This is huge. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today that as part of a coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, his government would promote a bill allowing Israeli citizens abroad to vote in the general elections.
From a rightist perspective, this makes a lot of sense: Israel would be able to utilise it’s 750,000 expatriates, and throw them into the so-called “demographic war” against the country’s growing national minority of Palestinians.
But what’s more, and this is probably why the proposal had to come from a radical party like Yisrael Beiteinu, I would surmise the real target here is not the Israeli expatriates, but the entire Jewish Diaspora. The Law of Return makes it possible for any Jew to become a citizen; I wouldn’t be surprised if within a few years, the law will be quietly amended to allow Jews to apply for citizenship right at their nearest Israeli embassy, blowing the number of Jewish “Israeli” voters vs the Palestinian Israeli ones to enormous proportions, with little inconvenience to either themselves or the state. Considering Jewish communities abroad are often more hawkish than their Israeli co-religionists, this would also be a boon to rightists parties – especially to the party that made it possible for them to vote in the first place.
However, it seems both Lieberman and Netanyahu prefer to disregard, at least for the moment, the Sheik Jarrah factor. The battle over this East Jerusalem neighbourhood erupted with a court ruling acknowledging some of the houses belong to a Jewish group which left them in the wake of the war of 1948. While the immediate result of the decision was the expulsion of Palestinian families from the houses in question, awareness is already growing that this represents an indirect, de jure recognition of the Right of Return (this is also why I see the Sheik Jarrah protests as the rearguard battle of the two-state solution, but that’s a subject for a separate post). There’s little doubt that sooner or later we will see similar lawsuits filed by Palestinian refugees, who lost their homes in West Jerusalem in the very same war – and this time, they will have a very strong legal precedent to lean on.
The situation with absentee voting is quite similar. While in the short run it will boost the Jewish vote vis-a-vis the Arab one, in effect, this is a clarion call for the refugees, the Palestinian Diaspora – which numbers many more than 750,000, and comes close enough to the Jewish one - to begin reasserting their right of representation in a conflict that affects them to this day.
Yitzhak Rabin buried the refugee issue in the golden casket of the Oslo Accords, by appropriating the refugee leadership – the PLO – and transplanting it to the West Bank and Gaza, where it proceeded to sell the refugees down the river. It seems only appropriate that Benjamin Netanyahu now revives the need for refugee representation, and even provides them with the impetus to demand it in a political, not violent way – a way Israel will find incredibly hard to deal with.
If the bill passes, all that remains to do be seen is how long will it take for a Palestinian party to file the papers at Israel’s Supreme Court, to demand representation and absentee voting rights as well.