New Israeli laws could have detrimental effect on Palestinians

An article on a set of Israeli bills recently voted into law and their impact on Palestinians, published in Al-Akhbar English in March 2014.

Israel’s parliament began voting on Tuesday on a package of controversial laws which could fundamentally affect Palestinians within Occupied Palestine, as well as jeopardize any future peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.

The package deal put forward by Israel’s leading right-wing political coalition include a governance law, and a law on the military draft of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Both passed on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

The Knesset is also expected to pass a third law in the deal on Thursday, which would put any attempt to withdraw from territories seized in 1967 up for a national referendum.

The fast pace of the legislation votes just ahead of a parliamentary recess has raised ire among the political opposition, which has boycotted the process.

“The big story for us is the bullying way in which everything is being passed in three days, as though this was an emergency,” Eyal Shviki, the spokesman for opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog,told Times of Israel.

Herzog said on Sunday, while announcing the opposition boycott, that the bills were driven by “hatred, discrimination, and a desire to keep out certain parties and end debate in the Knesset.”

But while the new law getting the most media attention is the one making military service mandatory for Haredim Jews, the implications of the whole legislative package are troubling for Palestinians.

Silencing minority political voices

The governance law approved by the Knesset on Tuesday raises the electoral threshold from 2 to 3.25 percent of votes for a party to gain parliamentary seats. It would also make it more difficult for the opposition to present a “no-confidence” motion against the government.

The legislation, which has been hailed by the conservative American newspaper The Jewish Press as driving “extremists to the political graveyard”, effectively endangers the political representation of Palestinian and anti-Zionist parties.

In Israel’s 2013 legislative election, left-wing Palestinian party Balad received 2.56 percent of votes, whereas Jewish-Palestinian socialist party Hadash got 2.99 percent.

The only Palestinian party to score above 3.25 percent was the religiously conservative United Arab List-Ta’al, which gathered 3.65 percent of votes – only barely scraping past the new threshold.

The governance law raises fears that Palestinian citizens of Israel will see their political representation dwindle, a worrying prospect in light of recent legislation seeking to divide them along religious lines.

“The governance law disables the ideological, intellectual and political diversity within Arab society,” Habash MK Hana Sweid told The Times of Israel.

“This leads us to the conclusion that the problem is with the initiator of the bill, namely [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and his party, who want to get rid of the Arab parties.”

Lieberman has dismissed criticisms by Israel’s political opposition, calling them “an opposition of the terror organization representatives, of the post-Zionists, of the crybabies.”

Haredi military draft “leaves Arabs off the hook”

The second measure, passed on Wednesday, dealt with the longstanding issue of the military service exemption for Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as Haredim.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two, but Haredim have historically been spared in order to pursue their religious studies.

The law would lead to the gradual enlistment of at least 5,200 Haredi men into the Israeli army by 2017. Like other conscientious objectors, Haredim would face financial and criminal sanctions, including a prison sentence for up to two years, if they refuse to participate in the mandatory draft.

The legislation has caused a lot of controversy in Israel, pitting those who believe Haredim need to abide by the same rules as other Israelis against the Ultra-Orthodox community, which sees the draft as “anti-religious” and “dilut[ing] the Jewish character of the State of Israel.”

With the argument over Haredi military service coming to a close, attention has already turned to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Commenting on the new law, The Jewish Press lamented that it was “leaving Arabs off the hook.”

Palestinian Druze and Circassians, who hold a separate legal status than other Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, have been drafted into the Israeli army for decades.

Recent legislation giving Palestinian Christians a separate status from their Muslim counterparts has some worried that Christians might be the next in line to be forced into the Israeli army to oppress their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Jeopardizing peace deal opportunities

The third measure of the package, which is widely expected to pass on Wednesday night due to an agreement within the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu leading coalition, would put the withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967, including the Golan Heights and occupied Jerusalem, up to a referendum for approval.

2013 poll showed that 55.5 percent of Israeli citizens opposed a return of land seized in 1967, even if some illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem were to remain.

In another poll, 63 percent of Israelis said they opposed a military withdrawal from the Jordan Valley, even if an international peacekeeping force were to take the place of the Israeli army.

“Whoever requests to approve the referendum law torpedoes a future peace agreement,” news channel Arutz Sheva quoted MK Zahava Gal-On as saying.

The Palestinian Authority has been seeking a the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital and a return to 1967 borders.

US-sponsored peace talks which started in July have been stagnant over persistent disagreements over illegal settlements, Palestinian prisoners and the delineation of a future Palestinian state.

An Israeli referendum would jeopardize any future peace agreement between Israel and the PA, abdicating Israeli decision-making to the broader population on one of the most contentious issues of the decades-long conflict.

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