Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On the prospects of Israeli overseas voting

Haaretz online version carries an editorial "Don't let Israelis vote abroad". The editorial is written in reaction to a proposal raised by the incoming governing partners Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu.

Whilst the underlining motifs behind the proposal are sinister electoral calculations (the rightwing is hoping to score more votes if out-of-country-voting is established) and racism (hoping to diminish the Arab influence in Knesset), the Haaretz rebuttal also raises some questions. If the Zionist concept that Israel is the national home of all Jews around the world is to be upheld, wouldn't overseas voting be a logical consequence?

Different countries have different legislations of overseas voting, some have no such mechanism (Denmark) whilst others have rather elaborate overseas voting mechanisms (Italy, Ecuador). Generally speaking, states which put emphasis on diaspora relations tend to have more generous rules to allow non-resident citizens to vote. In the Italian electoral system, there are even four extraterritorial parliamentary constituencies; North America, South America, Europe and Africa-Asia-Australia. There are parties uniquely based in the Italian diaspora in South America, and Italian parliamentary elections are preceded by intense election campaigning amongst the Italian communities in countries like Argentina. Considering the Zionist discourse on the link between the Jewish diaspora and the State of Israel, the fact that Israel is one of the states that doesn't allow overseas voting is a bit odd. From a Zionist perspective, that is.

It's not really my task to decide on internal Israeli matters, and I suppose the proposal will pass through various stages of wrangling before becoming a reality. As per the diminish Arab influence, the problem shouldn't be overrated. In the racist order of Israeli politics, the Arab parties are a pariah in Knesset and are never included in governing coalitions anyway. I'm not a full-fledged expert on Israeli domestic politics, but are there any cases were proposals raised by Arab parties have been passed as legislature? As per the prospect of Avigdor Lieberman doing his campaign work in Minsk or Moscow rather than the streets of Tel Aviv, that would just contribute to illustrate the non-link of Lieberman and his party colleagues to the lands of the Middle East.

But the debate on overseas voting in Israel should also be noticed on the Palestinian side, especially as there are reforms in the PLO. The PLO is the para-statal organization representing the entire Palestinian people. But its institutions are dominant and its leadership is appointed by agreements of political factions, not general elections. The creation of the Palestinian National Authority after Oslo has led to the side-lining of the PLO and creating cleavages between the Palestinians living under occupation and those in exile. In order to have a leadership fully representative of the entire Palestinian people, there the Palestinian National Council ought to formed through elections, be it in Jerusalem, Nablus, Gaza and the refugee camps across the Arab world. That would create a PLO that could negotiate with the enemy on more equal terms.

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