After Israel’s elections, reasons to cheer
The return to power of the same regime with a stronger mandate should have set the status quo in stone. Instead, the election has created important shifts in the status quo. One of these shifts is, indeed, Barack Obama’s statement that “we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo”. So what’s new?
A new Palestinian leadership
The really earth-moving result is not Netanyahu’s “landslide” but the fact that the Joint List made it into third place, having emerged into the mainstream during the campaign as a high profile and cross-ethnic leadership and role model.
This grouping is made up of traditional Arab parties together with the Arab-and-Jewish parties Balad and Hadash, and led by Palestinian Israeli lawyer Ayman Odeh (pictured) who personally worked a powerful charm offensive. Some cool publicity and Odeh’s calmly assertive handling of the lout Lieberman in a TV confrontation have given him celebrity status, and his bloc has a new spring in its step.
If Hadash can cash in on its electoral buzz with new membership growth and a sustained public face, it could gather together Israel’s scattered dissidents into a mass membership party with a common purpose.
The List stood for equality, co-existence and social inclusion for all Israel’s people. Hadash itself has a track record of leading struggles for workers’ and women’s rights, against the Bedouin ethnic cleansing, against the Occupation, and the pervasive social and bureaucratic discrimination applied to Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
Odeh writes that “We are the antithesis of the main larger blocs … Our Joint List calls for the unification of all the weak and oppressed populations, regardless of race, religion, or sex. … the Joint List declares that Arab citizens demand full equality, as equal partners not subordinates”.
And, invoking Martin Luther King, he speaks of marching to Jerusalem for civil rights and to demand justice and democracy. “We will be an alternative camp, the democratic camp – where Arabs and Jews are equal partners, not enemies.”
Already the Joint List’s indirect impact has gone worldwide, as Bibi’s racist reaction to their campaign (“the Arabs are being bused in to vote”) has demonstrated that Apartheid isn’t just about the West Bank.
Two States or One?
The Joint List remains firmly Two-Statist. But its values and mixed membership disprove the “demographic threat” and “tha Arab vote” invoked against One Democratic State. The Joint List’s practical example of policy overriding ethnicity can do the One State vision no harm at all.
It isn’t only about platforms and programmes. Its electoral success could encourage Palestinians living under Israel’s law to demand access to the making of that law.
Rights demands are already the everyday substance of the Palestinian struggle: with the one exception of the demand for the right to vote. That was the epicenter of South Africa’s struggle, but has so far been blocked or displaced by the more powerful contrary vision of a separate Palestinian state.
The franchise is central because to demand rights without the vote is to trust Zionist Israel’s politicians with the fate of Palestinians, to trust them to grant legal, human and civil rights. They have never done so before.
As the Palestinian struggle stands on the cusp of re-aligning from nationalist (Palestinian state) goals to demands for civil rights, probably the hardest shift remains the demand for the vote, because that is often seen as a mere reform of Greater Israel, an admission of defeat: “so you’ve won, you’ve got all our country, now we want our ballot papers, our roads, and our passports and medical cards too”.
Possibly, the energy and confidence that radiates from the Joint List, and its engagement with elective power (even in the Knesset within its “Jewish State” parameters) could be the missing chemical element needed to drive the One State engine and its all-important demand for universal franchise.
This joint Jewish and Arab List could impact on the wider Palestinian struggle and show the One State potential. And why should Palestinians be divided from this movement by walls and borders, when their Jewish Settlement neighbours can join or create parties that operate for them throughout Palestine-Israel?
The Joint List has arrived as a coherent cross-community leadership on Israel’s political map. If or when the One State programme starts to take off within Israel, the Joint List parties could become its foremost advocates and organisers. The more so if, as two-state campaigner Gershon Baskin foresees, “the next generation of Palestinian leaders is much more likely to adopt a call for “one person one vote” for all of the people living between the river and the sea. When that happens, the international community will also drop its own support for a two-state solution and will adopt the Palestinian demand for democracy.”
The existence of an effective leadership on the Israel side of the Green Line could make a crucial difference at such a time.
End of the “negotiated Peace” delusion
In Israel’s monumental gerrymandering, its hard nationalist establishment insists the country is overwhelmingly “all ours” but slices it up to deny political power to nearly half the population, in “annexed” East Jerusalem, in Area C under direct Israeli military rule, in the West Bank cities controlled via the PA by Israel’s army, in Gaza besieged and controlled by Israel. The “peace process” seemed to promise an end to this military dictatorship.
But in the heat of the election campaign, Netanyahu’s mask came off and he clearly stated: No Palestinian state. No territorial concessions. None. Period. Instead, there would be more settlement building.
Washington now says Israel can no longer depend on its UN veto, which has so far kept it out of the dock. Netanyahu’s attempts to back-pedal only demonstrated his monstrous talent for lying, and got the response that the White House was already re-thinking its Middle East policy since Kerry’s failure to get Bibi’s cooperation last year, and the “no Palestinian state” election pledge was just the last straw.
The previously cautious Jewish Two State lobby J-Street now backs Obama’s “re-assessment”, urging the President to tighten the pressure.
If the US moves, Europe would be next. Boycott and Divestment, already established, will spread, followed by national level, legally enforced Sanctions and a new era of official isolation of Israel.
The Oslo process enabled Washington to pressure and cajole the Palestinian Authority to play ball. In the new situation, the PA could actually carry through what the PLO recently resolved and end the security collaboration with Israel which has included such odious actions as facilitating Israel’s raids, heavy surveillance and rounding up of dissidents. It would be even better if they removed the other main plank of Israel’s Occupation that the Oslo Accords provided: the Palestinian Authority’s invaluable assistance in governing the West Bank cities for Israel.
An open road for BDS
“What has distinguished Netanyahu is that he strips away the opportunities for the so-called “international community” to hide its complicity with Israel’s ugly crimes behind a charade of a “peace process.” Ali Abunimah
Many dissidents and activists had voiced anxiety that a win for the Zionist Union of Herzog and Livni would re-start the failed “peace process” and prolong the status quo.
Yousef Mounayyer of the US Campaign Against the Occupation wrote in the New York Times: “another term with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm could actually hasten the end of Israel’s apartheid policies. … Replacing Mr. Netanyahu with his challenger, Isaac Herzog, would have slowed down the B.D.S. movement and halted pressure on Israel by creating the perception of change.”
He goes on “The two-state solution … [is] not a realistic basis for peace. The old land-for-peace model must now be replaced with a rights-for-peace model. Palestinians must demand the right to live on their land, free movement, equal treatment under the law, due process, voting rights and freedom from discrimination.”
The last piece of Bibi’s armour, Israel’s loyal outriders in the international Jewish community, are now deeply divided. In the US where he has dramatically thrown in his lot with the Republican Right, the 70% of American Jews who are solid Democrat voters will be less quick to block BDS actions. This, according to the liberal Jewish Daily Forward “changes the American Jewish reality.”
Netanyahu is said to have won a “landslide” by gaining just 25% of votes cast: a child of six knows that’s not a majority. And it’s even less representative of all its population as so many don’t have the right to vote.
If this is what “Jewish and Democratic” means, then speed the day when Israel and Palestine join together as one proper democracy for all its citizens.
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