I’m going to focus only on the question of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and the Occupied Territories. I’m going to ignore economic issues since frankly they have limited interest to most who don’t live in Israel. This is myopic and I’m the first to admit it.
First off, things really didn’t change much. Israel is split pretty much down the center between Left-ish parties and Right-ish parties.
Likud won 25% of the vote which was more than they did last time, the broader right won around 50% which was about the same. For the most part, the broader right shares Netanyahu/Likud’s vision of a greater Israel and settlement expansion in the West Bank. In general these parties believe the two-state peace process is a useful distraction, to be indulged when there’s something to be gained, or a loss to be prevented. The news (if you can call it that) is that Bibi said it out loud into a microphone.
The fact is that Israelis look across their borders and see a terrifying civil war in Syria, and a vicious guerrilla war in Iraq. Netanyahu stoked fears that any devolution of powers to a Palestinian state would bring this state of affairs to the West Bank. I would argue Palestinian society is not really fertile ground for ISIS and their ilk, in the same way Lebanon and Turkey are not (essentially they’re all Mediterranean cultures). Nevertheless, this is a reasonable concern that reasonable people may have. [* See Below]
Whether or not such concerns can retro-actively legitimize a permanent occupation and arrogation of the rights of Palestinians was not a subject of discussion in this election. There was no event that made the Israeli electorate at large sit up and notice the banal injustice of the occupation and how the country has arrived at this juncture. With the exception of the usual suspects on the far left, Arab Jews/Christians and subscribers to Haaretz (who really are suspects or worse in the eyes of many).
Here’s the silver lining. Despite the concern of wider Middle-East unrest arriving to the West Bank of the Jordan, roughly 50% of the population voted for parties that continued to tacitly support a devolution of power to Palestinians and a negotiated withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. This half of the country (including the fifth of citizens who are of Palestinian Muslim and Christian descent) voted for engagement, despite the risks. They did not rush into Bibi’s arms despite his fear-mongering about barbarians at the gates (Hamastan in the West Bank) and enemies within (Arabs voting in droves).
The 2014 war in Gaza and its impact on Palestinians was largely ignored. There was no real discussion of the propriety of Israeli action (including home bombings, indiscriminate shelling and the targeting of designated safe zones) except obliquely from the Joint List and the far, far left. This should not come as a surprise to anyone given the narrative focus on Hamas rockets and “terror tunnels” last summer. Netanyahu’s framing of the war as “Israel’s right to defend itself” is largely unassailable in the public sphere.
* To provide some context. We (as in the USA) are still waging a War by Drone all across the world with many civilian casualties and mum’s the word state-side. If there were rockets (however ineffectual) launched from New Jersey landing on the Upper West Side, I suspect many of my neighbors would be all for pummeling the Garden State into dust. If New Jersey were a Native American reservation (or had the racial makeup of Ferguson), I shudder to think what options might be on the table. All that said, we’ve overcome most of our worst injustices from the past. It took a Civil War and many faltering steps, but the US no longer has that kind of relationship with its indigenous population or minorities. Then again, if FARC were in Pennsylvania (our hemisphere’s rough equivalent), with a risk it might spill over to NYC, I think my liberal bastion of a city might even bring Giuliani back.
A round-up of the punditry I found interesting below:
In Netanyahu won, but Israel was brought to its knees, Ari Shavit writes:
But the tribe known as the “white tribe” is the most primitive political tribe that exists in Israel. Time after time it blindly follows false messiahs and makes incomprehensible mistakes. This happened yet again on Tuesday. The decision of hundreds of thousands of people to vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid split the moderate bloc and gave the government yet again to Likud, to the right, and to Gush Emunim. Just as in 2013 Yair Lapid brought Naftali Bennett to power, this time, Lapid gave the power back to Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people, and they deserve him, Gideon Levy writes:
On Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government in his spirit and image, then the two-state solution will finally be buried and the struggle over the character of a binational state will begin. If Netanyahu is the next prime minister, then Israel has not only divorced the peace process, but also the world. Piss off, dear world, we’re on our own. Please don’t interfere, we’re asleep, the people are with Netanyahu. The Palestinians can warm the benches at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Israel boycotters can swing into high gear and Gaza can wait for the next cruel attack by the Israeli army.
In The Guardian: Netanyahu’s victory is clear break with US-led peace process
Ahead of Tuesday’s election, some Palestinian officials close to Abbas had intimated that a Netanyahu victory – not least in terms of his outright rejection of a two-state solution and his vow to continue settlement construction – would mark a clear break in a US-led peace process that has been on ice since it collapsed almost a year ago.Indeed a common sentiment among Palestinians in recent days is that the election campaign forced Netanyahu to reveal his opposition to a two-state solution.
“The Israeli elections forced Netanyahu to reveal his real position,” said prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, reflecting the views of many.
In The Jerusalem Post: White House knocks ‘divisive rhetoric’ against Israeli Arabs in election:
The White House said on Wednesday that it was deeply concerned by the use of “divisive rhetoric” in the Israeli election that sought to undermine Arab Israeli citizens.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested on election day that Left-wingers were trying to get Arab Israeli voters out “in droves” to sway the election against him.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the United States would communicate its concern about the issue directly to the Israelis.
Earnest also told reporters on Air Force One that the administration will evaluate its approach on the Middle East peace process following Netanyahu’s recent statement that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch.
And the Jerusalem Post has noted the American press’s reaction to Netanyahu’s pre-election comments.Or if you prefer, the Guardian is carrying the same story: Obama snubs Netanyahu and criticises Israeli PM’s ‘divisive rhetoric’
Not sure whether it’s just the first stage of grief, but Peter Beinart seems to have changed his stance and writes With Netanyahu’s reelection, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin
My entire adult life, American Jewish leaders have been telling Americans that Israel can save itself. Just wait until Israel gains a respite from terror, they said; then its silent, two-state majority will roar. Give Israelis constant reassurance; never pressure them. If they know “the United States is right next to them,” Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations promised Barack Obama in 2009, Israeli leaders will “take risks” for peace.Israel has been disproving that theory throughout the Netanyahu era. Now, with this election, Israel has killed it.
This campaign, in other words, offered an excellent test of the theory that the American Jewish establishment has peddled for decades. And look what happened. In the absence of Palestinian violence and American pressure, Jewish Israelis at first pretended the Palestinians did not exist. “As Israeli election nears, peace earns barely a mention,” noted Reuters. During a 90-minute debate in late February, eight candidates, together, mentioned the word “peace” only five times. And three of those mentions came from the Arab candidate.
“Power,” said the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “concedes nothing without a demand.” For almost half a century, Israel has wielded brutal, undemocratic, unjust power over millions of human beings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And as this election makes clear, Israel will concede nothing on its own. This isn’t because Jewish Israelis are different than anyone else. It’s because they are the same.