Many had hoped that Benjamin Netanyahu would be defeated in yesterday’s Israeli election. I was not one of them.
Many had already written him off – pre-election polls showed his Likud Party lagging behind the allegedly center-left Zionist Union, headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.
But I kept in mind the 1996 election where Netanyahu was universally thought to be the loser well after the votes had been cast.
In the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, it had been expected that his “dovish” successor Shimon Peres, who had launched a bloody invasion of Lebanon months earlier in the hope of proving to the electorate his tough “security” credentials, would easily win.
But on that election night, Netanyahu told his supporters, “The hour is still early and the night is long.” As the votes were counted, he pulled ahead beating Peres and securing his first term as prime minister.
Netanyahu did it again on Tuesday. With virtually all the votes counted, Likud has 30 seats, the Zionist Union has 24 and the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties is in third place with 14.
It seems all but certain that Netanyahu will retain his post as Israel’s prime minister and head another fanatically right-wing government.
Truth in labeling
Let me be clear: I am not happy that Netanyahu won, as such. Netanyahu is a blood-soaked killer. He should be put on trial for his many crimes, from the relentless theft of Palestinian land to last summer’s massacre in Gaza – and I yearn to see that day.
But reveling in the murder of Palestinians and calling it “self-defense” barely distinguishes him from his rivals. Livni, a fugitive war crimes suspect, was one of the proud and unrepentant architects of Israel’s massacre in Gaza in 2008-2009, which undoubtedly served as Netanyahu’s model.
Her partner Herzog has faulted Netanyahu for not attacking Gaza viciously enough.
Netanyahu’s ugly election-day incitement that the “Arabs are advancing on the ballot boxes” revealed once again his true feelings that Palestinian citizens of Israel are not legitimate citizens deserving full rights. But Tzipi Livni has frequently expressed the same view.
And while he is absolutely committed to the theft and colonization of occupied Palestinian land, that too does not distinguish Netanyahu from his ostensibly dovish predecessors.
A recent interactive feature published by The New York Times shows that Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank (excluding occupied Jerusalem) was often far higher under the supposed peace-seeking governments of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.
But what has distinguished Netanyahu is that he strips away the opportunities for the so-called “international community” to hide its complicity with Israel’s ugly crimes behind a charade of a “peace process.”
Moreover, Netanyahu’s open alliance with the most racist, white supremacist, Islamophobic and bigoted elements of the North American and European right – his speech to Congress earlier this month was a manifestation of this – place Israel in the correct ideological camp. Israel can no longer practice apartheid at home while falsely presenting itself as a beacon of liberalism around the world.
In short, Netanyahu’s re-election is like the “Nutrition Facts” label on a box of junk food: it tells you about the toxic ingredients inside.
No Palestinian state
Netanyahu’s clear declaration days before the vote that he will not allow a Palestinian state was simply an affirmation of the real policy of every Israeli government since 1967, to which Herzog and Livni would have adhered.
Herzog and Livni would not have permitted a Palestinian state worthy of the name. Rather, with international support, they would have attempted to draw Palestinians back into “negotiations” over what would at most be a ghetto-like bantustan designed to legitimize Israel’s theft of vast tracts of land, its annexation of Jerusalem and its abrogation of the rights of Palestinian refugees. (Ben White’s analysis of this horrifying plan for permanent apartheid is a must read.)
Herzog too had vowed to continue building settlements on stolen Palestinian land. But he would hide this expansionist policy behind one of the cosmetic and fraudulent “freezes” during which colonization continues unabated.
Had the Zionist Union won, there was a very grave danger that the Palestinians would have been dragged back a decade into fruitless Oslo-style “negotiations” that would have served as a cover for continued sugbjugation and colonization.
Such negotiations have provided the principal excuse for the so-called international community to endlessly defer holding Israel even minimally accountable.
The refrain from gutless officials is always some version of “yes, isn’t it terrible what’s going on, but there’s a peace process and we support the peace process.”
The one positive outcome of Israel’s election is that path seems to be closed.
Step up BDS
We should be under no illusion that with Netanyahu’s re-election, European, North American and Arab governments are suddenly going to end their complicity with Israel.
There’s every reason to believe that the Obama administration, for instance, will continue its relentless campaign of opposing Palestinian rights and efforts to hold Israel accountable in any forum.
But the Israeli Jewish public’s choice to re-elect Netanyahu should make it clear to people around the world that Israel does not seek peace and does not seek justice. It will continue to oppress and ethnically cleanse Palestinians until it is stopped.
Negotiating with such a regime is pointless when its power over its victims remains vast and unchecked. The message we should take away is simple: the proper treatment for a polity committed to occupation, apartheid and ethno-racial supremacy is to isolate it until it recognizes that it must abandon those commitments.
Palestinians have asked the world to do that through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Netanyahu makes the case a little easier, so it’s time to step it up.