Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

48 Palestinians: Political Currents & Israeli Elections

The 48 Palestinians political parties that participate in the Israeli elections had different approaches to possible achievements for Palestinian Arabs.

48 Palestinians
Ayman Odeh of Israel’s Arab Front for Change (Hadash/Taal) list (C) arrives to address supporters in Shefa Amr after Israeli election polls closed, on November 1, 2022. AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Majed Kayali

Most 48 Palestinians participate in the Knesset elections through their representing political parties. Some, however, boycott the Israeli elections for political reasons. They feel participation is useless since Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens and Israel is for the Jews. They base this opinion on a 2018 Knesset law that stated that Israel is the nation-state of the Jews. Under this law, only Jews can decide Israel’s fate and treat the Palestinians, the original owners of the land, as expatriates or aliens.

The 48 Palestinians political parties that participate in the Israeli elections had different approaches to possible achievements for Palestinian Arabs. Their perceptions of themselves, the Palestinians, and their rights also vary. This disagreement has prevented participation in the elections as a unified coalition. Consensus would have strengthened the power of Palestinians’ votes, allowing them to obtain the maximum possible number of seats and to play a role in Israel’s political arena.

Three political lists seek to exploit the available democratic margin in the Israeli elections. Each party holds different political views on how to best utilise it.

The first is the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), headed by Ayman Odeh. The Front had allied itself with the Ta’al, headed by Ahmed Tibi. The Front, led by the Israeli Communist Party, is historically considered the epicentre of the movement of the 48 Palestinians. Its previous leaders include poets, writers and intellectuals such as Tawfiq Ziad, Emile Habibi, Emile Touma, Tawfiq Tibi and Mohamed Baraka.

The movement’s foundation is based on recognising and engaging with Israel within the framework of citizenship and on promoting political participation. In doing so, it seeks to influence Israel from within through civil and national rights, as permitted by the Israeli political system. The Front combines citizenship in Israel with the rejection of the 1967 occupation. It calls for establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as the basis for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Ahmed Tibi’s Arab Movement for Renewal and the Front have converging political visions. However, the Movement enjoys the support of the official Palestinian leadership.

In total, around 179,000 people voted for the Hadash-Ta’al list in the November 2022 election, representing five seats in the Knesset. Nevertheless, this is a substantial loss compared to the over 193,000 votes it received in the April 2019 elections.

The second party is the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), headed by Sami Abu Shehadeh. Balad was founded in 1996 as an initiative by several Palestinian intellectuals and academics, such as Azmi Bishara and some activists from the Abnaa el-Balad movement. This party recognises Israel as a colonial, racist state and sees the ‘48 Palestinians as part of the wider Palestinian population. It differs from other Palestinian political entities in Israel as it self-identifies as part of the Palestinian nationalism movement.

The National Democratic Assembly seeks to transform Israel into a state for its citizens by the “de-zionisation” of the current colonial apartheid regime. The Knesset is seen as a platform for conflict with Israeli policies, not a substitute for the popular struggle.

Despite receiving nearly 140,000 votes in the last elections, Balad did not reach the 3.25 per cent threshold allowing entry to the Knesset. The party was subjected to an Israeli offensive to weaken and restrict its participation in the election. Other Palestinian movements in Israel also launched a campaign to isolate the party for its stances. Part of this campaign was Balad’s arbitrary exclusion from the Joint List.

The decision may have resulted from the Joint List’s desire to eliminate the embarrassment that Balad might have caused in naming the Israeli prime minister. Balad had previously, while it was part of the Joint List, refused to participate in naming the prime minister.

The third coalition is the United Arab List. This list represents the Southern branch of the Islamic Movement headed by Mansour Abbas. The United Arab List had left the Joint List for the 24th election of the Knesset. It was able to win four seats.

The Southern branch of the Islamic Movement does not represent the entire Islamist movement among the ‘48 Palestinians. It calls for full integration into the Israeli political system and considers “Israelisation” as a fait accompli. It also calls for focusing only on individual rights and generating gains for the Palestinian citizens of Israel regardless of political or national goals.

The United Arab List saw an increase in popularity after the March 2021 elections, becoming the most significant current among the participating Arab forces. It maintained this position during the last elections, winning five seats in the Knesset with 194,000 votes, over 20,000 more than during the previous election.

Indeed, a fourth voice calls for the boycott of Israeli elections. Despite its strength among the 48 Palestinians, the power representing it is scattered and divided. The percentage of Arab participation in the last elections reached 55%, compared to 43% in the 2021 elections. When assuming that the other half of eligible voters are boycotting the elections, then this voice has a tangible presence in the political life of the ‘48 Palestinians.

These Palestinians refuse to deal with Israel and believe conflict should take place outside the Israeli Knesset, thereby not reflecting their voting power in the Knesset. The boycott movement does not see a point in participating in elections. It believes there will be no benefit on the individual level or for national rights. The movement includes leftists, nationalists (Abnaa el-Balad) and Islamists (Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement) led by Sheikh Raed Salah.

On the whole, there is disagreement on how to exploit the democratic margin in Israel and on the nature of participation in the Knesset. Some entities view participation in the Knesset as the only form of struggle, while others view it as one of the many forms of struggle. In contrast, some use the Knesset to seek influence and status.

Moreover, there is the issue of how these entities compete with each other. They should prioritise the conflict with Israel above the conflict amongst themselves. And finally, these entities must manage their differing visions of their relationship with the national movement, the Palestinian people and the Palestinian people’s cause in general.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our writers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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