By Robert Wilkinson.
The achievement of a majority in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) after the elections last November is not an overwhelming endorsement of the return of corrupt former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to office, nor of the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic policies of his political allies.
The dominant Likud party and its traditional partners in the conservative Shas and United Torah Judaism blocs achieved only modest increases in their votes, while that of Likud actually fell as a share of the vote on a higher turnout. It was the significant increase in the votes for the reactionary Religious Zionist bloc (an increase of over 290,000) that enabled Netanyahu to return to office and head-up the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
A major factor in their Knesset majority was the disunity of the Centre, Left, and Arab parties.
The Arab Ra’am party had previously reneged on its participation in the Joint List in order to secure seats in the governing coalition, while the last-minute desertion of the Arab Balad party to stand independently in the most recent elections only resulted in its failing to achieve the 3.25% threshold required for representation in the Knesset.
To make matters worse, the split in the Zionist Left between the Labor and Meretz parties resulted in a sharp decline in their seats in the Knesset. Labor lost three seats and Meretz lost all of its six seats thus failing to secure any representation in the new parliament. Under the subsequent apportionment (surplus vote system), the seats were allotted to the right-wing party blocs.
In terms of proportional representation, this has resulted in a right-wing governing coalition with the endorsement of less than 42% of the electorate – against their Centre, Arab, and Left opponents, who have combined support of almost 44%.
Opposition to the government ‘reforms’ has soon manifested in large and growing demonstrations against the attempt by Netanyahu to remove the powers of the Supreme Court over the decisions of the legislative majority in the Knesset. An initial demonstration attended by 30,000 was then dwarfed by a much larger participation of 80,000 on 14th January.
Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned Netanyahu that, “We are no longer arguing with the government about politics. We will take the fight to the streets …. This is a battle for our home, and it is only just beginning.” Another former Prime Minister Benny Gantz addressed Netanyahu directly, saying, “If you continue along the path that you are taking, responsibility for the civil war bubbling beneath the surface will be entirely on you… It’s time to go out en masse and demonstrate.”
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted a source close to the government saying, “Netanyahu’s great fear is of combined pressure from several directions. Mass protests in the streets, strong protest from the business sector and the economy’s power groups, and international pressure from without. All these will make the situation very complicated for him.”
Netanyahu’s long-held objective of incorporating much, if not all, of the West Bank into a ‘Greater Israel’ is now much closer to realisation. The nearly 700,000 Zionist ‘pioneers’ in the illegal settlements, who were entitled to vote in the November elections, have become increasingly violent in their interactions with their longstanding Arab neighbours. Destruction of orchards, crops, and water courses is carried out with no attempt by the Israeli security forces to do anything more than protect the perpetrators and arrest, injure, and even kill those attempting to defend their livelihoods.
The settlers are not necessarily seen as an asset by the majority of Israelis. A recent survey showed that almost two thirds of Israeli voters were prepared to accept a freeze on settlement building in order to secure the normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia.
The success of the ‘Abraham Accords’ with several of the conservative and reactionary Arab regimes has been a significant achievement for both Netanyahu and his political opponents serving as prime ministers in the interim. The ongoing conflict with the government of the Islamic Republic in Iran has also continued throughout the changes in government administrations in Israel. The targeting of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s allies in Lebanon and Syria, as well as of Iran-chartered/flagged shipping, is likely to continue and intensify even in the seemingly unlikely event of a nuclear agreement being reached between the Islamic Republic and the Biden administration.
In fact, the hawkish stance and dangerous brinksmanship by Tel Aviv against an Islamic Republic rocked by a popular uprising at home is set to become exponentially worse. The Israeli government, seizing upon the decidedly frosty relations between the Islamic Republic and several of the Gulf Arab countries, has shored up its diplomatic links with those same reactionary regimes to forge a convenient anti-Tehran bloc in the region. Tel Aviv has sought to shift its own stand-off with Tehran into one between the latter and the wider region – with any potential conflict that erupts ultimately benefitting Israel. The major implications this has for peace and stability in the region, indeed the wider world – and the avoidance of another catastrophic war – cannot be overstated.
The Arab opposition to these policies, whether in Israel, Gaza, or the Occupied West Bank will not simply fade away. On the contrary, all indications are that resistance will intensify as it becomes better organised and conscious of support for the Palestinian cause. Israel has become increasingly exposed as a repressive and illegal regime and further expansion and annexation will risk jeopardising the traditional sympathy of Jewish communities in the United States and Europe.
The threats of violence against Netanyahu’s opponents, both in the Knesset and on the streets, and against anyone who deviates from a narrow state-sanctified definition of “Jewishness”, do not play well with liberal opinion and an increasingly secular society.
Israel is heading down a blind alley. A united front of internal and international opposition is required more than ever and is possible more than ever.
Robert Wilkinson is a retired teacher and member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
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