Dramatic as they were for returning Netanyahu to power, the Israeli elections did not witness a major shift in political forces; in fact, the center-left (albeit Labor now pandering to the right by rebranding itself the “Zionist Camp”) did better than in the 2013 elections, while the right polled considerably less than half the votes. Indeed, with Labor becoming Likud Lite and many of its supporters defecting to Lapid’s neo-liberal Yesh Atid party, right-left differences are hard to specify. Even Shas, whose ultra-orthodox politics have always been extremely hawkish, became the darling of many leftist Mizrahi intellectuals who believe that Aryeh Deri is a closet “bridge” between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians.
Taking a party’s position on the occupation and achieving a just peace with the Palestinians as our measure of “right-left,” the breakdown is roughly as follows:
2013: 54 seats in the Knesset (of 120)
2015: 51 seats
- Likud/Israel Beitenu (Netanyahu/Lieberman) – 31 Likud – 30
- Israel Beiteinu – 5
- Habayit Hayehudi (Bennett) – 12Habayit Hayehudi – 8
- Shas (Yishai) – 11 Shas (Deri) – 7
2013: 25 seats
2015: 21 seats
- Yesh Atid (Lapid) – 19 Yesh Atid – 11
- Hatnua (Livni) – 6 Kulanu (Kahlon) – 10
2013: 32 seats
2015: 42 seats
- Labor – 15 Zionist Camp – 24
- Meretz (Galon) – 6 Meretz – 4
- Hadash (Barakeh) – 4 United Arab List – 14
- Ta’al (Tibi) – 4
- Balad (Zakhalka) – 3
“Others” (agendas unrelated to “right-left”)
2013: 7 seats
2015: 7 seats
United Torah Judaism – 7 United Torah Judaism – 7
Netanyahu managed to pull out a surprise victory – bucking considerable public fatigue with him in general – by effectively exploiting scare-and-fear tactics. He vowed never to allow a Palestinian state (as if that was ever in doubt), warned Israelis that an international conspiracy was plotting against him and accused the “Zionist Camp” of waging an “illegitimate” campaign. On Election Day he texted virtually all the Jews in Israel that “The Arabs are being bussed in to polling booths by Hamas and leftist money. They are voting in droves. You must vote in droves as well – for the Likud. Save Israel!”
No one can be happy when racism and oppression win the day. In a wider perspective, however, the election may represent a positive game-changer. Not that anything has really changed, but finally the fig-leaf that allowed even liberal Israeli apologists to argue that the two-state solution is still possible has been removed. It had fallen off long ago, of course, but Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech of 2009 in which he weakly endorsed a two-state solution (Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state; no Right of Return; Jerusalem would remain Israeli; no stop to settlement construction – but “negotiations”) was nevertheless held up as proof that such a solution was still possible. Netanyahu’s repudiation of even that minimalist formulation and his vow that if reelected there will never be a Palestinian state has at least cleared the air. Now that there is no longer a “peace process,” no longer “two sides” to conduct pseudo-negotiations, no longer the illusion of a two-state solution. We are finally free to move on to a genuine and just solution.
Yet another fig-leaf dropped in this election as well, the notion that Israel is genuinely a democratic state – the only democracy in the Middle East – and that, in fact, a “Jewish democracy” is even possible. Netanyahu and the others (including Herzog) have clearly excluded “the Arabs” from the Israeli body-politik. This will soon be followed by formal legislation, begun in the last Knesset, declaring Israel to be a Jewish state. When passed, it means that the Supreme Court will be instructed (possible in a country with no constitution) to privilege “Jewish values” and interests over those of equal rights, human rights and international law when they come into conflict. In fact, as the Supreme Court itself ruled last year, there is no “Israeli” people. There is merely a state ruled by Jews extending from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. In that state, some Palestinians (or “Arabs” as they are called, denying their very status as a people with national rights) may possess formal Israeli citizenship, but are excluded from national life. Other Arabs in that state are denied any fundamental human or civil rights; they are locked up in West Bank cells sealed by a Separation Barrier or inhabit the uninhabitable cage of Gaza.
There is a name for such a state: apartheid, but more precisely, prison. For in “greater” Israel the natives are not even dignified by the pretense of a Bantustan.
The realization that successive Israeli governments have created one state in all of the Land of Israel has finally become as irrefutable as it is irreversible. This is the game-changer of this election. Since Israel itself eliminated the two-state solution deliberately, consciously and systematically over the course of a half-century, and since it created with its own hands the single de facto state we have today, the way forward is clear. We must accept the ultimate “fact on the ground,” the single state imposed by Israel over the entire country, but not in its apartheid/prison form. Israel has left us with only one way out: to transform that state into a democratic state of equal rights for all of its citizens. In addition to ensuring its population’s individual civil rights, it must also ensure the collective rights of each of the country’s national groups: Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews.
Netanyahu’s victory paves the way a one-state solution by making the status quo so untenable. But it is only half of the necessary game-changer. The fall, removal or resignation of the Palestinian Authority is the other half. The PA was established to outsource Israeli control to a sub-contractor, a policeman who would do its dirty work. With the end of the two-state solution the PA becomes nothing more than a collaborationist regime. It must vacate the political space so that the mechanism of change – the inevitable Israeli re-occupation that must follow – may usher in the one-state option. May. Unless progressive Palestinian and Israeli forces come together with a fleshed-out plan for an inclusive bi-national, democratic state, the opportunity may be missed and other, darker, more powerful forces may give rise to something even worse than what we have now.
The Israeli elections brought us one step closer to the collapse of apartheid. Who knows when the PA will collapse? Perhaps sooner than later. We need to formulate our own vision of a just peace – and urgently.