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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Hanging by a thread

The results of Israel’s elections, due on 17 September, will impact across the region, writes Haitham Ahmed from Gaza

Haitham Ahmed , Thursday 12 Sep 2019
Israel elections
A couple walks past a defaced election billboard for the Likud party showing US President Donald Trump (L) shaking hands with Likud chairman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on September 14, 2019 (Photo: AFP)
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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu played a major role in formulating the so-called Deal of the Century that the US administration, led by US President Donald Trump, is preparing to reveal.

The deal is expected to undermine the cause of the Palestinian people. Palestinian observers and analysts believe Netanyahu succeeded in convincing the Trump administration to ensure major issues, including the status of Jerusalem, refugees, the annexing of large swathes of the West Bank and the Golan and strategically and irreversibly isolating and separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, are settled in a manner that annuls Palestinian national rights.

Mohsen Abu Ramadan, a Palestinian writer and political analyst, says Netanyahu has succeeded in making the economy the top priority for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by placing them under siege, and in the West Bank by withholding monies the Palestinian Authority pays to families of detainees and martyrs.

Netanyahu has also been able to begin normalisation with some Arab countries before resolving the Palestinian issue by using Iran as a bogeyman. All of which, argues Ramadan, means Netanyahu’s fortunes in the elections have become a litmus test for the future of Palestinians everywhere.

Ramadan says the continued steadfastness of the Palestinian people in the face of the racist Israeli nationality law and all other forms of racial discrimination will require the joint Arab electoral list winning support despite criticism of some of its leaders.

He urged Arabs in the 1948 territories to ensure Netanyahu is defeated in the elections by casting their votes for the joint list.

Earlier this month the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee called for “outright rejection of the Deal of the Century which is an Israeli plot to dissolve the Palestinian cause”.

The Deal of the Century, Washington’s peace plan for the Middle East, is expected to force Palestinians to compromise the status of Jerusalem, the right of return of refugees and the borders of any anticipated Palestinian state in return for financial inducements.

The economic aspects of the deal were revealed by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner at a conference hosted by Bahrain in Manama in June.

The 10-year plan aims to finance investments through grants and subsidised loans to Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon worth $50 billion, provide one million jobs and multiply GDP.

Palestinian leaders have refused to consider any US proposals since Washington announced in late 2017 that east and west Jerusalem are the capital of Israel and moved its embassy there on 14 May 2018.

In May 2019, after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition, the Knesset opted to dissolve itself and force a fresh election.

Soon after his election victory Trump chose Jason Greenblatt as his peace envoy to the Middle East, and therefore as de facto ambassador for the Deal of the Century. Yet though Greenblatt was the point man for a plot radical Zionists, led by Netanyahu, support, he resigned days before the Israeli elections after which the deal was supposed to be revealed. Greenblatt’s sudden resignation raises many unanswered questions.

According to Palestinian political analyst Iyad Al-Shorbaji, “the rejection of the deal by the Palestinians and several regional powers, and the lack of diplomacy by Netanyahu and Trump in handling the plan, restricted Greenblatt’s ability to manoeuvre in the region and talk to all parties.”

Al-Shorbaji argues the repeated delays in announcing the deal, most recently until after the new Israeli elections, suggests Washington and Tel Aviv are stumbling, and that Greenblatt’s resignation could undermine the plan, “especially after its economic portion failed in Manama”.

Whatever the reasons, says Al-Shorbaji, “it is notable that one of Trump’s key advisers resigned at such a sensitive time.”

The writer and commentator Talal Okal points to a serious hurdle on Netanyahu’s path to victory: should Netanyahu’s Likud Party win more seats than Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, Netanyahu will face the same problems building a workable coalition that he did after the last election, whereas the hand of former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, who dug in his heels and triggered early elections the first time, will have been strengthened.

Okal believes Israel could face a serious crisis if neither the far right nor centre right was able to form a government, given how elusive any unity government alternative is likely to be.

Not that either choice will benefit the Palestinians given the far and centre right uphold the same policies and goals despite their differences in approach.

Pundits believe Netanyahu had hoped to gain enough support in the new Knesset to pass a law granting any prime minister immunity from prosecution while in office.

When he announced at the end of his election campaign that settlements in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel it was widely interpreted as a trade-off between sovereignty and immunity.

Netanyahu may deny this was his intent but the move will not only damage Israeli democracy but also the prospects for peace, with or without Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century.

It is difficult to predict what any putative partners in a Netanyahu coalition will insist on a future peace deal in return for their support. No analysts expect the US plan to reference a Palestinian state which means it will be immediately rejected by the Palestinians. This would provide Netanyahu with an excuse not to make any steps to secure a deal.

Israel has proportional representation, which means each party is allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes it wins. No party in Israel’s history has won an absolute majority.

The president of Israel calls on the leader of the largest party to form a coalition government capable of wielding a majority in the Knesset.

In the last elections Likud won a handful more seats than the Blue and White Party and Netanyahu attempted to form a government. After failing to do so the Knesset was dissolved and new elections called.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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