Before a single vote is cast in Israel’s second national election this year, two disturbing facts are clear: the outcome will be as muddled as it was after the April contest, and whoever wins, despite the permanent state of denial in which Western liberals find themselves, Israel/Palestine has become one state — an Apartheid state.
Following April’s election, unable to form a governing coalition of 61 Knesset members, Netanyahu called for a new election, hoping to improve his prospects. During the past five months, he pulled out all the stops. He bombed three countries: Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. He announced that if he wins this new contest, he will annex the Jordan Valley in addition to settlements and outposts spread throughout the West Bank. He accelerated his incitement against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, including a statement that “the Arabs are trying to steal the election” and an incendiary Facebook post claiming that “The Arabs want to annihilate us all — women, children and men.” While Netanyahu denied personal responsibility for the post, most commentators dismissed the denial. And he coerced members of his own party to pledge support for his immunity from prosecution on the multiple corruption charges he is currently facing.
Even with all of this, polls are showing that Netanyahu and his coalition partners will fare no better than they did in April. In fact, it appears that neither Netanyahu’s coalition nor the main opposition to his continued rule have moved beyond the numbers they had in April. The only significant growth appears to be among the ultra-religious and the right-wing secular nationalists. While Netanyahu might like to bring them both into his government, thus giving him in excess of a majority, the secular nationalists are ideologically opposed to the ultra-religious and will not join a government that includes them. At the same time, some of the opposition might be inclined to join a government with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, but at a steep price; namely, that he step down as head of the coalition. Since he is desperate to remain in power to avoid prosecution and humiliation, it is unlikely he will accept. This is precisely why he insisted that his party members pledge loyalty before the election.
Pre-election polls demonstrate that the main opposition coalition, Blue and White, will also have difficulty assembling 61 Knesset seats. An additional problem facing Blue and White’s chances of forming a government is that even the most optimistic tallies of their Knesset counts include the 10-11 seats that will go to the Joint List of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. The leaders of Blue and White have said that they will not form a government dependent on Joint List members and, for their part, the Joint List leaders have said they will only join a governing coalition that agrees to guarantee equality for the Arab citizens of Israel and agrees to end the occupation of Palestinian lands — demands Blue and White leaders have rejected.
As a result, we are back to where we started with an election yielding no outcome other than confusion and rancor.
What’s also clear is that regardless of who wins — if, in fact, anyone does — there will be no change in the reality faced by Palestinians. There will be no end of the occupation and no two-state solution. Israeli politics has moved so far to the right that it is hard to understand how or why the US media continues to refer to Netanyahu’s opposition as a “centre-left” coalition. Whatever the “left” means in this formulation, it most certainly doesn’t mean anything related to Palestinians, peace and human rights. Like Netanyahu, Blue and White maintains that the annexation of Jerusalem and the other Palestinian lands around the city will remain. They have claimed that they too support extending Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and settlements in the West Bank. Maybe the one area where they differ from Netanyahu is in their charge that he has coddled Hamas in Gaza. The Blue and White leader has called, instead, for a major military operation to end Islamist rule in the Strip. Blue and White has also rejected Palestinian citizens of Israel demands to cancel the notorious “Jewish Nation State” law, which maintains that Jews have exclusive rights to national self-determination in “the Land of Israel” and denies full rights to Arab citizens of the state.
This being the case, the hope to which liberals have clung that in the post-Netanyahu era Israel will be different is, at best, an illusion. The only change one might see in a Blue and White-led Israel is an easing of the hold the Orthodox Rabbinate have over aspects of social and religious life in the country. But as far as ending the occupation and meeting minimum Palestinian requirements for an independent state, neither Netanyahu nor the Blue and White have any interest in moving towards that goal.
This is the Israel that Netanyahu and the Likud have built. Since the late 1970s when they first came to power, the Likud embarked on a settlement programme that, in their words, would make a Palestinian state an impossibility. After Oslo, they incited against the agreement, the Labour Party that signed it, and the Palestinians. Their efforts led to anti-peace legislation passed by the Republican-led US Congress, the assassination of prime minister Rabin, and the 1996 election of Netanyahu on a platform of ending the peace process.
During all this time, liberal voices were largely silent as Israel built new settlements, roads and infrastructure, seizing Palestinian land and violating their fundamental rights. While, for Palestinians, Oslo was to have led to separation and two states, this was never embraced by liberals until 2001, when Clinton suggested such an outcome in his “parameters for peace”. Even now, when liberal voices are raised in defence of a two-state solution, the reason they give is not the brutality of the occupation and its violation of Palestinian rights. Rather, it is because they say they want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The reality is that Israel never was nor can it ever be both Jewish and democratic. Nor was it intended to be.
In the beginning of the state, following the 1948 expulsion of Arabs, creating what Ben Gurion called “the double miracle” a state with “more land and less Arabs”, Israel believed it could continue with an Arab minority that would be exploited, managed and repressed. This state of affairs continued until after 1967 when Israel occupied more land, but with it came a larger number of Arabs.
For the first 25 years following the 1967 War, liberals were silent in the face of the brutality of the Israeli occupation. During this time, as Israel dug deep roots into the territories, no effective voices were raised in opposition to prevailing practices. Now it’s too late: the hole Israel dug is too deep.
With 650,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied lands and a network of Jewish-only roads and infrastructure connecting them and dividing the Palestinian lands into isolated pockets, and with no one willing or able to take the steps to roll back this reality, we have one state. And it is an Apartheid state since the majority of those living between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea are Palestinian Arabs.
Given this, the liberal lament over the “potential demise of the two-state solution” isn’t a laughable illusion. It’s irritating, because it was their silence and inaction that allowed it to happen and even now their concern is misdirected. They remain more concerned with preserving the Jewish character of Israel than with the decades of suffering of the Palestinians. Not only was their inaction responsible for Israeli practices, their silence created Israeli impunity. Both Netanyahu and Blue and White know that they can claim sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank, continue to strangle Gaza, expand settlements in the West Bank and “Greater Jerusalem” and nothing will happen.
It is for these reasons that this new Israeli election will decide nothing — not for Israel, nor for the Palestinians.
The writer is president of the Arab American Institute.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.