West Bank Palestinians should demand the right to vote in Israel

SHARE West Bank Palestinians should demand the right to vote in Israel

A view of Jerusalem’s old city is seen Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

When President Trump on Wednesday officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he broke with decades of U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Palestinian leaders have expressed shock and anger at the unilateral announcement, but Trump’s decision actually provides Palestinians with a rare opportunity.

By shattering the status quo, Trump gave Palestinians the opportunity to create a new reality because the simple truth is that the status quo was not working in the Palestinians’ favor anyway.


In his speech at the White House, President Trump explained his decision by saying, “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.” Indeed, now that the Palestinians have the freedom to forge a new status quo, it should be one that begins by recognizing some important realities.

The first of these is that the United States was never really an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For decades, as argued by senior American officials, the U.S. has served as “Israel’s lawyer.” Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem was simply an open acknowledgement of this fact.

Second, Israel may dismantle a few token settlements, but the majority of settlements likely will remain exactly where they are. Every Israeli government, whether led by Likud or Labor, has promoted and supported the settlement movement. No American or European government, right or left, has placed any serious pressure on Israel to dismantle the settlements.

With so much pressure to build settlements and so little pressure to dismantle settlements, it is unsurprising that the illegal settlements continue to spread throughout the West Bank. And as long as the settlements remain in place, the Palestinians can never have a viable state.

Third, Israel never had any intention of granting the Palestinians a viable state anyway. At most, Israel intended to grant the Palestinians a ‘state-minus’, and in this state-minus Israel would retain control of the airways above it, the aquifers below it, and the borders around it. The new Palestinian ‘state-minus’ would have been little more than a glorified municipal authority.

Fourth, the Palestinian Authority began with good intentions but ultimately became the face of the occupation. To fulfill its obligations under the Oslo Accords, the PA created a massive security force, one of the largest in the world per capita, whose primary task was to make sure the Palestinians did not use violence against Israel. Israel, which promised to turn over the West Bank to the Palestinians at Oslo, instead took advantage of the PA enforced peace to rapidly build illegal settlements deep into the West Bank.

Given these realities, what options do the Palestinians now have? One bold option stems from the recognition of one last reality. For the past 50 years the state of Israel has held sovereignty over all those who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, yet Israel grants citizenship and the right to vote only to a little under two-thirds of the population under its sovereign control.

Perhaps it is time to change this. Perhaps it is time for the Palestinians to demand the right to vote in the state that has ruled them for over half a century. If Jerusalem is to be the capital of Israel, then so be it. But let it be the capital of a democratic, multi-ethnic Israel that respects the rights and dignity of all who live under its sovereign rule.

Sheena Anne Arackal holds a master’s degree from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, and a doctorate in political science from the University of Illinois. Now based in Tampa, Florida, she specializes in the field of ethnic conflict and is the author of a forthcoming book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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