It is important to note that the bulk of Palestinians have not challenged the exclusive nature of Israeli democracy because they have long envisioned their political life outside of it, in an independent state of their own. That period is likely coming to an end and the relationship between Israeli democracy and its non-citizens will change if it does. And those Palestinians who have been in the trenches of the fight to reform and expand Israeli democracy may find themselves in the vanguard of this struggle.
After the September 2019 election, in an explanation for his decision to endorse Gantz, Odeh penned an op-ed in The New York Times in which he wrote that Arab citizens “will be the cornerstone of democracy” in Israel. What he meant by that is that Israel will not be a full democracy until it treats all its citizens equally, without regard to their religion or ethnicity, and that this will not come without the efforts of the Arabs to fight for it. He went on to write, “Change is impossible without us.” Odeh didn’t include the rest of the Palestinian people in his calculus. But maybe he should have.
It is in this context that Palestinians could be doing more to increase their political clout, to raise their voices, push for change, and challenge the system of exclusion that denies them equality and freedom. They may not be able to do so through voting per se, but they can force Israel’s majority to make explicit choices about its values and the nature of its political system. That exposure is already proving powerful and will only be more so in the years ahead.
In the meantime, the relationship between Palestinian citizens and non-citizens remains fallow ground. There are opportunities to build inroads between their fragmented communities; utilize the internet and social media to connect with each other in more coordinated and strategic ways; and establish institutions that collectivize their interests and galvanize people across the lines of fragmentation. Of course, the Israeli establishment is unlikely to sit idly by and allow these connections to be made. But if Palestinians are to capitalize on the changing dynamics of this conflict, they will need to recognize those dynamics and their relationship to Israeli democracy from the outset and position themselves accordingly.
Omar H. Rahman is a writer, political analyst, and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center, where he is authoring a book on Palestinian fragmentation. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Lawfare, VICE, Quartz, PBS NewsHour, Al-Jazeera English, and The National, among other publications.