Leading Arab journalist: Should Arab MKs even be in the Knesset?

“If the situation continues like this, it will be necessary to think twice before running for Knesset."

December 9, 2016 06:32
3 minute read.

Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One of the leading Arab journalists in Israel is calling on Arab citizens to reassess having representatives in the Knesset in light of its passage on first reading of the settlements regulation bill legalizing settler housing units built on private Palestinian land.

Rami Mansour, chief editor of the popular Arab48 website, questioned the wisdom of voting for and serving in the Knesset after the bill passed preliminary and first readings this week. Among Arabs, it is viewed as authorizing the theft of Palestinian property.

Expanding on an article he published Thursday, Mansour told The Jerusalem Post that the Knesset’s action “changes the rules of the political game.” By imposing its laws on an occupied population, the Knesset is violating democracy, he said.

“Parliaments generally deal with laws inside their country,” he said. “The United States doesn’t legislate laws that apply to India. But here Israel is legislating a law that applies to territory not under its sovereignty. It is legislating a law to expropriate from Palestinians not by means of military orders but by legislation in contravention of what was in the past. This is antidemocratic and turns the Knesset into the tool of the right."

“Arabs have to ask themselves if they are willing to be part of this. Maybe there is no point to it,” he said, adding that participating in the Knesset is enabling the moderate right to depict the legislature as democratic when it is not.

“It may be that tomorrow the Knesset will decide to ban Muslim prayer and the majority will vote for it. It’s true that the majority passed it, but that doesn’t change that it’s immoral and undemocratic,” he continued.

“If the situation continues like this, it will be necessary to think twice before running for Knesset, because it is becoming a tool rather than a parliament that legislates in an objective and pertinent manner,” he said.

The Knesset voted 58-51 on Wednesday to pass the settlements bill on first reading.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Bayit Yehudi party, has hailed the bill as “leading the way to annexation” of the West Bank. The bill will legalize 54 outposts situated on about 800 hectares (1,975 acres) of privately owned Palestinian land, according to leftwing NGO Peace Now. It will legalize close to 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian property. The bill specifies that compensation is to be offered to land owners if they are known.

MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) took issue with Mansour’s stance. “If we don’t participate in the Knesset, we will strengthen the right wing and weaken ourselves.

We have no interest in weakening ourselves and strengthening the extreme right in Israel. It’s not the right strategy. Our participation is based on serving our people’s interest and expressing our views and we do both.”

MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List) said: “I don’t think the bill is reason to leave the Knesset. There have been in the Knesset many rightist and racist decisions and proposals directed against the Arab citizens, and the MKs did not leave the Knesset as an important political platform.

I think it is beneficial to make our views known and to try to influence, even though our influence is not great. In the Knesset, important things are done in terms of the day-to-day life of the Arab population and it is important that we stay there to serve the population with all of the parliamentary tools at our disposal.”

Gnaim said the settlements bill is “a bill that comes to justify the theft of Palestinian lands and to trample on the decisions of the Israeli supreme court. The danger of this is that it is an introduction to the annexation of the occupied territories against all international decisions.”

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