The Israeli elections turned on the ‘ideological’ question of whether Binyamin Netanyahu should be prime minister or not. Other, less crucial topics – including the occupation of the West Bank, which has entered its second jubilee; the siege of Gaza, which has entered its 13th year; the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the status of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; the complete lack of negotiation with the PLO; the growing inequality in Israeli society; the deteriorating health system; the housing crisis and more – were all left largely undiscussed. Instead, debate focused on the corruption cases against Netanyahu, including accusations of a secret deal to buy submarines – not requested or needed by the army – from a German company; the desire of his ‘centrist’ political rivals to get rid of and replace him; and his counter-accusations against his rivals, whom he attacked for not being able to protect their mobile phones from being hacked, or for seeing a psychologist.
Even the new Blue and White alliance of former chiefs of staff wasn’t able to topple Netanyahu. Benny Gantz, the leader of the Israel Resilience Party, was chief of staff from 2011 to 2015. He commanded the attack on Gaza in 2014, which resulted in the deaths of 2251 Palestinians and 74 Israelis. Moshe Ya’alon, the leader of Telem, was chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, and defence minister during the 2014 attack on Gaza. Gabi Ashkenazi was chief of staff from 2007 to 2011, and commanded the attack on Gaza in December 2008, which resulted in the deaths of 1417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Their civilian ally, Yair Lapid, the leader of the extreme centrist party Yesh Atid, is a former journalist and TV presenter whose mantra is IDF-Holocaust-BDS. Yet all this was not enough: in the final count, Netanyahu’s Likud won 36 seats; the chiefs of staff got 35.
Among the smaller parties, the Netanyahu-oriented bloc (which includes, very unnaturally, the ultra-Orthodox parties, as well as, very naturally, such diverse parties as the United Right, the Sane Right, the Powerful Right and the National-Religious Right) won enough seats between them to give Netanyahu a majority in the Knesset.
The anti-Netanyahu, ‘centrist’ parties (don’t mention the ‘left’) include Labour, which crashed from 24 seats to six, and the liberal-Zionist Meretz, which went down from five to four seats, and barely cleared the 3.25 per cent electoral threshold.
Among Arab-Palestinian parties, the coalition between the former Communist Jewish-Arab Party and the Arab Movement for Change got six seats, while the coalition between the National Democratic Alliance and the Islamic-oriented United Arab List scraped over the line, with 3.34 per cent of the vote, to get four seats. Altogether, the number of MKs who represent the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel (and those Jewish-Israelis who are not intimidated by joint Jewish-Arab frameworks) went down from 13 to 10.
Looking at the result, one can find a few good reasons for despair. First, the ongoing victory of emperor Netanyahu, who next year will break David Ben-Gurion’s historical record of days in office, thanks to the lack of genuine alternatives: no ‘centrist’ is prepared to challenge him on all fronts, not just personal ones – or, for that matter, believes there is a need to do so.
Second, Netanyahu has succeeded in de-legitimising the Palestinian citizens of Israel. As long as this continues, there will be no real change in Israeli politics or coalition-making. Expressions such as ‘international law’, ‘human rights’, ‘occupation’, ‘Nakba’, ‘democracy’, ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ are absent not only from the shameful Jewish Nationality Bill, but from the daily political lexicon.
Third, and not unrelated, Netanyahu’s next term will be dedicated to his trying to escape trial and prison. The first victim will be the (already worn) rule of law. The coalition government’s first task will be to pass laws that make it impossible to convict him, even if it means granting immunity to anyone whose first name starts with B and last name starts with N.
To add insult to injury, Netanyahu’s victory means lots of confetti-throwing at the White House, which – and not for the first time – is bad news for Israel’s deep and long-term interests. Netanyahu’s best friend Donald Trump knows that now is the time to advertise the ‘Deal of the Century’ between Israel and Palestine. It looks set to take into consideration all Israel’s security interests, include annexationist desires, but no plans for a genuine Palestinian state, peace, justice or hope, let alone reconciliation or dealing with the underlying causes of the conflict. In other words, exactly what Netanyahu wants, and exactly the opposite of what the people who live in Israel and Palestine need.