It seems every option has been tried and the results are still the same – Bibi, like Putin and Assad, is still here and we can’t get rid of him. We must qualify that comparison: Putin has absolute control of the media and liquidates the opposition, and Assad liquidates the Syrian people with bombs and starvation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, has to contend with a hostile press, but he still succeeds in charming his voters. The forces needed to defeat him simply do not exist in Israeli society. He enjoys the loyalty of the repressed, true, but the reason for his success is mostly the lack of an alternative. Bibi versus “Boujie” (Isaac Herzog) is really not a fair fight – that was clear enough even before they stepped into the ring.
When Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset, he aimed to neutralize two competitors within his coalition: Naftali Bennett (leader of the right-wing “Jewish Home” party) and Yair Lapid (leader of the centrist party, “There is a Future”). The operation was successful beyond all expectations, but the patient is still in ER. From the start, Bibi wanted a government whose members would not challenge his leadership – a kind of return to the unity government of 2009, which ran its full term with the Labor Party in partnership. But when you call for elections, you know only how things will begin – not how they’ll end. What began as an attempt to put Bennett and Lapid in their place led to the election’s big surprise – the partnership between Tzipi Livni and Herzog, who created a serious contender for government with their joint list, the “Zionist Camp.”
Bibi and the Likud
Netanyahu discovered another little thing: the Likud party members, whom he loathes so much that he avoids appearing in the party committees so as not to have anything to do with them, loathe him just as much. This is a deep-rooted, mutual aversion. Netanyahu’s true friends are the tycoons, while the powerful workers’ committees and the party functionaries are his foes. It was not by chance that he “let slip” the comparison between them and Hamas terrorists.
For a moment it seemed that an opportunity for change had come: the prospect of increased voter turnout among the Arabs; the squabbles in the outgoing government coalition, from Lieberman to Lapid; some generous assistance from the anti-Netanyahu Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot and the v15 movement, and – voila! – we can stop Bibi!
But when the threat became tangible and the opinion polls showed him sliding, Bibi called “Oy! Gewalt! The Leftists are coming!” to remind the Likud tribe of their traditional hatred for the Labor Party and their primordial fear of the Arabs. At the last moment he surged ahead. For the first time in his political career, Bibi finds himself in a position he has always tried to avoid like the plague: pure Right.
Events have their own dynamic. The more the Zionist Camp advanced in the polls, the more the polarization increased and the bigger the gamble. This time Netanyahu left no room for uncertainty. His declaration that there would never be a Palestinian state, and the call on Likud voters to rush to the ballot because the Arabs were “voting in droves,” were suicide from a policy point of view, but bought him political breathing space. As a result of Bibi’s left-bashing, his Likud base shouted against the idea of a unity government with the Zionist Camp, leaving him no choice but to go for a pure rightist government. Without a moderate partner, Bibi will have no fig leaf – and he is not used to this.
The White House is once more fuming and at a loss. Obama is supposed to support Israel while its government goes back on its commitment to a Palestinian state, and its prime minister relates to Israel’s Arab citizens as a fifth column whose participation in the elections is viewed as a threat. It reminds Obama of the dark days in the southern US when African Americans were unable to vote. In fact, the government has openly declared that it is leading the country into the unknown, and it is willing to run up against the entire world as it does so.
But these positions were not suddenly exposed in the last stages of the election race. They were not acts of despair from a man fearful of losing his seat. The “nation-state law” which blatantly discriminates against Arab citizens was the reason the government was dissolved, and the position of the prime minister – who denies the PA as a partner for peace – has long been known. It was Bibi who consistently told the public that if the occupied territories were to be “given” to the Palestinians, they would rapidly fall into the hands of Hamas and ISIS.
The feeble mumblings of the Zionist Camp on this issue demonstrated that there are no fundamental differences of opinion between the two sides. Herzog holds to the position of endless negotiation under US auspices without reaching an agreement, while Netanyahu views this as a dangerous tactic which leads to “creeping concessions”, as he called the Oslo Accords. In this sense the elections were like a referendum on the future of the territories. The people have spoken, and there’s no point going to Bibi to complain.
But we can and must complain to the Zionist Camp, Meretz, and the Joint (Arab) List, who did not address the fundamental issues and made do with the slogan “Anyone but Bibi” – which succeeded only in bringing Bibi back. If Herzog promises to solve the housing problem as his main objective, while ignoring the Occupation, why should we blame Netanyahu?
The ball’s in the Palestinian court
Israel has no alternative to the Right – so the ball is in the Palestinian’s court. If the Palestinians thought Herzog and the Zionist Left would save them from themselves and from the need to make decisions, the elections bring them up against tough choices.
It’s true that the PLO Central Committee (yes, the PLO is still alive, though not exactly kicking) has decided to suspend security cooperation with Israel, but the threat has already been proven ineffective, because this cooperation serves Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Fatah as a means of securing donor money and as protection against a Hamas takeover; everyone knows it will continue as long as the PA exists. The PA’s appeal to the International Court at The Hague may be a threat to Israel, but it does nothing to bring the Occupation to an end or dismantle the settlements.
The incoming government intends to step up construction in Area C and permit the Palestinians to manage their own affairs in the lands that remain in their hands. The PA lives off the funds from donor states and the taxes transferred by Israel, and it is clear to all that its leaders are not about to give up their privileges. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip continues to bleed: some 100,000 new refugees passed a cold winter in the flattened neighborhoods, and there can be no doubt that the situation will soon explode once more. But the only thing the new government will be willing to do is to ease the siege a little.
In light of this, the PA can accuse Israel of being colonialist and racist, but this explanation for the election results is somewhat simplistic. It’s true that Israelis have learned to live with the Occupation as “shrapnel in the butt,” as Bennett put it two years ago – something that bothers us sometimes, but doesn’t prevent us leading a normal life. But the Palestinians must shoulder part of the blame for the election results, because they too have resigned themselves to their situation.
The more than twenty years in which funds have flowed to the PA and the NGOs close to it have bought Israel some quiet, while the extremism of Hamas has driven Israeli voters rightwards. Thus, between resigning themselves to the Occupation on the one hand and the empty threat of destroying Israel on the other, the Palestinians will allow Bibi to sail to victory in the future too.
Let there be no mistake: the International Court and Obama will not come to the Palestinians’ aid. Obama is willing to form an alliance with Iran at the expense of the Syrian people, who are undergoing terrors far greater than those of the Palestinians, so he will certainly resign himself to the occupation too. US-Israel relations are above any personal animosity between an Israeli prime minister and a US president. The Left in Israel has shown it is powerless, and the Israeli nation does not think of the future – it lives in the present.
Therefore a response to Bibi and the Israeli Right is up to the Palestinians. Now they must stop their de facto, tacit acceptance of the Occupation. If they manage to do this, they will force the Left and the Arab population of Israel to change their agenda and create a democratic, Jewish-Arab camp which prioritizes ending the Occupation and achieving peace. Only in this way will they succeed in challenging the Right, turning its current victory into a Pyrrhic one.
– Translated by Yonatan Preminger