The sad reality is that Israel’s democracy is only paper thin, and is only accepted as long as the Israeli Jewish component calls all the shots. In this election the Joint List (that includes the Palestinian parties) has shaken up the political system threatening to become the third or fourth largest block in the Knesset. A true democracy would celebrate this but sadly this is not Israel and will not be until it genuinely becomes a state of all its citizens.
Winning an election that several million residents in the (de facto) single state of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories therefore doesn’t mean that much, even if Palestinians within Israel-proper were entitled to vote (those are the ones Netanyahu was worried about in the message Doyle is reacting to; if you want a satirical take on Netanyahu’s concerns, try Karl reMarks).
Here are some brief thoughts on a couple of issues about Israel and the elections, concluding with a further comment on Israeli ‘democracy’ and what it means.
Israel, of course, will not disarm, and will instead continue to pontificate about others’ nuclear weapons whilst maintaining its own. But this would have been the case no matter which Zionist party had won. Regarding Iran, there is some concern that the situation may worsen as a result of the election, but no mainstream Zionist Israeli party would particularly like an outcome that does anything positive for Iran. Barack Obama and his allies simply(!) need to be aware that Netanyahu, despite divisions in the Israeli electorate, will see himself as having a mandate from the Israeli electorate to meddle more actively, and they need to resist that.
Occupation of Palestinian land
Netanyahu is absolutely committed to maintaining Israeli control over the entirety of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – everything from the Jordan to the sea. Just before the election, he announced that he would never agree to a Palestinian state emerging from the Palestinian Authority (PA) that sort-of controls some elements of the Occupied Territories, thereby confirming what many of us have argued for years, that the so-called traditional ‘two state solution’ is dead. The ‘two-state solution’ seeks to have Israel in the blue areas of this map (the 1948-67 borders) and Palestine in the pink West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem (the Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1973, and Israel still illegally occupies the Syrian Golan Heights). Both the Israeli and the Palestinian states would be safe, secure and sovereign entities, sharing Jerusalem in some form; there would also be a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee situation. Netanyahu has just categorically written all that off. It has been clear to many that this is his de facto position, but it is now explicit and harder for external actors to ignore.
Therefore the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)/PA (though these lines are often deliberately blurred), has no partner to negotiate with – Israel’s new PM is not seeking an end to the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one. Since this is now crystal clear to all, I want to engage in some wishful thinking on two levels, in brief:
- the Palestinian Authority, that has essentially negotiated away rights for Palestinians (in part) because it was continually pressured to do so by Israel and the West (including by the detestable Tony Blair), should just dissolve itself. This would put explicit responsibility for the occupation back where it belongs – in Israel’s hands. It is already there, but Israel uses Palestinians to do much of its work of occupation for it, which has two positive aspects for Israel: (a) it can blame Palestinians when anything goes wrong, e.g. an attack on Israelis; (b) it’s free, because all this is subsidised by (in particular) European aid, and though the EU has been slow to respond to the consequences of Israeli destruction of EU funded infrastructure (see e.g. this report from a few days ago), that might well change as Israeli intransigence continues, not least since in a financially worsening European context, it is not clear why the EU should be funding projects that Israel destroys with wanton abandon but never pays for.
- if the PA did dissolve, it would be much easier for the EU and others to take a fresh approach to the situation. Once a two-state solution is off the table altogether because the Palestinian side have clearly shown that there is no Israeli partner for peace (to use a well-known phrase in this region…), a reconfiguration of external powers’ position to Israel can more easily take place. This is unlikely to be explicitly advantageous to Israel, though we can expect all resultant costs for Israel to be born by the long-suffering American tax-payer (as already happens: Israel can only sustain the occupation because America pays for it, to the tune of several billion US$ a year). In connection with this, the place of international law might finally begin to play a stronger role; indeed, the otherwise rather pathetic response of the PA’s Saeb Erekat to the election indicates precisely this:
All of this could, in theory, happen without the PA dissolving itself, but that is a totally unrealistic expectation, whereas if the PA dissolves itself, it becomes easier for others to act. The PLO declared Palestinian statehood in 1988, in parallel with recognition of Israel, and reaffirmed this in 1993 in the context of the Oslo agreements. Giving up the PA is not a renunciation of that, but a declaration that this particular route to achieving statehood has been stymied by the Israelis, who have never recognised Palestine and show no intention of doing so. The PLO’s declaration of Palestinian statehood and recognition of Israel still holds.
In tandem with all of this, the pursuit of Israeli war crimes has a high priority, as Erekat pointed out in the statement above.
Israeli ‘democracy’ and consequences for external actors
Andrew Stroehlin of Human Rights Watch commented this morning:
The problem we have, I think, is that we are often reluctant to take democracy seriously when it throws up results we don’t like. We all like to think people are ‘sensible’ and will vote ‘sensibly’ – and that means people should vote the way I would vote, of course, because who’s more sensible than me?! (Of course, it’s not just folk on the left who think this, those on the right do so too!) Israelis, however, have, to use Saeb Erekat’s words, chosen to vote for ‘settlements, racism, apartheid and the denial of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people’.
It is not that Israelis were hoodwinked by a campaign. Israelis knew what they were voting for with Netanyahu. Alex Shams explains:
On days like these, when an Israeli election again demonstrates the widespread Israeli support for warmongering, racism, and apartheid, that I remember words I once heard spoken at a talk. I have trouble remembering who said them, but I remember the words clearly:
“Let’s take for granted for a minute Israel’s claim to be a democracy and to have freedom of speech, unlike its neighbors. Now, according to this claim, Israelis have control over their electoral and political system, and they also have complete access to a wealth of information that describes to them in bloody detail exactly what the Israeli military does to Palestinians. There exists Israeli media actively and freely transmitting information constantly about what is happening to Palestinians under occupation on a daily basis in Hebrew to Israelis, and yet they consistently choose to ignore or justify that news, and they also consistently vote into power warmongering brutes who regularly slaughter and massacre Palestinians as well as ensure that a system of racial apartheid that makes daily life miserable remains in place.
Isn’t this the biggest indictment of Israel and Israeli society today? That in a ‘free and democratic’ state, they repeatedly choose to validate by a vast majority the horrific actions of their government in all their ferocity? At least in some ‘dictatorship’ you could argue that the people have no knowledge or no choice in the evils perpetrated by their government.
But in Israel, the knowledge and information are there. The choice is there. And a wide majority of the Israeli public repeatedly and consistently expresses its full-hearted support for the vicious war crimes being committed against Palestinians since 1948.”
It is my opinion, again validated by this clown contest of an Israeli election between “racist” and “more racist,” and between “dumb” and “dumber,” that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel is the only way to change the situation. All other strategies to ensure accountability have been tried and failed. BDS is the only way to force Israeli society to realize that the world cannot stand by and watch them excitedly continue their destruction of the entire Palestinian nation.
Those of us who are concerned about rights for Palestinians and Israelis must recognise that Israel is deliberately and repeatedly choosing a particular kind of government, and is thereby showing itself to be a country in which breaking international law, perpetuating racism and denying human rights of millions of people is an accepted norm of society. Netanyahu is dreadful, yes, but having been elected again and again, we need to accept that he is the chosen representative of Israel – and that key word, representative, describes him and Israeli society. I think too many Western liberals are in denial about this, pointing to the tiny Israeli peace movement as evidence that Israel is not ‘all bad’ – of course there are some honourable Israelis, but let’s not pretend Netanyahu won the election by accident. His racism, his militarism, his aggression, his war crimes, his despising of democracy – this is what Israelis have voted for and what Israel really stands for.
If we want justice to come, as Shams argues, we need Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). This has so far proven to be the only mechanism with which external actors have been able to exert meaningful pressure on Israel in order to delegitimise occupation and aggression (not to delegitimise the existence of Israel, as Zionist propaganda has it). Even though Israelis seem happy to vote for endless conflict and the ongoing moral corruption of long-term military occupation (though BDS will also help them to move away from such disastrous policies), people of conscience cannot let Israel continue as it is because doing so entails the extinguishing of Palestinian aspirations for life in all it’s fullness.
Therefore, a failure to use BDS when it is the only tool shown to have had any significant effect on Israel is to be complicit in Israel’s destruction of Palestinian lives.