullata’s paintings, prints and artist books include the British Museum, London; the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arab Art, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Patronato de la Alhambra Islamic Museum, Granada; Khalid Shoman Foundation, Amman; New York Public Library, New York; Bibliothèque National de France, Paris; Bibliothèque Louis Notari, Monaco; Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah; Zimmerli Art Museum, Rudgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; Birzeit University Museum, Birzeit; Library of Congress, Washington, DC;  Centre Canadien d’Archtecture, Montreal.

About Al-Shabaka

Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network was founded in 2009 and is an independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. It draws upon the knowledge and experience of the Palestinian people, whether under occupation, in exile, or in Israel, so as to engage the broadest spectrum of perspectives in debate on policy and strategy to promote freedom, justice, and equality. It communicates its findings and recommendations to policymakers, civil society, and the media worldwide.

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