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The Joint List and the weakness of a 'lobby' mentality

Palestinians are not in need of deceptive 'achievements' in parliament, but require a united front that will shake the walls of Israel's apartheid regime
Former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz speaks in Tel Aviv on 26 September (AFP)

The political landscape within 1948 Palestine has been dominated lately by a dangerous mentality, best represented by those advocating the unprecedented move to recommend the former army chief and the leader of the “Kahul Lavan” electoral list, Benny  Gantz, for the role of the Israeli prime minister.  

This is the "lobby" mentality, one that exercises pressure within an existing regime - especially in an electoral system of proportional representation- to push for the interests of a certain group of citizens. While this happens routinely, it becomes problematic when the focus shifts to personalities rather than principles, and populism over ideology.

The lobby approach might work in a democratic state that offers equal citizenship, and when the lobby is unified over the general objectives. Both conditions are absent in the case of the Palestinian citizens in Israel. They are not equal citizens. Arabs remain poorer than their Israeli Jewish counterparts, colonialism has become more entrenched over the years, and the political system has shifted further towards the far right.

On tactics

The lobby mentality in Israel has turned the Joint List, the political alliance representing Arab citizens, into a faint copy of Haredi Jewish parties. These parties are in accord with the structure and foundation of the existing order, with their demands confined to civic and fiscal gains. Their main dispute with other political groups is limited to the definition and application of the state's Jewish character.

Even if Gantz represented a genuine shift in governance, the fundamental societal inequities would persist

Here, there is a rationale for a special-interest group serving marginalised citizens. But the Joint List knows it will never be part of the decision-making process At best, it is aiming for backroom influence, with no real public voice.

The Joint List has reportedly come up with a list of demands as its members' conditions for recommending Gantz as the country's next prime minister. Yet, the fundamental problems plaguing Palestinians - including economic subordination, over-securitisation and land theft - are not rooted in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption or neoliberalism or populism; even if Gantz represented a genuine shift in governance, the fundamental societal inequities would persist.

Land confiscation

Violence and poverty within Arab communities will not be solved by increasing the number of police officers on the streets. Land confiscation is the main driver of Palestinian suffering, and this is linked to the state's Jewish identity. Will Gantz has pledged to keep, with a few tweaks, Israel's controversial nation-state law, which enshrines Jewish supremacy.

The leader of the Joint List declared that they were inspired by the 1992-94 experience of an Arab bloc supporting the Yitzhak Rabin Government so it would not lose a vote of no confidence. Yet, even if  Gantz  were like former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, we saw what the Oslo regime broughtprocess led to an increase in the number of in terms of more settlements and settlers, repeated colonial wars against residents of the massive open-airbesieged in the Occupied Territories in order to maintain “peace” in this mass prison. 

The leaders of the Joint List declared that they were inspired by the 1992-94 experience of an Arab bloc supporting the Yitzhak Rabin Government so it would not lose a vote of no confidence. Yet, even if  Gantz  were like Rabin, we saw what the Oslo regime process led to an increase in the number of  settlements and settlers, repeated colonial wars against residents of the massive besieged in the Occupied Territories in order to maintain “peace” in this mass prison. of Gaza.

Israel’s separation wall is pictured on 17 January (AFP)
Israel’s separation wall is pictured on 17 January (AFP)

In this context, what is the role of the Joint List?The lobby mentality entails overemphasis on tactics to the detriment of strategy. In particular, the emphasis on parliamentary politics unduly restricts the field of political action within the confines of formal citizenship. The issue here is not just about the merits or downsides of an electoral boycott, but rather about our conception of the role of parliamentary political activity as part of our vision for the state.

In light of this, the Joint List’s objective of "influence" is misguided. Is increasing the party’s seat count an important goal in and of itself, regardless of the positions and principles of those elected?

Leading figures within the Joint List say that it represents the democratic current in Israel. But we have been given no clear indication as to what makes the parties in this alliance democratic. Not every Arab coalition is democratic or leftist, and there are right-leaning and left-leaning stances on many issues, dividing members of the Joint List. 

Enduring colonialism

The push to "bring Netanyahu down" has removed from the political landscape the larger problems inherent in the Israeli regime. Such reductionism is a tactical game; the objective becomes retribution against Netanyahu personally, rather than opposition to Israeli policies writ large.

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The lobby mentality, which has led to the rush towards recommending Gantz to form a government in which the Arabs will play no real role, is deeply flawed. At best, Gantz will form a government alongside Avigdor Lieberman and the Likud party, and its policies will be governed by its constituents, rather than by undeclared or unofficial promises. 

The problem is not just whether recommending - or failing to recommend - the hawkish Gantz will make another war. The problem is much simpler: backing Gantz to oust Netanyahu without the benefit of gaining any genuine political influence. Netanyahu will fall, but colonialism will remain.

The lobby mentality is, in reality, a cover for the "integration current" among Arab citizens, which views Israel's problem as being solely in the intensification of the Zionist right-wing, rather than in Zionism as a whole. 

Integration discourse

In the past, this current has called for voting for the former Prime Minister Shimon Peres (1996) and former prime minister Ehud Barak, under dull slogans like "no neutrality in hell" and "preferring the bad over the worst". Yet, the main focus has been on the demands of Arab citizens of Israel, accepting that a radical difference exists between Palestinians on the inside and those in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Oddly, this integration discourse has persisted, despite the fact that Israeli policies since Oslo have continually weakened the line between those Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and those who are not.

Without collective thinking and a departure from the predicament of the tactical approach, we will not move forward

The shift in the Israeli Zionist landscape towards the right, and towards populism, means that the entire political map has shifted rightwards - not only due to the weaknesses of left-leaning parties, but also because of their alliances and political positions. The champions of the tactical approach will discover, sooner rather than later, that theirs is an out-dated and misplaced policy. 

The more the space for their action shrinks inside Israel, they will have to trumpet illusionary and minuscule achievements with great fanfare.  

It is time to think beyond the tactical approach to toward long-term political action. We don’t want deceptive “achievements”, but rather a united front that will shake the walls of Israel’s apartheid regime.

There are no ready made solutions, but without collective thinking and a departure from the predicament of the tactical approach, we will not move forward.

A longer version of this article was published in  Arabic in Arab48.com website.

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

Nimer Sultany
Nimer Sultany is Reader in Public Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He holds a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Harvard Law School. Prior to joining SOAS, he was the director of the Political Monitoring Project at Mada al-Carmel- The Arab Centre for Applied Social Research. He published extensively on constitutional theory, comparative constitutionalism, and Israeli jurisprudence. His book: "Law and Revolution: Legitimacy and Constitutionalism After the Arab Spring (Oxford University Press, 2017) won the 2018 Book Prize awarded by the International Society of Public Law and the 2018 Peter Birks Prize for Outstanding Legal Scholarship awarded by the Society of Legal Scholars.