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In Israel, ‘politics as usual’ means escalating Palestinian oppression

Three trends from Israel’s do-over election demonstrate that the more Israeli politics stay the same, the more dangerous its policies become.

Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz seen with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony held in honour of incoming IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot (not seen) at a ceremony held in Eizenkot's honour at the PM's office in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2015. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90 *** Local Caption *** ??? ?????? ?????? ?????? ??? ??? ????? ??

Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz seen with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony held in honour of incoming IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2015. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90.

There are many moments in Israeli-Palestinian history where landmark developments seem to change nothing and everything at the same time. Israel’s September election is one of them. While featuring many familiar and predictable patterns, the latest political contest has also exposed novel shifts that could significantly alter the conflict’s dynamics. Three key and interconnected trends that reflect this paradox can be drawn from the election, all of which present crucial strategic questions for the Palestinian struggle in the years ahead.

The first trend is the intensified targeting of the voting rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. A fifth of the state’s population, Palestinian citizens have always faced obstructions to their political activities despite their enfranchisement since 1948. However, under the three consecutive governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the past decade has seen a startling escalation of racist incitement and measures aimed at further undermining Palestinian participation in the electoral process. This trend is noticeable with each passing election cycle: In the final weeks of the September campaign, Netanyahu launched relentless diatribes about the threat of a “leftist-Arab” government, repeated baseless claims of “voter fraud” in Arab towns, and told his Facebook followers that the Arabs “want to annihilate us all.” His most notorious claim in the 2015 election – warning that Palestinian citizens were heading to the polls “in droves” – seems negligible in comparison.

This intensifying rhetoric has been paired with direct political actions. In April, Likud-affiliated election monitors were found to be carrying over 1,200 hidden cameras at Arab polling stations, with the intention of causing disruptions that would prevent voters from submitting their ballots, and to scare the Palestinian public from coming to the polls for fear of surveillance. Israel’s Central Elections Committee later forbade this practice, but in response, the Likud initiated emergency legislation to have the cameras installed (the bill failed to pass the Knesset). Ironically, these frantic attempts to deter Palestinian citizens backfired: voter turnout jumped from 49 percent in April to 60 percent in September, and the Joint List (the alliance of four Arab-led political parties in Israel) regained its position as the third largest party with 13 Knesset seats.

Despite this outcome, the government remains intent on keeping Palestinian citizens of Israel in its crosshairs. It has portrayed the community as saboteurs of the right-wing’s rule and as enemies of the Jewish-Zionist consensus, thus suggesting that their right to vote ought to be scrutinized — an idea that Avigdor Liberman, head of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, has long championed. This is in addition to other methods of political aggression, such as motions to disqualify Arab parties and individuals from running in the elections; a raised electoral threshold (3.25 percent) that makes it harder for Arab parties to enter the Knesset; a law that allows 90 Knesset members to expel a fellow member on political grounds; and disciplinary measures to punish Arab representatives for criticizing government policies abroad. This hostility will likely continue, if not worsen, under another right-wing government.

A Palestinian family watch news of Israeli elections at their home in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, April 10, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A Palestinian family watch news of Israeli elections at their home in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, April 10, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The second trend is the coalescence of Israeli political parties around the right-wing’s approach to ‘managing’ the Palestinian question. In a resounding historical turn, the September election has firmly ousted the old ‘liberal Zionist’ guard from mainstream politics and reduced its parties to 11 Knesset seats (Labor-Gesher with 6, the Democratic Union with 5). Liberal Zionists never represented a peaceful or democratic camp for Palestinians: the Labor party oversaw the expulsion campaigns of 1948, designed Israel’s discriminatory institutions and the military occupation, and spurred settlement growth during the Oslo years, among other policies. Their decline has nonetheless paved the way for Revisionist Zionists to usurp and reshape the opposition in its own image, with today’s center-left parties adopting many right-wing positions and effectively abandoning the two-state solution as a priority.

Blue and White (Kahol Lavan), led by former army chief Benny Gantz and former television journalist Yair Lapid, is a replica of its rival Likud in nearly all but name. After Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jordan Valley if he was re-elected, the nascent party replied that the plan was their idea all along. After Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, made the controversial move of recommending Gantz to replace Netanyahu as prime minister, Gantz remained uninterested in cooperating with the Arab parties. Blue and White is not yet a sustainable political unit: it is a fragile alliance led by four Ashkenazi men, most of them ex-military officials, who are primarily bonded by their loathing of Netanyahu. Still, with 33 seats compared to Netanyahu’s 32, the party has shown that the most effective way to challenge the Likud is to mirror the Likud, offering political continuity but without the prime minister’s personal drama.

The Revisionists’ dominance of the political landscape has been clear for decades; but after this election, the Israeli debate over what to do with the Palestinian ‘problem’ now belongs almost exclusively to the right. There are many clashes and divisions within the right-wing bloc over how to proceed, including whether to create a shriveled Palestinian quasi-state, entrench localized bantustans, or even pursue ‘voluntary’ or forced expulsion. But for now, the consensus remains that until the next collective strategy can be agreed upon, the occupation must be preserved as an integral part of the Israeli state. This is a radical shift from last year when the former Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, still insisted on working towards creating a Palestinian state (even though its vision was hardly different from the right’s). If annexing the Jordan Valley was a debatable idea before, it is now a certain move today.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List party, speaks to supporters at the party headquarters in Nazareth as the exit polls in the Israeli general elections for the 20th parliament are announced on March 17, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, speaks to supporters at the party headquarters in Nazareth as the exit polls in the Israeli general elections for the 20th parliament are announced on March 17, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The third trend is the legal consolidation of a single regime governing all historic Palestine. Regardless of which party wins, or whether a third election is called, the next Israeli government will oversee what is now a fully-enshrined system of racial supremacy stretching from the river to the sea. This ‘one-state reality’ has existed for over 50 years, but the legal dimension has taken on a new nature with the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law in July 2018. In many ways, the law is nothing new: The infrastructure for Jewish supremacy has long been in place not just through the military laws that oppress Palestinians under occupation, but through over 60 civil laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel while upholding Jewish privileges on both sides of the Green Line.

At the same time, the Nation-State Law does change everything by virtue of its constitutional status. It is not merely a declaration: it decrees that Jewish supremacy is no longer a political choice to be made, but a legal obligation to fulfill. This includes viewing the “land of Israel” as the historical homeland of the Jewish people; asserting that the right to self-determination in the state is exclusive to Jews; allowing Arabic to be relegated from its status as an official language; and encouraging Jewish settlement as a “national value.” The Israeli Supreme Court is currently reviewing 14 petitions against the law, including one filed by the legal center Adalah, the Joint List, and the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens (the first hearing on the case has been postponed due to this year’s repeated elections).

No matter how the legal process unfolds, the “spirit” of the Nation-State Law is quickly becoming an irreversible fact of life. It was cited by Netanyahu as evidence that Israel is not a “state for all its citizens,” but a state for “Jews alone.” It is debated among parties only as a matter of amending it with lip-service to “equality,” without questioning whether the law should exist at all. It is manifested in the city of Afula, where the mayor and municipal council pledged to preserve the city’s “Jewish character.” And it is witnessed in the growing support for securing “Jewish sovereignty” across the West Bank, boosted by the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It would therefore be foolish for international actors to continue believing that Israel is committed to its so-called ‘democratic nature’: The Nation-State Law makes it unequivocal that apartheid is the official law of the land.

The three trends above are well-known to Palestinians. What is lacking, however, is a collective strategy to address them – whether to mitigate the harms they are inflicting on the ground, or to counter them with a holistic political vision. The only actor to offer a practical response is the Joint List, which made the polarizing decision to endorse Gantz with conditions for helping his coalition. For many Palestinians, the List made a grave mistake by abetting the narrative of Blue and White as a democratic savior. They would propose instead to look to other actions outside the Knesset. Others argue that it is vital to remove Netanyahu as the linchpin of Israel’s far-right descent, which is causing irreparable damage to Palestinians. The List is not naïve about Gantz but sees him as a means to disrupt the ‘status quo’ of the past decade. But this, too, is not enough. Without a unified approach to tackle the worsening trends, Palestinians will remain trapped in the paradox of having ‘nothing and everything’ changing for a long time.

This article first appeared on Palestine Square, the blog of the Institute for Palestine Studies USA.

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    1. Lewis from Afula

      Whether they are Narnians, Middle Earthers or fakestinyans, suppressing their liberty is physically impossible.
      Why ?
      Because such fake nationalities never existed & never will.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Do you get these childish ideas from some “Darth the Dehumanizer” video game you play in your parent’s basement? From “Bedtime Stories for Kahanist Kiddies”? “The Collected Sayings of Itshaks’ Great Sages,” young reader edition? Or do they just arise de novo, inexplicably, in the form of alpha waves emanating from your midbrain?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Jacqueline O'Connor

      I hope Netanyahu goes to jail where he belongs!

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Hope the JORDANIANS, who currently call themselves “fakestinyans” get re-patriated to JORDAN (where they belong).

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Your perseverative claptrap about Jordan is dismantled by Shaul Arieli here. (Suggest you divert your monthly subscription fee to “Kahane Bahamane” to spring for a subscription to Haaretz and gain access to wisdom–at long last, your holy grail, Jordan, explained!):

          Annexing the Jordan Valley Doesn’t Make Security Sense
          Shaul Arieli

          This includes both the Jordan Valley “security” nonsense and of course the Kahanist mass transfer nonsense (Arieli actually addresses this too here).

          Interesting, isn’t it, how I, living away, know so much more than you, living away too, in Afula, do about your pet theme, Jordan?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            type correction: ““Kahane Bamahane””

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            More commie propaganda from the official Commie rag (Haaretz).
            If you cite BS newpapers, no wonder you arrive at BS conclusions !

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Before the early 1970s, the fictional “p” people
            1. had JORDANIAN passports & IDs
            2. upheld JORDANIAN law
            3. used JORDANIAN Dinars as currency
            4. regarded Hussein OF JORDAN as their King
            5. celebrated JORDANIAN Independence Dayby by waving JORDANIAN flags

            You: I see nothing! I know nothing!

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            Before 1948:

            1. European jews settled in Palestine had Palestinian passport
            2. Shimon Peres, sorry, Szymon Perski, applied for Palestinian citizenship in 1943
            3. used Palestinian pound
            4. upheld Palestinian law

            Before 1949, those “Jordanians” you talk about were PALESTINIANS

            Shall we ask israelis jews to go back to where they belong to? Before 1948 there was nothing like “israel” or “israeli”

            J letter doesnt exist in hebrew btw, so J people are fixional. And don’t tell me J is pronounced Y.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The so-called “fakestinyans” NEVER existed.
            What you’ve got is a bunch of JORDANIANS who have rewritten their past.
            They have ELIMINATED their real:
            Royal Palace
            Capital city
            Political history
            Archaeological record

            as real historical entities and substituted them with IMAGINARY, VIRTUAL analogs that never existed.

            Why did they do all that ?
            1. To remove their own guilt of attempting genocide in 1948 and 1967.
            2. To provide a fresh logic to destroy Israelis – both physically & spiritually.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            You mention the British Mandate of Palestine.
            Why was it created ?

            In 1922, the League of Nations (51 member states) unanimously declared:
            “Whereas recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

            There are two key legal points in this statement.
            1. It recognizes that the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” is a pre-existing right (“grounds for“), not a newly-granted right.
            2. It calls for “reconstituting” their national home, not building a new national home from scratch.

            Again, there is no mention of a “fakestinyan” people in this document. That is because they NEVER existed and NEVER will.
            Regarding Peres, you seem to support the idea that some 18th King had the right to give Jews silly Slavic names of his own choosing. Most fair people do not.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            The mandate was created to take over from Ottoman who lost the war. The population was the same except the increase of immigration of European jews.

            They had 0 connection to Palestine.

            If peres had slavic that means he was from there, his family was deep rooted there in Europe.. His roots were in Europe not from vanished kingdoms.

            Judaism is a religion not a real estate and jews certainly not an “ethnic group”.

            The ONLY people who have connection in Palestine (more than 2000 history) are the MODERN PALESTINIAN MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS. Others are invaders. Also the so called “old yishuv” community who are mainly descendent from Reconquista

            Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      Re: “Before 1948 there was nothing like “israel” …”

      NO actually.
      Ancient Israel definitely existed.
      Ancient times occurred well before 1948 !

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You’re bizarre. Self-determination in complex historical circumstances in a region long called Palestine is not “fakery.” Shall we call America “fake”? Get over it. Find another racist subterfuge to make yourself feel better, this one has worn out its usefulness and looong ago lost its plausibility.
        The Jordanian Option is a euphemism. Its real name is “Anti-Palestinian Option”. That’s what it’s all about. Everything else is unimportant.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Amir

        What is “ancient israel”???

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Amir’s Comments:
          What is Ancient Israel ?
          Shimon Peres was Byelorussian.
          Jews are NOT an ethnic group
          Palestine was mandated out of the defunct Ottoman Empire because the Ottoman Empire was defunct !

          Amir must be a 6 year old boy.

          At least Comrade Ben knows most of the basic facts of history. Albeit his entire interpretative theory is distorted by him falling into the Self-hating, borderless World, Marxist rabbit hole.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            By all indications Lewis’ world is a kind of kiddie video game or pinball machine, or is it miniature golf?, with Marxist rabbit holes and judeofascist victory chutes, and “fakestine” jabbering clowns, and cards you pick of of a deck that say things like “Are you an Arab who bought a home in Afula?–have your house confiscated by the JNF, go back thirty dunams and lose 51 turns.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            See above for expert troll farming from Comrade Ben.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Actually what trolls do is get people off the point. Let’s get back on it. It’s everybody’s job to fight trolls, a form of corruption. I’ll do my part. So read the article above by Shaul Arieli “Annexing the Jordan Valley Doesn’t Make Security Sense”) everyone, and the Counterpunch article by Uri Avnery (“The Jordanian Option.”)

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Comrade Ben returns to the point.
            And the point is that he is a crazy Bolshevik cuckoo who knows nothing about the Real World.
            From 5000 miles away, he plans out his utopian nonsense and nobody listens (except a few obliging leftist nutters).

            Reply to Comment
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