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Who gets to vote in Israel's democracy?

If we exclude Gaza, one in every 4.5 people living under Israeli rule doesn’t have the right to vote in the coming elections; that one person is (almost) always Palestinian. If Gaza is included, it’s one in three who is not represented.

The Israeli Knesset is the sole sovereign between the sea and the Jordan River, with the possible exception of the Gaza Strip, which exercises a certain degree of independence since the 2005 disengagement. As for the rest of the territory, according to all acceptable parameters of sovereignty and independence – it’s under complete Israeli control. The Israeli government has a monopoly over the use of force in the West Bank, it controls the central bank and the only currency (the shekel), it collects some of the authority’s taxes and it has full control over the borders. Palestinians wishing to travel outside the country need to do so through borders controlled by Israel, and only with special permits issued by the army.

It is therefore useful to think of Israel as one territorial unit, divided into sub-regions with different structures of governance. When we think of democracy and political representation in Israel, we should ask ourselves who under Israeli sovereignty gets to participate in the political system, and who is subject to its decisions but lacks full representation.

Elections to the Israeli Knesset will be held a little less than three months from now, on January 22. The parameters that determine political participation in Israel break down according to ethnic and geographic lines: in the West Bank, for example, Jews can vote while their Palestinian neighbors – regardless of whether they live in “Palestinian” Area A or in “Israeli” Area C – don’t vote. Things are more complicated in Jerusalem.

I referred to demographic data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and the CIA Factbook to sum up the numbers of those who are represented and not represented within the Israeli system. While reading, note that the numbers below represent the total demographic groups, and that there are other requirements for being eligible to vote, such as age and actual presence in Israel. (There is almost no absentee voting under the Israeli system.)

Within the Green Line

5,463,071 Israeli Jews (citizens): have voting rights.
1,361,800 Palestinians (citizens): have voting rights.
318,200 non-Arab Christians, those listed as having no religion, and others (citizens): have voting rights.

East Jerusalem [*]

186,929 Jews (citizens): have voting rights
255,000 Palestinians (residents): no voting rights for Knesset elections (**); can vote in Jerusalem municipal elections.

* East Jerusalem and the surrounding towns were annexed to Israel in 1967, but the local Palestinian population was only given “residency” status; the same situation applies to the roughly 18,000 Druze in the Golan Heights, which was annexed to Israel in 1981.
** Some 3,500 Palestinians from East Jerusalem have received Israeli citizenship in the last decade and can therefore vote. Some 700 Druze received citizenship. 

West Bank 

325,500 Jews (citizens, living in Area C): have voting rights
1,855,115 Palestinians living in areas A, B, C: no voting rights

Gaza [***]

1,710,257 Palestinians: no voting rights.

[**** As I noted, many view Gaza as a separate unit. However, Israel did acknowledge in Oslo the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are one territorial unit]


7,659,000 people living in Israeli territory have voting rights, while 2,128,115 people have no voting rights. Altogether, one in every 4.5 people is denied political representation; this one person is almost always Palestinian. If Gaza is included, the number of unrepresented climbs to 3,820,372, or roughly one in every three people.

Visualizing Occupation: Divide and Conquer

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    1. Franz

      Thanks for the interesting figures Noam! You could add to that the number of Diaspora Palestinians and Diaspora Israelis and their rights to vote.
      And some graphical visualization would be nice…

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Given that this is a territorial breakdown it would only make sense to include those for propaganda uses.

        As it stands the data presented by Noam is mostly objective, though I would disagree that Israel has any real sovereignty over areas under the PA. The absence of a recognized Palestinian state doesn’t grant sovereignty on the basis of being on the same side of a river. I find it entertaining however to see leftists pretend otherwise in tandem with settlers.

        Reply to Comment
        • Y-Man

          the reason why there is no recognized Palestinian sovereign government in the West Bank is because it’s been occupied by the Israeli Army for 46 fucking years.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            That is fascinating, and why wasn’t there Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank in 1967 when it wasn’t occupied by the Israeli Army for any fucking years?

            Come on. This is too easy.

            Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            Is that why Israel’s occupied the West Bank for 46 years? Because they can’t find anyone to give sovereignty of it to? I hope they find someone soon!

            Reply to Comment
          • Sean Mullin

            Brilliant. That’s not so easy apparently. If only there was some group of indigenous people in the immediate area waiting for the protections afforded by statehood…That Kolumn fella is so far into denial he can see the backside of his own faux indignation.

            Reply to Comment
      • Sam

        Israel doesn’t do absentee voting, so neither diaspora Israelis nor diaspora Palestinians have any vote.

        Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      I don’t understand why the autonomous Palestinian Authority is not mentioned here. The supposedly disenfranchised West Bank Palestinians vote for that and it makes the decisions for the Palestinian population there, within the restrictions that Israeli security control places on them, which hopefully will be temporary.
      The West Bank Palestinians are not citizens of Israel but they are citizens of the Palestinian Authority and the PA legislates for them, determining fiscal policy, education, local security and a whole host of other realms..
      I should point out that the status of Puerto Rico is similar, except that it is fully sovereign US territory. In spite of that, the Puerto Ricans have no representatoin in Congress, nor a vote for President, but they do have a semi-autonomous local government.
      For that matter, residents of Washington, DC also lack representation in Congress and did not receive the vote for President until 1960.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        do Palestinians get to vote about which IDF checkpoints they have to go through?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Do Israelis get to vote on which restaurants they will get blown up in?

          Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            what came first, the occupation or the intifada?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            The Intifada.
            Palestinian State was proclaimed in 1988, first Intifada begun in 1987.

            Go back to school, kid.

            Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            So the occupation began in 1988? Wow, I seem to remember it starting about 21 years earlier. What school did you go to?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            What country was occupied 21 years ago?

            Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            there was no Israeli annexation of what had been Jordan 21 years ago. there WAS an Israeli annexation of what had been Jordan 45 years ago. There still is no real Palestinian state, and there really hasn’t been. What nation with actual sovereignty within its borders would allow an occupying nation to build settlements within its own borders! The idea is laughable!

            Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron Gross

      The US didn’t allow the population of Japan to vote in the 1948 US election either.

      Reply to Comment
      • Abe

        Are there any US settlements in Okinawa that I am not aware of?

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          Meaning, what, that the election didn’t affect the Japanese because there were no settlements? Well, one of the presidential candidates had just dropped a couple atomic bombs on Japan three years earlier, so I’d think the Japanese might have had an interest in the election if for no other reason but that.

          Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            I love the comparison between Japan and Palestine. As we all know, the United States set up checkpoints throughout Japan, settled Americans throughout the country, and has never stopped occupying it.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Aaron Gross

      Some minor corrections. I don’t think it’s correct to say that the Palestinians are under Israeli sovereignty. They’re under Israeli jurisdiction. (I might be wrong about that.)

      It’s misleading to say that the “parameters that determine political participation in Israel break down according to ethnic and geographic lines.” A non-Israeli Jew in Judea cannot vote in the elections. An Arab citizen of Israel in Judea can. The political participation breaks down along citizenship lines. Now, obviously citizenship itself is ethnically based, but the distinction is still very important.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        What country is “Judaea” in? I still consider the entire Levant to be the property of the Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt, the sovereignty of which should go to the descendants of the pharoahs Tutankhamun, Akhenaten, and Amenhotep. It’s so reasonable that you would base place-names and sovereignty on claims that are thousands of years old, right?

        Reply to Comment
    5. Franz

      As there are some doubts on who is the sovereign in the West bank.. If we look into Wikipedia, the main determinants on sovereignty are:
      – territorial integrity
      – border inviolability
      – supremacy of the state
      – a sovereign is the supreme law making authority

      IDs and residency permissions are issued according to Israels decisions, travel and border control is Israeli, Israeli law beats Palestinian law, and the entire security sector is under Israeli regulation.
      This clearly shows that the PA has no sovereignty in the West Bank, even not in A-Zones, while the state of Israel has.
      Looking at the Israeli settlement policy of past decades, it became clear that we are not talking about a temporary occupation on the path of a two state solution, but instead a permanent occupation, outsourced to PA, and paid by US and Europe, while Israel can benefit from all those things that International Law prohibits the occupier, to make permanent occupations unattractive, such as using the land for real estate busines, commercial exploitation of water and natural resources, etc.

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        If you like Wikipedia, look at the article on belligerent occupation. I also looked it up right here in my handy International Law, Malcolm Shaw, Sixth Edition, p. 1178 of my paperback: “[O]nly `authority’ and not `sovereignty’ passes to the occupier.”

        Of course there are some who dispute that it’s a belligerent occupation at all. That seems to be what you’re doing, with your “permanent occupation,” which as far as I know has no legal meaning. But I don’t think that Noam meant to deny the existence of an occupation.

        Reply to Comment
        • Y-Man

          “Of course there are some who dispute that it’s a belligerent occupation.” Has the IDF used powerful logic and elegant persuasion to occupy the Palestinians for the last 46 years? I think if you have soldiers, tanks, prisons, guard towers and armored bulldozers throughout a given territory, that’s pretty goddamn belligerent.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Ante Pavelic

      The sooner Palestine is liberated from the RIver to the Sea, the better

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Note to moderators-
        This is the second time this person who uses names of SS leaders and other Nazis and notorious antisemites has posted here using the name of the World War II Fascist Pavelic. This person was banned in the past.

        Reply to Comment
    7. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution declares anyone born within the “jurisdiction” of the US a natural citizen. During the US occupation of the Phillippines, the Supreme Court was asked to consider whether or not those Filipinos born under US occupation were US citizens; not surprisingly, the Court said no. I think, logically, that answer was wrong. Words can be very hard things to bear.

      Noam says the Knesset is soverign, but I’m not sure of that even in present Israeli “unwritten constitution” terms. That “constitution” is an unequal balance of Knesset, Administrative Government, IDF, and Court turfs. I would venture that the IDF is more the “soverign” (as Noam uses that herein) than the Knesset; and I am far from certain that the Knesset can override the IDF in many areas, as applied.

      But Noam’s point is that the allocation of power affecting livelihoods is overwhelmingly racially biased. Recall that apartheid South Africa, upon proclaiming the bantu states, said it was not oppressing blacks because they had representation in their bantu state. This is of the same high logic as saying there is no occupation because there is no state being occupied, regardless of IDF control in the area overall.

      Reply to Comment
      • to be clear, I mean the IDF is more the “soverign” in the unoccupied occupied territories, not overall throughout Israel proper. (Maybe “visited, unowned land” would be better designation; perhaps the Romans had an adequate word solution for this state of affairs.)

        Reply to Comment
    8. JerusalemS

      How many of the Jews living in the territory of which the PA claims authority don’t get to vote to the Palestinian Parliament?
      If we take the PA vision of 1967 borders,
      then there are

      325,500 Settlers + 195,500 East Jerusalem residents
      1,855,115 Palestinains.
      That means that more than one in 5 People that Palestinians claim to be under their rule do not vote.

      If we expand to the Hamas vision, of no Israel and only a Palestinian state, then there are
      5,463,071 + 325,500 Settlers and east Jerusalem residents 195,500 a total of 5.984 million Jews, and also 1.679 million others who do not have the vote in Palestinian elections.
      Vs. 3.82 million Palestinians in total.

      So if Hamas were to ever hold election in both gaza and the west bank, 6 of 10 people would not be voting in it.

      Any other criticism of Israeli democracy, or are we done with idiotic demagoguery?

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        Well, as the rise of Hamas in the Gaza refugee camps shows, the Palestinian Authority has actual authority over very little. Israel controls the Occupied Territories, that’s why they’re called the Occupied Territories. Complaining about the dysfunction of the institutions of an occupied people, while being the very party that denies those people their freedom, takes an amount of Orwellian doublethink that is truly amazing.

        Reply to Comment
    9. Alex

      Just one question? do Israelis vote on palestinian elections? they are under israeli map right?

      Reply to Comment
    10. thunderbolt

      Arabs living in East Jerusalem, occupied and administered by Israel since 1967, hold Israeli ID cards and most are permanent residents because few accepted Israel’s offer of citizenship after the war’s end; they refuse to recognize Israel’s sovereignty. As permanent residents, they are eligible to vote in Jerusalem’s municipal elections, but few take advantage of this right. Not wanting to be Israeli citizens, why should they have the right to vote for anything except municipal matters?

      Reply to Comment
    11. RK

      I don’t recall there ever being a movement of Palestinians in the post-67 territories demanding the right to vote in Israeli elections. Perhaps there should be one, given that the Israeli government is their de-facto government. Or would current Palestinian leadership oppose such voting rights movement as “normalization”?

      Reply to Comment
    12. Thomas

      East Jerusalem, the West Banks and the Gaza Strip, are all considered “occupied land” (although the Gaza Strip does not have “a certain degree of independence” but is completely controlled by the palestinian “government”), and thus do not make part of the Israeli land, but part of a foreign occupied country. Israelis settling east jerusalem and the west banks is definetly unethical and wrong, but they’d be simply considered locals living in foreign land, this doe not take away their right to vote. All palestinians within the actual Israeli land haave the same right as anybody else to vote. Israel has for year been trying to make a peace deal with Palestine, and help them establish a stable government, going as far as offering the west bank, east jerusalem, the gaza strip and some additional land (I think this happened in 2011), but most palestinians, in government and outside the government, would only accept one deal, all of the Israeli/Palestinian land for them. In a survey 70% of palestinians said they’d only make peace with Israel if they were willing to give them all of the Israeli/Palestinian land back and leave the country. It is as if the USA occupied the UK after a suicide attempt (that is pretty much what the 6 days war was) to reconquer the thirteen colonies (as it was once part of the UK), and after 50 years the majority of the british parliment and citizens continued to only accept independence if the USA agreed to give the previously britsh controlled land, plus the thirteen colonies, and have a massive exodus of all americans from the area. The Israeli government cannot do anything if the Palestinian government acts like a five year old child which wants everything for them, and not giving Palestinians in the occupied land voting rights is probably the best way of legitamizing Palestinian sovereignty. Completely abandoning the land is also not an option since so many Palestinians still believe that all of Israel/Palestine is rightfully theirs, it would probably cause something like another Hamaz to spawn, one that would probably launch even more missiles and perform even more terrorist attacks into Israel for their “rightful land”

      Reply to Comment
    13. Josh Steinfeld

      This is not true. I work in the Israeli government and please don’t make things up. It’s called fake news.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This is not a serious statement. You’ll have to do better if you want to be taken seriously.

        Reply to Comment
    14. TH

      Hi Noam. This is a clear and helpful piece.

      But why exclude the Gaza Strip from the figures of people not allowed to vote, if you say yourself that Gaza and the West Bank are see as one territory (under international law, referred to as the occupied Palestinian territory)? Doing so feeds into the narrative of isolating Gaza from other Palestinian areas.

      You say: “The Israeli government has a monopoly over the use of force in the West Bank, it controls the central bank and the only currency (the shekel), it collects some of the authority’s taxes and it has full control over the borders. Palestinians wishing to travel outside the country need to do so through borders controlled by Israel, and only with special permits issued by the army.”

      All of this applies to Gaza too – although people living in the Strip are not allowed to leave, due to Israeli policy. The population registry** also applies to Gaza – whenever a child is born, they are registered with Israel’s registry. The Gaza Strip is under complete control of Israel, as broadly acknowledged by the international community. So let’s not feed into the false narrative that Gaza is a separate entity that is not controlled by Israel – this does no favours to anyone, least of all the Palestinians.


      Reply to Comment
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