Israeli elections and the Palestinian question

First published by TRT World on 8/4/2019

Palestinians are hardly a footnote in the Israeli election and those who get to vote are forced to make a choice between soft apartheid and a hard one.

As Israelis go to the polls to elect their next parliamentarians and prime minister, spare a thought for the occupied Palestinians. They exist on their land occupied and oppressed, but will not figure in the political manoeuvrings. Israel does not offer a vote to all those it reigns over legally or through occupation.

The Israeli government exercises primary control between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, where 13 million people live, made up of 6.5 million Jewish Israelis and 6.5 million Palestinians. All Jewish Israelis are illegible to vote while only its Palestinian citizens are ineligible to vote.

Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are eligible to vote, while their Palestinian neighbours are cut out of the process.

These Israeli elections are the first since the Knesset passed the Nation-State Law last year, which defined Israel as a homeland only for Jews and determined that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel. It also demoted the status of Arabic, the language of 20 percent of the population, and the original language of the land, from an official language to one that has a ‘special status’.

The law also designated Jewish-only settlements a ‘national value’.

Contenders

The run-up to the Israeli elections has been characterised the lack of any meaningful discussion about peace with the Palestinians. Instead, Israeli politicians emboldened by a fully supportive and pliant Trump Administration have focused on candidate’s promises to either hit the Palestinians harder and/or entrench the occupation.

The Israeli electorate has moved considerably further to the right and Israel’s Labour Party, led by Avi Gabbay, is likely to struggle in the elections.

In a bizarre advert for the far-right Hayamin Hehadash party that did not translate well outside of Israel, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is seen spraying herself with a perfume labelled “Fascism”. She joins Education Minister Neftali Bennet in this new party, which they controversially formed following a split from the Bayit Yahudi party.

possible kingmaker in any coalition could be Moshe Feiglin, a maverick politician with a mix of libertarian and ultra-nationalist views. It is a measure of the absence of the Palestinian issue in the election that it is his stance on the legalisation of cannabis rather than his broader political agenda, that has resulted in his popularity. He advocates a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (that would be one Jewish state) and the takeover by Israel’s rabbinical authorities of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound. He also proposes eventually rebuilding the Jewish temple there. But that’s not what is making the headlines.

Newcomer and former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz bragged about how much killing and destruction he committed in Gaza in a series of campaign videos for his new political party posted on YouTube and social media.

He’s formed a new party called “Israel Resilience” and has teamed up with two other former military men, Moshe Yaalon and Gabi Ashkenazi. The Israel Resilience Party has joined Yesh Atid, and Telem Parties under a coalition labelled ‘Blue and White’. The coalition also brings another well-known politician, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid under its umbrella. This coalition is seen as the main challenger to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The coalition presents itself as the one that will provide security, and in essence mirror many of Netanyahu’s Likud Party’s policies with regards to Palestinians.

Bibi in the driving seat

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, remains in the driving seat, bolstered by a Trump administration, which has been handing him win after win. It started during Trump’s first meeting with Netanyahu as president when he moved away from the US commitment to a two-state solution and was followed by recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the move of the Embassy from Tel Aviv in record time.

The US then ended funding of the Palestinian Authority and moved to defund the UNRWA in an attempt to collapse the Palestinian refugees’ UN organisation as it sought ways of taking the refugee issue off the negotiating table.

Trump has acted almost as Netanyahu’s election agent, recently handing him US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

With Jerusalem and the Golan in the bag, Netanyahu felt sufficiently emboldened to make a move to hammer home the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. He has committed to extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and to keeping security control West of the Jordan River.

While many can argue about whether this is a full annexation or selective annexation, the fact is that the days of the international community chasing the mirage of a two-state solution are over.

Israel is now a fully-fledged state presiding over two people of roughly equal numbers, but where only Jews have full rights, while Palestinians have some, where they are its citizens, but none if they are under occupation, whether in Gaza or the West Bank.

Palestinians have been ethnically cleansed from the Israeli elections. Whether they are citizens of Israel, under occupation, in refugee camps or the diaspora, Israeli democracy has shunned them.

There is no return for Palestinian refugees, an end to the occupation or the siege on Gaza, freedom of movement or equal treatment. They will not enjoy a state, share sovereign borders with neighbouring countries, an airport or a seaport. Palestinian citizens of Israel will not be able to marry and live with Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza and neither can Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, do the natural thing, marry, and move freely to live with their partner.

While Kushner and Greenblatt work to finalise the ‘deal of the century which they have promised after the elections, Palestinians know that the deal will be whatever Israel wants, funded by the Gulf states.

Trump’s America is untroubled by Israel becoming an apartheid state, but Palestinians and Israelis should be. Palestinians have little influence on the Israeli elections while most Israelis seem to lack the will or the options to elect politicians driven by peace or justice. Their choice is between placing their cross in a ‘soft apartheid’ or a ‘hard apartheid’ box on the ballot paper. This is Israel, 72 years after its creation in Palestine.

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