Tzipi Livni of the Hatnuah party on the right, speaking with Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich (Photo: Nir Kafria/Haaretz)
The liberal Zionist wing of the American Jewish community are deluding themselves about the results of the Israeli elections.
They see the Israeli elections as a triumph for politicians who are going to revive the peace process with the Palestinians and make vital moves to “save” Israel, in their words, from the scourge of apartheid or a one-state solution with equal rights for all. But their rhetoric about the outcome of the elections represents a fantasy with little bearing in the reality of what the Israeli government is and will continue to be: a settlement expanding, occupation supporting right-wing government that is committed to the suppression of Palestinian rights within the Green Line and in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli government, in other words, will remain committed to the status quo of apartheid.
Both J Street and Americans for Peace Now, two reliable barometers of American liberal Zionist opinion, sent out statements hailing the results of the elections. Israel’s election results “provide a new opening for peace and a chance to construct a coalition committed to pursuing a two-state solution. It is important to note that there will be more explicit supporters of the two-state solution in this Knesset than in the last,” crows J Street. “The big winner in the election, the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, has already made it clear that one of its key demands is a revival of the peace process. The Labor Party also increased its strength.”
Americans for Peace Now’s statement was similar, if a bit more measured. “The elections revealed an Israeli electorate that, like its counterpart in the United States, voted in large numbers for progressive values, for change and for hope – as demonstrated by the strong showing of Yair Lapid’s new party,” Debra DeLee, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The spin is enough to make your head hurt. What’s the reality?
Let’s start with Yair Lapid, the handsome Israeli television host whose party took everyone by surprise by garnering 19 seats in the Knesset. Lapid has been derided as a man who has no ideological core, willing to go where the wind blows. And the wind is blowing towards joining a government with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government pummeled the Gaza Strip, killing over 100 civilians. The talk in the Israeli media is that Lapid will likely be Netanyahu’s foreign minister, able to put a pretty face to the world while defending an ugly system.
Lapid’s statements on the Palestinians and where he campaigned tell you all you need to know about this supposedly “centrist” man dedicated to a “peace process” with the Palestinians. The Palestine Center’s Yousef Munnayer points to this statement by Lapid, which shows how the “Liberal Zionist gravitation toward Lapid shows that the movement is by definition more about being anti-Netanyahu than anti-occupation or pro-liberation or anything else”:
While it may be true that the humane thing is to remove the roadblocks and checkpoints, to stop the occupation immediately, to enable the Palestinians freedom of movement in the territories, to tear down the bloody inhumane wall, to promise them the basic rights ensured to every individual. It’s just that I will end up paying for this with my life. Petty of me perhaps to dwell on this point. After all, how important is my life when compared to the chance for peace, justice and equal rights. But still, call me a weakling; call me thickheaded – I don’t want to die.
That statement from Lapid was made in 2007. More recently, he campaigned in the settlement of Ariel, deep into the occupied West Bank and which sits on valuable water reserves stolen from Palestinians. Haaretz reported in October 2012 that “Lapid said the Palestinians would have to recognize that the large settlement blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim would remain within the State of Israel.” All of these settlements are illegal under international law and effectively foreclose the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. And as this site recently noted, Lapid recently said that Israel “must at last get rid of the Palestinians and put a fence between us.”
This is hardly a man interested in genuine peace with the Palestinians. (The hilarious cartoonist Eli Valley has a humorous take on the fiction of Lapid here.)
Then there’s the notion pushed by J Street and Americans for Peace Now that, contrary to the all the media projections, this was an election that did not see a lurch to the right. It’s true that there was not a big leap to the far-right, and you could say that on domestic issues enough Israeli voters went for the center. But on the other hand, Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu still garnered the most seats and the far-right Jewish Home party snagged 12 Knesset seats. So in fact the right remains in power, still deeply committed to the same destructive policies J Street and Americans for Peace Now deplore.
Munayyer debunks this fictional take in this piece on The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog:
This election outcome does mean that Israel has shifted right. Some breathed a sigh of relief when Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party only garnered 11-12 seats instead of the expected 14-15, and believed this meant that the notion that Israel was shifting right was unfounded. Well, there are two significant problems with this. First, the Jewish Home party significantly exceeded the number of seats—seven—that its components (remnants of the National Union and Jewish Home of 2009) received in 2009. The number of seats they received this time would have been higher if not for an increased turnout in the Tel Aviv bubble, where voters are largely oblivious to the occupation but wary of anything religious.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the number of seats Bennett’s party receives is not the only metric of rightward shifts in Israel. Take for example the fact that during the primaries for the Likud—which led the self-proclaimed most pro-settlement government in Israeli history—that party elected even more pro-settler elements into its leadership. The Likud, which then merged with Avigdor Lieberman, the man who was routinely referred to as “far-right” and “ultra-nationalist” only one election ago, is the largest party in the Israeli political system and now has others to its right. Last, keep in mind that while the members of the governing coalition and some of their natural allies were openly and staunchly pro-colonization and even annexation, no party in the Zionist opposition vociferously challenged the Israeli settlement enterprise—with the possible exception of Meretz, which took in a grand total of 7 seats. Those 7 seats, by the way, were considered a remarkable and unexpected triumph.
J Street also mentions the the Labor Party, which garnered 15 Knesset seats (compared to the party’s 13 seats in the previous government), as reason for hope. But the Labor Party leader’s Shelly Yachimovich sees no problem with the West Bank colonization project. “I certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime,” she told Haaretz.
I’ll end with both of these organizations’ praise for Tzipi Livni. Livni, of course, was foreign minister when Israel waged its punishing assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-09, killing 1,400 Palestinians. Livni is the woman who famously said that it was “good” to go “wild” on Gaza–which is exactly what the Israelis did, as they rained down white phosphorus on a civilian population and killed civilians left and right.
And before the elections, +972 Magazine ran this piece by blogger Idan Landau that conclusively shows why Livni is not going to be the person to bring peace:
Do you remember the Palestine Papers? For a brief moment, in January 2011, the world reeled at the exposure of documents from the talks held between the PA and Ehud Olmert’s government in 2008. The Israeli team at the talks was led by Tzipi Livni, who negotiated with the head of the Palestinian team, Abu Alaa. The embarrassing documents were immediately denied by both parties; after all, they presented the Israeli side as obstinately rejectionist and the Palestinians as sycophantic collaborators.
Livni played a central part in this historical fiasco: it was she who rejected, with unconcealed contempt, Abu Alaa’s meek attempt to discuss the partition of Jerusalem (“Huston [sic], we have a problem,” Livni sneered, apparently unaware she was presenting Israel, not the PA, as afloat in outer space.)
The liberal American Zionists are utterly delusional, grasping at any straw to try and convince the world that there is a possibility for a two-state solution and that Israel can make peace. But “peace” on Lapid and Livni’s terms is no peace at all, let alone justice. Both of those figures who J Street and Americans for Peace Now are celebrating have nothing to offer but continued maintenance of an apartheid status quo. I have the same question that Phil Weiss has: when will liberal Zionists give up their dream? It’s dead in the water right now, with no signs of the (mythical) liberal, democratic Israel they love. And the elections don’t change that reality one bit.