Israel vote only heralds a change in prison guard

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aiming for a fourth term as prime minister. Photo: Jack Guez / AFP
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aiming for a fourth term as prime minister. Photo: Jack Guez / AFP

Every announcement of Israeli elections leads to copious analyses of how potential outcomes will affect the Palestinians and the “peace process”. The election announced last week is no different and the result will make no difference to the Palestinians.

They have cause to shudder with every election announcement, which brings tough talk and action in order to win votes. As Israel has shifted markedly to the right in recent years, more votes can be won this way.

It has reached a point where prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once regarded as among the most hawkish of his country’s politicians, now faces more criticism for being too soft than too hard.

That is not because he has had a crisis of conscience, but because Israel’s political mindset has become so extreme.

It says a lot that Tzipi Livni, a war crimes suspect, was regarded as a relative dove in Mr Netanyahu’s government until he fired her last week.

Opinion polls suggest that the next election, scheduled for March, will result in further significant gains by the nationalist and religious right, and that a coalition government could be formed entirely from within this camp.

However, the sinister portrayals of this outcome are based on the misguided notion that the Israeli left and centre have been better to the Palestinians.

Every Israeli government, without fail, has zealously entrenched the occupation and colonisation of Palestine and the oppression and dispossession of its people. All have been serial violators of international and human rights law.

One would expect a call to “break the bones” of Palestinian protesters to come from the far-right. However, this was an order to troops from Yitzhak Rabin, the hero of the Israeli peace camp, during the first Palestinian uprising.

Sadly, the Palestinian Authority, which has engaged in more than two decades of fruitless negotiations with successive Israeli governments, still propagates this false dichotomy.

If the upcoming elections “produce a radical, racist, right wing government, it will put an end once and for all to the possibility of a return to negotiations,” said Riad al-Malki, foreign affairs minister in the Palestinian National Authority.

But he should be aware of the intransigence of Israeli governments regardless of ideology.

The difference between right and left is over style, not substance. The former is unapologetically brash, speaking and acting while beating its chest.

The latter says what the international community wants to hear, behaves like the right when in power, only to rediscover its morality when in opposition. Given this duplicity, the left and centre are arguably more dangerous because they are given the benefit of the doubt. The violation of Palestinian rights is systemic, and its myriad manifestations have been a feature of every Israeli government.

For example, the barrier snaking through the West Bank was implemented by right wing prime minister Ariel Sharon, but proposed by his left wing predecessors Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres.

The right is regarded as the champion of settlers’ interests, but settlement expansion has continued unabated under every government.

Amid current unrest in East Jerusalem, right wing politicians are seen as the cheerleaders for keeping it part of Israel’s united capital, but this is also an established view among their ideological opponents.

Both Ms Livni and Yair Lapid, a centrist who was also fired by Mr Netanyahu last week for being overly critical, subscribe to this view.

The likely make-up of the next parliament looks set to guarantee the passing of a bill defining Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Its critics say this will undermine the status of Israeli Palestinians, as if they have not always been second-class citizens.

No Arab political party has ever been included in any Israeli governing coalition. Such is the taboo that opponents of the right refuse to consider including Arab parties even if just to thwart right wing ambitions.

Given Israel’s endemic discrimination against its Palestinian citizens since its founding, political opposition to the nation-state bill is cosmetic, borne out of the desire to avoid bad PR internationally.

The symbiosis between left and right gives the false impression that Israel has distinctly divergent views regarding the Palestinians.

When one camp protests against the actions and statements of the other, the government can claim that it is making tough choices, and that whatever Israel does comes out of well-intentioned debate and painful compromises.

This is reminiscent of a South Park episode about the invasion of Iraq, where Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US, resolves domestic differences over the country’s need to look strong yet not seem a warmonger.

“Saying one thing and doing another” is the way to do it, he said, suggesting the solution was to wage war but allow protests.

For Palestinians, Israeli elections do not constitute a choice between further imprisonment and a just freedom – they herald only a change in prison guard, at least for as long as the world fails to realise this.

Sharif Nashashibi is a journalist and analyst on Arab affairs

Published: December 7, 2014 04:00 AM

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