Editor’s Note: We have combined two Facebook postings by Jeff Halper that dealt with the September 17, 2019 election in Israel. The first appeared on September 14, three days prior to the election, and the second, on September 18, the day after. The titles for each section are ours. In a surprising twist since the election, President Reuven Rivlin chose Mr. Netanyahu over his rival, Benny Gantz, to form a ruling coalition, thus giving the former a potential political lifeline. But as the readers will note, no matter which of these men forms a ruling coalition, none seeks a change in the nature of settler colonial and apartheid practices by Israel.
Whither Political Zionism?
I have 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 it’s 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 über alles — really!). Its leader Gantz opened his campaign by bragging that he killed 6000 “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), 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.
Nine Takeaways about the Election
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) 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 two 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 to just let de facto apartheid go on without any political movement here or there. Without the settlers 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 three 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. Its 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 9 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 — 13 seats — making it the third-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 Ayelet Shaked 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, were saved from oblivion by the sin 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 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 destroys the two-state solution and pursues an increasingly 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 unravelling 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.
9. The elections also showed that Jews (unfortunately) are just like everybody else. The election was issue-less, and most glaringly skipped over the entire issue of occupation and the continued oppression of the Palestinians (except for Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, merely an election ploy.) Although Jews suffered terribly in their history, they expelled most of the Palestinians from their homes just three years after the end of the Holocaust and have continued to displace and repress them for the past 72 years. And yet, despite their own suffering, the (Israeli) Jews couldn’t care less about “the Arabs.” Their suffering has not made them any more sensitive to others’ suffering than it has to anyone else. In fact, they have become just as numbed to political issues outside of their own personal lives as all the rest of us in this “all about me” capitalist system we all inhabit.
The struggle continues.
Jeff Halper is an American-born anthropologist, author, lecturer, and political activist who has lived in Israel since 1973. He is a co-founder of The People Yes! Network and the former Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a peace and human rights organization dedicated to ending the Israeli Occupation and achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. His most recent book is War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification.