By Nick Rodrigo
The closeness of the elections was matched only by their bizarreness. As Herzog and Netanyahu went into the final weeks neck and neck one Likud campaign video likened those who complained about the economy to Hamas terrorists. It is possible that this fear mongering played a large role in mobilising support for Likud and engineering the nationalist party’s victory. Netanyahu went so far as to argue that the “left” posed an existential threat to Israeli democracy, as they were bussing in Israeli Arabs to vote; an ironic statement not lost on many political commentators. In light of Likud’s victory at the polls liberal supporters of the Palestinian quest for security, justice and human rights have taken to the airwaves to express their lamentations. Where is the chance for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict when such a militaristic hawk is at the helm of Israel?
Netanyahu’s alienation of the more left wing members of his last cabinet means that he is likely to cobble together the most nationalist and right wing coalition in Israeli history. “Bibi” as he is affectionately known by Likudniks, has already opened talks with Naftali Bennet, leader the Jewish Home party and chairman of the Yesha Council; an umbrella organisation of Israeli settlement councils. Bennet was granted the economics ministry in the last coalition government and enjoyed huge public support during the summer offensive on Gaza, calling for the besieged strip to be invaded and occupied. Netanyahu has also approached Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitinu, who was head of the foreign ministry in the last government coalition, engaging in constant diplomatic missions to Africa to sell Israeli military hardware. In the run up to the elections Lieberman stated that disloyal Arab citizens of Israel should be beheaded. Netanyahu will head a coalition that will oppose any Palestinian state and ratchet up pressure on Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to declare allegiance to Israel.
With the prospect of cabinet positions being held by nationalistic zealots, it is little wonder that sympathizers of the Palestinian struggle are pouring out tweets and statuses of disdain. Even Barack Obama has indirectly expressed his frustration with the prospect of dealing with Netanyahu, passing on responsibilities to John Kerry. However, what was the alternative to Bibi?
Netanyahu’s main opponents were the “Zionist List”, a coalition comprised of the historic Labor party and the liberal Zionists Hatnuah (The Movement). Lead by Isaac Herzog, Labor had seen a renaissance in recent years, capitalising on public outrage at corruption and housing crisis and side stepping to the right several paces with regards to the free market. Having met repeatedly with Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen, Herzog backs reviving the peace process. By rebranding Labor as a party to the “Zionist Camp” with Hatnuah, the two liberal Zionist parties made direct appeals to the centre swing voters of the Israeli electorate, jettisoning past campaign tactics of alluring those on the left. Herzog’s partner Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah is one of the more enigmatic Israeli politicians. Livni’s position on the peace process is that a dual state resolution is necessary for Israeli democracy and blames settlements for blocking a resolution, even proposing a cut to state expenditure on settlements.
Yet documents leaked by Al Jazeera in 2011 detail her rejecting an offer by PA leaders to agree to Israeli annexation of all but one of the settlements built in East Jerusalem. Her position remained unbroken in the lead up to the elections, and was not a sticking point with Herzog. Throughout the elections the peace process was downplayed but the official Zionist Union line was any solution would include full Israeli annexation of the major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel settlement blocs, with the Jordan River becoming security border and security cooperation with any future Palestinian state. There were no olive branches in the Zionist Union platform for the besieged Gaza strip, promising to maintain the pressure on Hamas until it complies with Israeli demands. For the 1.8 million Palestinians living there this means maintenance of a siege which will render the coastal enclave unliveable by 2020 unless Hamas give up their right to self defence.
Perhaps the most striking issue surrounding Herzog’s campaign is his reluctance to bring up the peace process in any tangible way, both Hatnuah and Labor refrain from mentioning any of the core components needed for a viable Palestinian state such as borders and access to resources. Analysis of the facts on the ground in line with what policy has been divulged can paint a truer picture of how the Joint Zionist List views these issues and how they will impact a Palestinian state.
The inclusion of Jordan valley as a security buffer would need major access roads splicing any Palestinian state in half. Israeli control over it’s “undivided capital Jerusalem” would mean the annexation of huge settlement blocks and impede the free movement of goods/services/peoples from the commercial centres of Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus, stifling economic growth. The annexation of Jerusalem would be a setback for the Palestinian people in an immeasurable way and throw the fate of over 370,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites into uncertainty. Israel is highly dependent on the water resources within the OPT’s, as they constitute 60% of its water supply. Many of the large settlement blocks, which would have been annexed by any Zionist Union peace plan, are dependent upon water supply from the West Bank. From Begin to Olmert, the precondition of a Palestinian state has been complete Israeli control of Palestinian water use and extraction, much of which is earmarked for Israeli settlement use.
Since 1970’s the UN General Assembly has affirmed the Palestinian’s right to self determination and control of its resources within the a sovereign state predicated on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. Added to this there a must be a just solution for the Palestinian refugee issue based on UN resolution 194. Across the Israeli partisan spectrum, aside from the marginalised Meretz party and United Arab List, there is scant political will for adhering to any of these prerequisites for a lasting peace with most parties advocating for even more annexation, more settlement construction and more plundering of Palestinian resources. Netanyahu is the bloodiest of butchers, his actions in Gaza and the West Bank and his fiery rhetoric towards his own Palestinian population with Israeli citizenship has been well documented. However the theft of land, the brutal military occupation and the plundering of resources are not Likud policies. These actions are structural policies and are a theme of the Zionist colonial project and predates expulsion of two thirds of historic Palestine’s population in 1948: it is within the DNA of the Israeli national project. As stated by one enthusiastic Zionist to his son in 1937
“We can no longer tolerate that vast territories capable of absorbing tens of thousands of Jews should remain vacant, and that Jews cannot return to their homeland because the Arabs prefer that the place [the Negev] remains neither ours nor theirs. We must expel Arabs and take their place.”
This Zionist pioneer was David Ben Gurion, who went on to hold the office of Prime Minister, and founded the Israeli Labor party, he is also considered the godfather of the state of Israel.
* Nick Rodrigo is a researcher on Palestine at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg and holds an MA in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights.