By Jeff Halper (18 September 2019)
A few quick take-aways from yesterday's election in Israel:
1. Netanyahu is out. His only hope of avoiding prison was to get immunity from the Parliament, and without a majority of 61 (the Likud/right bloc got only 55-56) that is impossible. Either the Likud will go into a unity government with Gantz's almost as right-wing Blue/White party, but without Netanyahu - or Netanyahu in a rotation in which he becomes Prime Minister again in two years - either scenario landing him in prison or at least out as Prime Minister.
2. Gantz (a general facing trial for war crimes in Holland) will be Prime Minister. Although his party is merely Likud B, Gantz lacks the appetite for annexation or settlement building, preferring to just let de facto apartheid go on without any political movement here or there. Without the settlers in the government (their party, Yamina, of the declared fascist Ayelet Shaked got only seven seats and will not be in a unity government), the pressure on Gantz from that direction is off. Whether Trump will still present his 'Deal of the Century' remains an open question, without a dominant ideological Netanyahu/settler presence I don't think Gantz could pull it off, or even want to, and Trump is isolated in the international community on this issue. We are faced with a creeping, "quiet" yet repressive apartheid (Blue/White is led by three testosterone-filled generals) instead of the ideological, in-your-face annexationist apartheid we are used to. Israel will become a more "normal" country and the issue of occupation might recede to the background. That will make it harder to fight and even to keep on the political map. We will have to decide how to respond.
3. Avigdor Lieberman, the Russian hoodlum who lives in a West Bank settlement and wants to institute the death penalty in Israel, was the big winner. Its classic "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." He happens to despise Netanyahu and, because he represents a Russian immigrant constituency that is very secular and in large part not really “Jewish” by religious law, he is opposed to the ultra-orthodox in government. He also rode an anti-orthodox feeling among secular Israelis in general. He is the kingmaker, his Israel Beitenu party holding the nine swing votes needed to form a government coalition with at least 61 seats. He will mediate a Gantz/Likud unity government, but without Netanyahu. Regardless, he prevents any Israeli government from moving significantly towards accommodation with the Palestinians.
4. The Joint Arab List did well -- 12 or 13 seats -- making it the third largest party. But they will not be in the government, which is willing to accept only "Zionist" parties. Still, they can't be ignored. Either they will support the government from the outside in return for certain demands (government investment in the Arab sector, renewed peace process (ya'ani), amendments to Jewish Nationality Law), or they will be the head of the opposition, which carries with it some political weight. It’s becoming clear that the "Arabs" (as Palestinians are called in Israel) can no longer be dismissed or left out of political calculations. It is also pretty clear that they want in, to be part of Israeli society. They are only marginally interested the wider Palestinian issue and will not support a one-state solution (which I will nevertheless continue to advocate).
5. The Orthodox religious parties (Aguda/UTJ, Shas) have lost their clout. This does not have any implications for the bigger political picture, but getting Deri out as the Minister of the Interior (he is also on his way to jail) might ease the pressures on the African asylum-seekers who Netanyahu/Likud/Deri have been persecuting and trying to expel by force.
6. Although Ayelet Shaked did tremendous damage to the judicial system as Minister of Justice -- a campaign continued by the Likud guy that followed her, partly motivated by the need to keep Netanyahu out of prison -- the justice system has been saved from Shaked by a whisker. She did manage to move the Supreme court to the right, but she would have disempowered it altogether had she been put in that position again.
7. The Zionist left, Labor and Meretz/Democratic Union, were saved from oblivion by the skin of their teeth. They just passed the threshold of getting into the parliament. They may be part of the unity government, or not (they are dispensable). Suffice it to say they have no political clout whatsoever, and very little to do with the Palestinian issue. Both consider themselves "social" parties that confine themselves to local issues.
8. Although the political complexion hasn't changed much, the departure of Netanyahu (though it might take a couple months) significantly changes the political picture. Though a racist, corrupt and divisive figure, Netanyahu is a master manipulator, both at home and abroad. He has a Big Picture strategy, speaks English as a native language, knows all the world figures and has a clear ideology. Thus, he has been able to hold things together for Israel as it pursues an increasing repressive but unpopular (abroad) regime of apartheid. The person replacing him as head of the Likud will not be Prime Minister for at least the next two years and, even if s/he does come into power, they will not have the skills of Netanyahu. He will be replaced probably by Gidon Sa'ar, a run-of-the-mill local politician. Even if Sa'ar (or someone else) becomes Prime Minister, s/he might not be able to prevent the unravelling of Israeli apartheid, especially as we move past Trump (inshallah). This gives us an opening for action and real change, if we can manage to be organized, strategic and armed with our own end-game -- one democratic state.
OK, not so quick take-aways. Probably more than you wanted to know. The struggle continues.