A few quick take-aways from yesterday’s election in Israel:
1. Netanyahu is out. His only hope of avoiding prison was to get immunity from the Parliament, and without a majority of 61 (the Likud/right bloc got only 55-56), that is impossible. Either the Likud will go into a unity government with Gantz’s almost as right-wing Blue/White party, but without Netanyahu — or Netanyahu in a rotation in which he becomes Prime Minister again in 2 years — either scenario landing him in prison or at least out as PM.
2. Gantz (a general facing trial for war crimes in Holland) will be PM. Although his party is merely Likud B, Gantz lacks the appetite for annexation or settlement building, preferring just to let de facto apartheid go on without any political movement her or there. Without the setters in the government (their party, Yamina of the declared fascist Ayelet Shaked got only seven seats and will not be in a unity government), the pressure on Gantz from that direction is off. Whether Trump will still present his Deal of the Century remains an open question, without a dominant ideological Netanyahu/settler presence I don’t think Gantz could pull it off, or even want to, and Trump is isolated in the international community on this issue. We are faced with creeping, “quiet” yet repressive apartheid (Blue/White is led by 3
testosterone-filled generals) instead of the ideological, in-your-face annexationist apartheid we are used to. Israel will become a more “normal” country, and the issue of occupation might recede to the background. That will make it harder to fight and even to keep on the political map. We will have to decide how to respond.
3. Avigdor Lieberman, the Russian hoodlum who lives in a West Bank settlement and wants to institute the death penalty in Israel, was the big winner. It’s classic “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” He happens to despise Netanyahu and, because he represents a Russian immigrant constituency that is very secular and in large part not really “Jewish” by religious law, he is opposed to the ultra-orthodox in government. He also rode an anti-orthodox feeling among secular Israelis in general. He is the king-maker, his Israel Beitenu party holding the nine swing votes needed to form a government coalition of at least 61. He will mediate a Gantz/Likud unity government, but without Netanyahu. Regardless, he prevents any Israeli government from moving significantly towards accommodation with the Palestinians.
4. The Joint Arab List did well — 12 or 13 seats — making it the 3rd largest party. But they will not be in the government, which is willing to accept only “Zionist” parties. Still, they can’t be ignored. Either they will support the government from the outside in return for certain demands (government investment in the Arab sector, renewed peace process (ya’ani), amendments to Jewish Nationality Law), or they will be the head of the opposition, which carries with it some political weight. It’s becoming clear that the “Arabs” (as Palestinians are called in Israel) can no longer be dismissed or left out of political calculations. It is also pretty clear that they want in, to be part of Israeli society. They are only marginally interested in the wider Palestinian issue and will not support a one-state solution (which I will nevertheless continue to advocate).
5. The Orthodox religious parties (Aguda/UTJ, Shas) have lost their clout. This does not have any implications for the bigger political picture, but getting Deri out as the Minister of the Interior (he is also on his way to jail) might ease the pressures on the African asylum-seekers who Netanyahu/Likud/Deri has been persecuting and trying to expel by force.
6. Although she did tremendous damage to the judicial system as Minister of Justice — a campaign continued by the Likud guy that followed her, partly motivated by the need to keep Netanyahu out of prison — the justice system has been saved from Shaked by a whisker. She did manage to move the Supreme court to the right, but she would have disempowered it altogether had she been put in that position again.
7. The Zionist left, Labor and Meretz/Democratic Union, was saved from oblivion by the skin of their teeth. They just passed the threshold of getting into the parliament. They may be part of the unity government, or not (they are dispensable). Suffice it to say they have no political clout whatsoever and very little to do with the Palestinian issue. Both consider themselves “social” parties that confine themselves to local issues.
8. Although the political complexion hasn’t changed much, the departure of Netanyahu (though it might take a couple of months) significantly changes the political picture. Though a racist, corrupt and divisive figure, Netanyahu is a master manipulator, both at home and abroad. He has a Big Picture strategy, speaks English as a native language and well, knows all the world figures, and has a clear ideology. Thus he has been able to hold things together for Israel as it pursues an increasing repressive but unpopular (abroad) regime of apartheid. The person replacing him as head of the Likud will not be PM for at least the next two years and, even if s/he does come into power, will not have the skills of Netanyahu. He will be replaced probably by Gidon Sa’ar, a run-of-the-mill local politician. Even if Sa’ar (or someone else) becomes PM, s/he might not be able to prevent the unraveling of Israeli apartheid, especially as we move past Trump (inshallah). This gives us an opening for action and real change, if we can manage to be organized, strategic and armed with our own end-game — one democratic state.
OK, not so quick take-aways. Probably more than you wanted to know. The struggle continues.
After Election Apartheid will Continue
I’ve been struggling to find something profound, insightful, even mildly interesting about Israel’s elections, including the (yawn) drama around Netanyahu’s announcement that after the elections he will annex the Jordan Valley, followed by all the settlements, but — he emphasized — without giving one Palestinian Israeli citizenship. But its all deja vu all over again, no development different from the process of apartheid we have known for decades.
I guess the “news” of this election is that political Zionism has exhausted itself. The Zionist “left” has disappeared, victim to the illusion that a settler colonial enterprise could – and would — “make peace” with its victims while maintaining its control over the entire country. The election has been reduced to a contest between two right-wing Likud parties, Netanyahu’s (whose only purpose seems to be keeping him out of jail) and “Blue/White,” a part of generals whose slogan is “Israel over everything” (Israel uber alles — really!). Its leader Gantz opened his campaign by bragging that he killed 6,000 “terrorists” in Gaza. (A case against Gantz for war crimes in Gaza is now being heard in a Dutch court.) And Blue/White agrees to annexation.
The only “issue” is whether the government will be secular (and right-wing) or will include the ultra-orthodox (and be right-wing). The only bright light is that in his ideological blindness Netanyahu is finally casting off the cloak of the two-state solution and revealing for everyone to see Israel’s true intention: the creation of an apartheid regime over the entire country. That, of course, has been the case for at least the past 20 years, but it has been impossible to shake Jewish liberals (including Bernie & Warren) and governments from the two-state illusion, and that is what has saved the day for Israel. Thanks to Netanyahu (and Trump), as Gideon Levy writes below, reality emerges in all its starkness: either a Jewish state of apartheid or a single democratic state of equal rights for everyone, Israelis and Palestinians alike. That battle, however, will be won or lost outside of elections and political parties, since apartheid has become acceptable to ALL Israeli parties, with the exception of the Joint Arab List that remains stuck in the two-state illusion.
The ball is in our court — civil society: the Palestinians, of course, the few Israeli Jews who can begin to see a different future, growing numbers of Jews abroad who see the betrayal of Jewish values by Zionism more clearly, and a worldwide movement for Palestinian rights, all supported by international law, human rights conventions and elemental justice. Whether we will have the agency to organize politically so as to bring about a single state, or whether we will have to wait for future generations to do the work (with all the suffering that will occur in the meantime), is up to us. The Israeli elections are merely a sideshow.