Stick or twist? Israeli vote throws up bigger questions

a person wearing a mask stands before an election poster

A Likud supporter wearing a Benjamin Netanyahu mask reacts to exit polls showing the party returning as the largest in Israel’s parliament.

Ilia Yefimovich DPA

Another election, another hung parliament and another nail in the coffin of the “peace process.”

So far, so predictable. With 90 percent of ballots counted and final results delayed in part because of coronavirus, Benjamin Netanyahu is set to again lead the largest party in the Israeli parliament, reclaiming that mantle from rival Benny Gantz of the Blue-White alliance.

But once again he, Gantz and everyone else fall short of being able to form a majority government.

Deadlock of the deadwood. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Israel’s third general election in 12 months is that people wore Netanyahu masks and weren’t robbing banks in them.

The Joint List provided a little bright news. The coalition of parties representing Palestinian citizens-with-limited-rights appears to have gone two better than their last record-busting 13 seats in the 120-seat parliament. Decades of discrimination, demonization and neglect, it seems, have caused Israel’s 20 percent Palestinian minority to take a stand.

The Joint List returns as the third-largest party in Israel, this time with an even greater margin.

But it will continue to be shunned by those seeking to build governing coalitions for the very reasons that it should probably keep itself out of any such trap: racism and the Trump plan.

What kind of annexation would you like with that?

Some have suggested the election was about annexation.

It was not. Annexation was not much of a theme. It was, in fact, a given, like sauce at a fast-food restaurant.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz had promised to take more land from the Palestinians, each buoyed by Donald Trump’s amazingly brilliant peace-plan-to-end-all-peace-plans, which grants Israel a green light to take, take, take.

Clearly, Israelis are generally happy to steal large swathes of territory captured in war in contravention of international law, while continuing to rule the Palestinians of the occupied territories for the indefinite future without their consent.

Indeed, relations with the Palestinians of the occupied territories barely featured, certainly not in any positive way. And the demise of Israel’s so-called peace camp is all but complete with a coalition including Labor and Meretz set to secure just seven seats.

If not annexation, the election could have been about integrity in politics. But since enough Israelis have voted to return a prime minister who is facing a court case on corruption charges, that too seems unlikely.

If anything, this vote was an election to end elections, a get-Brexit-done type vote.

It just failed. Netanyahu may form a minority government – he will certainly be asked to try. He may beat corruption charges in court. Odds are, however, that a fourth general election will be necessary at the first serious hurdle any minority government faces.

In the meantime?

What will happen in the meantime? Potentially a lot.

The question now for Israel – and Israel alone, since no one has the wherewithal to stand in its way – is: stick or twist? Stick with a situation that can more readily go back to the status quo ante of slow ethnic cleansing under cover of a hollow peace process?

Or twist, and go all-in with Trump, under the assumption that he will regain the White House and rule another four years.

The Trump plan is not just an assault on the Palestinians. It is a much broader assault on an international order that, however imperfect, will be missed if it is seriously undermined.

It is a faulty order, yes, but one based on some idea of inalienable and equal human rights for all. That is the very reason it is of no use to Israel: because it grants Palestinians equal rights.

It is an order that the Trump White House has railed against from day one, to the loud cheerleading of Israel and other autocratic, militaristic and/or rogue states, from Brazil to the Philippines.

Should Israel choose to twist, it will leave Europeans exposed and that order tottering. In spite of European weakness, this is a pivotal development for the globe as a whole.

It is less pivotal for Palestinians, who are damned this or that way.

Still, are they as damned as Israel?

In part, Israel’s dilemma is this: It can have all the land and all the people. Or it can have most of the land and some of the people. Either way, as long as it is unwilling to accept that the indigenous Palestinian population must have equal rights, it will always suffer the consequences of being a system of apartheid.

Stick or twist?




Three sham elections and still no decisive result. The improvement for the Joint List is a tiny bit heartening, but in a rigged system, it means almost nothing. It is tolerated to make Israel look like a democracy. The Israeli State minutely controls the lives of the Palestinians in the Gaze strip and the West Bank but they have no say in who rules the State. That is no democracy. Democracy is government of the people by the people. All the people. Israeli's simulacrum of democracy is its transparent fig leaf. At the heart of democracy is the notion of equality: one person one vote. Israel is founded on the notion of racial superiority. A putative gift of the land to a probably non-existent Abraham some 3,500 years ago is the principal justification for the Zionist claim to the whole of Palestine, and that has been their claim from at least 1948. And the putative gift rests on an interpretation of a few biblical verses. In the 21st century, this is reactionary flummery. It confuses the absolute right to freedom of belief with the limited, political right to rule. It is the doctrine of "this is what I believe and you'd better believe it too." What we need is: "This is my truth, now you tell me yours." What is the Palestinian truth? For Golda Meir, the Palestinians didn't exist. That can be only pathology. What needs to be said is that what has just taken place is Israel is not democratic. It is a cynical exercise in window-dressing of a regime whose attitude towards the Palestinians is essentially totalitarian. No true democracy should give credence to this sham. Let all the people of Palestine vote. That would be democracy. How can the Palestinians elect a government when they aren't permitted a State? The shabby pretence of Israel as the doughty democracy surrounded by Arab dictatorships is fundamentally racist. All democrats should speak clearly the truth about this masquerade.

Omar Karmi

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper.