The next generation of Israeli leaders could complete Israel’s isolation

This was first published on the Middle East Monitor on Saturday, 19 March 2016

File photo of Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues greeting supporters after their electoral win last yearPhoto from the Middle East Monitor

The nature of Israeli politics tells us that elections could be called fairly quickly. Should that happen in the next couple of years it is of course feasible that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could stand and win a further term. However, if he chooses retirement, then who might replace him is important both to domestic Israeli issues but crucially to the conflict with the Palestinians. Their record to date and their stated positions on a number of issues will tell us about their possible approach to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.

The ongoing shift to the right both in Israeli society and Israeli politics suggests that a left wing coalition led by say the Labour party or the ‘centrist’ Kadima party is unlikely to win and have any chance of forming a government in the near future. However, before dismissing potential leaders from the left, an examination of the current party leaders’ positions offers no hope of a genuine attempt to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

Take the leader of Labour, Yitzhak Herzog. As leader of the Zionist Union bloc, he was touted as a potential game changer at the last Israeli elections in 2015. He claimed that if elected he would “try to reignite” the peace process with the Palestinians. However, in reality he was only looking at seeking “confidence building measures” which would have simply prolonged the occupation. There was no vision.

In recent weeks Herzog has demonstrated his true colours in relation to how he would really deal with the Palestinians. There was clear acknowledgement that the two-state solution was “impossible to realise under current conditions” and that rather than reaching out to the Palestinians and changing the dynamics of the conflict, his plan is to separate from them. “I wish to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible,” said Herzog, speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“They over there and we over here; we’ll erect a big wall between us. That is the kind of co-existence that’s possible now. You exist there and we exist here.” Remember, this “plan” is from the leader of the left in Israel. What hope then from the right?

Within the Likud party, Gideon Saar who was a minister under Netanyahu and then took a break from politics has criticised him for not taking hard enough action against the Palestinians. In 2012 he claimed that the establishment of a Palestinian state was “never part of Likud’s platform”.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, a former brigadier general in the Israeli army has been described as “Trump in high heels”. She has called for Arab Knesset members who pray at Al-Aqsa to be jailed. She believes that any “concessions on Jerusalem or the status of Palestinian refugees should require an absolute majority in the Knesset. Regev also called for the family of the Beersheba “terrorist” to be expelled to Gaza.

Another of the crop of possible future Likud leaders, Tzipi Hotovely, is the de facto foreign minister who holds some of the most extreme views amongst the potential leaders. Shortly after her appointment she proclaimed: “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country. This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

To complete the crop of possible future leaders from Likud is Netanyahu’s number two, Gilad Erdan, minister of public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy with the specific brief to fight the growing BDS movement.

The lack of possible moderate future leaders extends beyond Likud. Take former Likud member now Finance Minister and head of Kulanu Moshe Kahlon. He claims that he sees no possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians as he does not see a Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate and asserts that Jerusalem will remain united.

The views of Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party and Israel’s minister of education, provide no hope for peace with the Palestinians if he was ever to lead Israel. He famously said: “I’ve killed many Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that.” Bennett recently banned a novel on Jewish-Arab romance from schools in Israel for “threatening Jewish identity”.

As for the Palestinians, he believes that parents don’t keep children from terrorism because “the Palestinian Authority pays them”. Regarding the peace process, he said “the time has come to say Israel is ours” and “to go from strategic defence to a process of initiating the implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the territories under Israeli control in Judea and Samaria.” Thus he supports annexing the West Bank and is firmly against a two-state solution.

It is rather ironic that the Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked holds some of the most extreme views amongst the next generation of potential leaders. In 2014, the notorious Palestinian hater said: “They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” She was recently heavily criticised for attempting to introduce a “transparency bill” designed to curb the activities of NGOs partly funded by foreign governments in what was seen as an attempt to silence criticism of Israel.

For those looking beyond Prime Minister Netanyahu to the new crop of potential Israeli leaders that could bring peace to historic Palestine, I have some bad news. Israel’s move to the right and to further denial of Palestinian rights appears to be permanent and the mirage of a final settlement based on a two-state solution is just that, a mirage as none of the potential leaders has come out in favour. They are for continued occupation, dispossession and oppression until the Palestinians submit. The Palestinians have shown no indication that they will anytime soon as evidenced by the continuing intifada. The status quo is therefore likely to continue and with it Israelis will see their country’s isolation accelerate. The next Israeli elections will not offer them a choice between moderate and extremist candidates, only a choice between extremist and more extremist. That is a bad situation for them but also as importantly, for Palestinians and anyone that wants to see peace in the Holy Land.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He blogs at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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