Whenever Israel has an election, pundits begin the usual refrain that hopes for peace depend on the “peace camp” — formerly represented by the Labor party, but now by Tzipi Livni’s Kadima — prevailing over the anti-peace right, led by the Likud.
This has never been true, and makes even less sense as Israeli parties begin coalition talks after Tuesday’s election. Yes, the “peace camp” helped launch the “peace process,” but it did much more to undermine the chances for a just settlement.
In 1993, Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords. Ambiguities in the agreement — which included no mention of “self-determination” or “independence” for Palestinians, or even “occupation” — made it easier to clinch a short-term deal. But confrontation over irreconcilable expectations was inevitable. While Palestinians hoped the Palestinian Authority, created by the accord, would be the nucleus of an independent state, Israel viewed it as little more than a native police force to suppress resistance to continued occupation and colonial settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Collaboration with Israel has always been the measure by which any Palestinian leader is judged to be a “peace partner.” Rabin, according to Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, “never thought this [Oslo] will end in a full-fledged Palestinian state.” He was right.
Throughout the “peace process,” Israeli governments, regardless of who led them, expanded Jewish-only settlements in the heart of the West Bank, the territory supposed to form the bulk of the Palestinian state. In the 1990s, Ehud Barak’s Labor-led government actually approved more settlement expansion than the Likud-led government that preceded it headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Barak, once considered “dovish,” promoted a bloodthirsty image in the campaign, bolstered by the massacres of Gaza civilians he directed as defense minister. “Who has he ever shot?” Barak quipped derisively about Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the proto-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party, in an attempt to paint the latter as a lightweight.
Today, Lieberman’s party, which beat Labor into third place, will play a decisive role in a government. An immigrant who came to Israel from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Lieberman was once a member of the outlawed racist party Kach that calls for expelling all Palestinians.
Yisrael Beitenu’s manifesto was that 1.5 million Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel (indigenous survivors or descendants of the Palestinian majority ethnically cleansed in 1948) be subjected to a loyalty oath. If they don’t swear allegiance to the “Jewish state” they would lose their citizenship and be forced from the land of their birth, joining millions of already stateless Palestinians in exile or in Israeli-controlled ghettos. In a move instigated by Lieberman but supported by Livni’s allegedly “centrist” Kadima, the Knesset recently voted to ban Arab parties from participating in elections. Although the high court overturned it in time for the vote, it is an ominous sign of what may follow.
Lieberman, who previously served as deputy prime minister, has a long history of racist and violent incitement. Prior to Israel’s recent attack, for example, he demanded Israel subject Palestinians to the brutal and indiscriminate violence Russia used in Chechyna. He also called for Arab Knesset members who met with officials from Hamas to be executed.
But it’s too easy to make him the bogeyman. Israel’s narrow political spectrum now consists at one end of the former “peace camp” that never halted the violent expropriation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements and boasts with pride of the war crimes in Gaza, and at the other, a surging far-right whose “solutions” vary from apartheid to outright ethnic cleansing.
What does not help is brazen western hypocrisy. Already the US State Department spokesman affirmed that the Obama administration would work with whatever coalition emerged from Israel’s “thriving democracy” and promised that the US would not interfere in Israel’s “internal politics.” Despite US President Barack Obama’s sweet talk about a new relationship with the Arab world, few will fail to notice the double standard. In 2006, Hamas won a democratic election in the occupied territories, observed numerous unilateral or agreed truces that were violated by Israel, offered Israel a generation-long truce to set the stage for peace, and yet it is still boycotted by the US and European Union.
Worse, the US sponsored a failed coup against Hamas and continues to arm and train the anti-Hamas militias of Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as Palestinian Authority president expired on 9 January. As soon as he took office, Obama reaffirmed this boycott of Palestinian democracy.
The clearest message from Israel’s election is that no Zionist party can solve Israel’s basic conundrum and no negotiations will lead to a two-state solution. Israel could only be created as a “Jewish state” by the forced removal of the non-Jewish majority Palestinian population. As Palestinians once again become the majority in a country that has defied all attempts at partition, the only way to maintain Jewish control is through ever more brazen violence and repression of resistance (see Gaza). Whatever government emerges is certain to preside over more settlement-building, racial discrimination and escalating violence.
There are alternatives that have helped end what once seemed like equally intractable and bloody conflicts: a South African-style one-person one-vote democracy, or Northern Ireland-style power-sharing. Only under a democratic system according rights to all the people of the country will elections have the power to transform people’s futures.
But Israel today is lurching into open fascism. It is utterly disingenuous to continue to pretend — as so many do — that its failed and criminal leaders hold the key to getting out of the morass. Instead of waiting for them to form a coalition, we must escalate the international civil society campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israelis to choose a saner path.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006). A version of this article first appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website with the headline “No peace for Israel.”