Sometime in late October 2020, I wrote an article entitled “And the winner is … Bennett.” This was at the height of the Balfour demonstrations, which aroused the false sense that young people had finally risen up to overthrow Bibi. My article was a borderline desperate attempt to warn that the beneficiary of these protests was none other than Naftali Bennett, who did not participate, did not support and even opposed the protests, on the pretext that the issue is not “yes Bibi or no Bibi,” but how to deal with Covid. At the time, the polls predicted 23 Knesset seats for Bennett and 26 for Netanyahu. Since then we’ve been spun into a fourth round of elections, thanks to Bibi’s desperate campaign to get the 61 Knesset seats that would save him from his criminal trial. The results disappointed everyone: Bibi won 30 seats, Bennett crashed to 7, and the renewal of Bibi’s trial was accompanied by his unfounded and dangerous charge that the State Attorney’s Office is attempting “a coup.”
Netanyahu is stuck between Itamar Ben Gvir, the Jewish Kahanist, and Mansour Abbas, the Arab fundamentalist, for he needs both their parties to reach the coveted 61. He is a defendant not only at his literal trial but also in a trial by the media, having won a reputation as a man who does not keep agreements. Although only 52 MKs have recommended him to form the government, President Rubi Rivlin has given him the mandate to try. Though reduced to 7 seats, Bennett is once again the kingmaker. If he wants to go with Netanyahu, he will, and if not he will join Yair Lapid, who heads the second biggest party, Yesh Atid. Lapid has even offered Bennett the first half of a rotating premiership. Bennett’s 7 can only stretch so far, however, especially if he winds up as Prime Minister of a coalition including the far Right, the Center, the Left and the Arab parties. Such a show would be an ephemeral hallucination. On the other hand, to go with ideology—that is, to join Netanyahu—would be a major gamble for Bennett, partly because it would depend on outside support from the Islamic Movement. In short, we remain in a mess that cannot be resolved, even after four elections.
The political map changed because of divisions within the parties: Gideon Saar resigned from the Likud. Gantz’s Blue and White shrunk to 8 seats, the Arab Joint List was weakened by the secession of the Islamic Movement, which won 4, reducing its former partners from 10 to 5. The blocs have remained intact, however, and none has an absolute majority, while Bibi still enjoys the solid support of over a million voters. Despite rumors about a fifth election, it is clear to everyone, including Bibi, that an additional round may cause another shock within each bloc but won’t change the balance between them. What did not work four times is unlikely to work a fifth.
The repeated elections place a mirror before Israeli society. The public feels hopeless about its ability to effect change, and despite the multiplicity of parties, public discourse remains shallow, lacking in vision. The society treads water. The positive effect of the vaccines, the decline of the pandemic and the reasonable economic situation (due to high-tech), inhibit desire for change. Netanyahu, for all his shortcomings, represents continuity.
Although there is no solution to the current political entanglement, which has maintained Netanyahu as the leader of transitional or faltering governments for the last two years, the sad fact is that the right-wing camp gets stronger. It now has 76 MKs, if we include the four Islamists. The Zionist Left has only 13, making it a minority devoid of influence. The practical result of the Left’s decline is the maintenance of Israel as a Jewish state at the cost of being a democracy. The vigorous campaign to subject the Supreme Court to the will of the right-wing, and the desire to annex the West Bank, perpetuate the apartheid regime. Palestinian civil and political rights continue to be denied. The fact that the Zionist Left failed to raise the Palestinian issue in the public debate before the election, and its willingness to swallow Bennett to get rid of Bibi, show how desperate it is to preserve what little remains of its political status.
On the Palestinian side, the situation is similar. The Arab population in Israel prefers to concentrate on budgets and improve its standard of living, without adopting positions on issues such as human rights and democracy. Violence in general and violence against women in particular, the persecution of homosexuals, corruption within local councils, and high unemployment among young people, all explain the indifference of the Arab public and the loss of confidence in its ability to wage influence through the ballot box. In the Palestinian Authority, the situation is no better. The divisions within the PA, its conflict with Hamas, the deteriorating economic situation, the silence when it comes to corruption, and the PA’s inability to improve civilian life or end the Occupation, make Israel feel that the Palestinians have become a minor issue.
Once the Occupation is erased from the Israeli equation, the division between Right and Left also disappears. What’s more, the Israeli version of the neoliberal economy has become a consensus, and so a coalition can be formed that connects Bennett from one end to Meretz on the other. Yet somewhere across a sea and an ocean a new government was recently formed, headed by Joe Biden. He defeated Trump with a progressive program including the Green New Deal, adopted the agenda of Black Lives Matters, and presented an alternative worldview based on an understanding that the old division between Left and Right is irrelevant. According to Biden, the struggle today is not between communism and capitalism, but between autocracy and democracy.
If Biden’s new paradigm were adopted by Israeli liberals who advocate democracy and dislike Netanyahu, as well as by Palestinian liberals who oppose the dictatorships of Abu Mazen in the West Bank and Yahya Sinwar in Gaza, we could defeat the Israeli-Palestinian autocracy, which incites one citizen against another, one people against another.
Biden’s paradigm would be distant and even utopian, were it not that he is willing to invest $4 trillion to make it real. In the competition between democratic America and autocratic China, Biden is working to restore the US economy to its status as the most developed in the world, while strengthening the status of workers and creating new jobs. The task is clear: to save the planet, fight climate change, and strengthen democracy by increasing the government’s role in socioeconomic development. Those who do not adapt to the new economy will be left behind, and those who do not choose sides in this war will be unable to face the extreme Right. It is the same Right that sides with Trump, Putin, Orban, Bolsonaro and their ilk, haters of foreigners, immigrants, blacks, Jews and gays.
The political tangle in Israel stems from the lack of an alternative program to that of the Right. The people are right-wing because they are offered no other choice, while fear of the stranger, even if irrational, has become second nature. The democratic future of the two peoples, the Israeli and the Palestinian, depends on the ability of democratic forces to cross the line and connect. Biden made it clear to America and the world that the hegemony of “White America” can no longer be upheld if the US wants to remain a democracy.
This is exactly the situation facing the Israeli Left. Israel will not be able to exist as a democracy as long as it continues to promote its Jewish character. America’s demographic reality has overcome axioms that lasted 200 years. Likewise, the demographic reality between the Jordan and the Mediterranean also dictates a change of mindset. America is investing $4 trillion to turn an idea into reality, redress past injustices against black citizens and eradicate poverty. Israelis and Palestinians can also adopt a joint economic plan that will change the face of Israeli and Palestinian society, eliminate social disparities, favor labor over capital, and end the injustice that has lasted more than 50 years. The alternative to apartheid is one egalitarian state, and the alternative to the Right in Israel and to autocracy in the Occupied Territories is an “Israeli-Palestinian Green New Deal.”