The Israel lobby group J Street had a webinar today in which its leaders declared two silver linings from the stunning elevation of Netanyahu yesterday that ends a year of political stalemate:
1, Benny Gantz may have betrayed the Israeli center that wanted to dethrone Netanyahu, but as Netanyahu’s partner he will prevent the Israeli government from annexing the West Bank over the next 10 months.
2, The mainstreaming of Palestinian lawmakers as players in the Israeli discourse has been “huge” and would have been unthinkable even a year ago.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, said that the next ten months are “critical” for right wing Israeli advocates of annexation. “After corona [crisis ends], they will try and seize that victory and the land, before a Biden government comes in.”
Yael Patir, the head of J Street’s Israeli arm, said annexation has been set back: “Everything we thought about and were worried about in terms of the fast pace in which annexation can be… implemented… is on hold… It’s not on the table right now.” Trump can’t OK Israeli annexation because he’s too enmeshed in the coronavirus crisis and the reelection campaign.
And reports in Israel are that Benny Gantz abandoned his partners and joined Netanyahu’s government with (as one condition) that Gantz will have “a veto on anything to do with annexation.” Gantz is a likely foreign minister under Netanyahu, and “I assume it is his desire to stop it [annexation], but I don’t know for sure,” Patir speculated, given that an overwhelming portion of the military/security establishment that Gantz comes out of is against it. Having Gantz in a critical foreign policy position is a far better outcome than having a far-right leader like Naftali Bennett or Yisrael Katz in that position.
Ben-Ami echoed the point, saying Gantz’s “deepest thoughts are close to other commanders,” who are aware of the “tragedy that befalls Israel if they go down that path.” (The Zionist nightmare of one state).
Patir said that a Netanyahu-Gantz government could have connections to both sides of the American pro-Israel discourse. Gantz or his ally Gabi Ashkenazi in the foreign ministry will strengthen the Israeli relationship to the Democratic Party, and “create some distancing from Netanyahu… to show there is alternative leadership in Israel, willing to do things differently.”
She reflects the fact that the Israel lobby in the U.S. is now divided in two branches. One is extremely pro-Israel– AIPAC, Likudnik, Republican Party– and the other softer pro-Israel, the Democratic Party of Buttigieg and Biden with Sanders pushing the margins. It’s Lipinski versus Newman. But Israel maintains bipartisan support.
Ben-Ami and Patir downplayed the racism that destroyed Gantz’s hopes of forming a “minority” government that would unseat Netanyahu. They alluded to the fact that two racists in Benny Gantz’s own party refused to be any part of a government supported by Palestinians. “At the end of the day [Palestinians] were still not seen to be legitimate enough by the Blue and White world to really be a potential partner in a government,” Ben-Ami said.
Patir herself expressed misgivings about a minority government dependent on an outside bloc of 15 Palestinian party votes, saying that the “best option under corona” seems to be a unity (Jewish) government with a majority of Jewish legislators.
But both liberal Zionist leaders said that Israeli Palestinian legislators are now an empowered voice in Israeli society. It is a “wonderful thing,” Ben-Ami said, to see the Joint List is a “player.” Palestinian politicians were interviewed on Israeli media as participants in Israeli politics, not just Palestinian politics. Ben-Ami said this anticipates a more equal future, maybe decades away. The “cooperation and that ability to work functionally and normally together is the key to the future… the only way you can see the country fully on track in the decades ahead,” he said.
Patir said that Israeli Jewish “discourse” had made huge progress in the last year in seeing Palestinians as partners. “I don’t want to push aside or to ignore in any way the massive racism, and Netanyahu’s campaign and billboards, and how horrible it is, but nobody would have imagined a year ago that the discussion in Israel will be where it’s at today, and that 70 to 80 percent of Blue and White voters that are centrist voters would be in favor a government that is supported by the Joint List. So I just want to say, That that’s huge.”
Patir referred to Netanyahu’s campaign seeking to demonize Palestinian legislators as extraneous figures and terrorism-supporters. And to the fact that with the exception of a few rightwing racists inside Blue and White, the party and its constituency were largely supportive of Palestinian political partnership. It is “a long term project,” she said, to build such political partnership, “that today seems not legitimate.”
It is possible that the Joint List could end up as the leaders of the opposition to the government, she said. And that Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List will be the head of a human welfare committee in the Knesset that plays a large role in Israel’s reconstruction after corona.
She also said that Palestinian political leaders are being clear today that Gantz did not betray them, he betrayed his own constituents; and that they will continue to represent theirs– meaning the diverse Jewish-Arab Israeli left…