In the past few days, Haaretz reported that all the major coalition partners in the incoming government have agreed that one of their orders of business will be to raise the threshold (related Hebrew article by a different reporter) necessary for a political party to enter the Knesset. The current rate is 2% (here are the parties’ various election results). 2% of the vote merits two MKs. The new government will raise the rate to 4%. That means that parties like Kadima, Hadash, and the Palestinian parties are in danger of losing representation in future Knessets.
This is a neat trick: to the victors go the spoils. The big parties get to gang up on the small and throw them out of future legislative bodies. It means those Goliaths would get a bigger slice of the pie. Given that Israeli politics is largely patronage-based, it means the party leaders get to be even more like Don Corleone than they already are.
The small parties have only a few choices, none of them good. They can fold their mission into a larger party. In the case of Israeli Palestinians they can unite their four parties into one. But they would do so at the price of compromising the political diversity they currently express through the multiplicity of parties. As a result of this homogenization, it’s likely that Palestinian vote would decline even lower than the current rate (56%). That will mean the further disenfranchisement of Israeli Palestinians.
Personally, I’m not sure why the smaller parties including Israeli Palestinians don’t just boycott the election entirely. How does it really benefit them to participate in such a sham? What power or benefit do they derive from it? By refusing, they would be able to turn to the world and say: you see, this is a democracy? This place which denies us the means to express ourselves freely politically? Such a message would further discredit Israel and bring one step closer the day when transformation will have to occur. To be clear, since I’m not Palestinian it’s not for me to say what they should do. I don’t live under Occupation or have to scrape by as a second-class citizen. So those decisions are for them to make.
Disenfranchising Palestinians through raising the election threshold should not be troubling at all to the new government or the settler-politicians who lead it. In fact, they will welcome it because it will turn Israel even further toward an exclusivist Jewish state than it already is. There are still a few liberals left in Israel. If they are clear-headed enough, they might feel some disquiet at this development. If they remember their history they’ll remember Pastor Niemoller who said that by the time the Nazis had come for the Communists, workers, and then him–it was too late to put up a fight.
Liberal Zionists, despite their protestations to the contrary don’t care much for Israeli Palestinians except as a proof that Israeli democracy exists. If they do believe in such a thing, they ought to resist this new proposal with all their hearts. Because once they throw Hadash, Balad and Kadima out of the Knesset, they’ll come for Meretz. Once they’ve gobbled up Meretz they’ll come for Labor and so on. Till there will be no one left but settlers and their friends.