Palestinian Citizens of Israel Debate Whether It’s Worth Voting

As Israel prepares to go to the polls again, some of the voters who helped propel an Arab party into the governing coalition for the first time are worried about a lack of results.

An Israeli Arab voting in last year’s election. A million Palestinians are eligible to vote in Israel, 17 percent of the electorate. Credit Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press

A new school in portable buildings, a paved road that reaches only halfway into the village and a sign in Arabic, English and Hebrew are the only indications of recent improvement in the Bedouin village of Khasham Zana in southern Israel.

Like many other Palestinian Bedouin villages in Israel, it has existed for decades without state recognition of land ownership claims, leaving residents at constant risk of home demolitions and without basic services and infrastructure.

Last year, when an independent Arab party, Raam, made history as the first to join an Israeli governing coalition, it pledged to address the plight of these villages.

But when the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett collapsed in June, precipitating Israel’s fifth national election in less than four years on Tuesday, Raam and its leader, Mansour Abbas, had delivered on few of their electoral promises. And in places like Khasam Zana, the impact has been minimal.

Raam’s inclusion in the government was welcomed by many Palestinian citizens of Israel who saw it as an important step in securing their rights. But now, many Palestinian-Israeli voters say they are disillusioned. Some are questioning how much they can realistically benefit from political engagement in a parliament that, four years ago, passed a controversial law that enshrined the right of national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people” rather than all Israeli citizens.

Palestinians as well as Israeli centrists and leftists condemned the law as racist and anti-democratic, and it was criticized by the European Union and rights groups including Human Rights Watch.