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Israel moves to the right as Palestinians shift out of election focus

  • Antony Loewenstein
  • 18 Jan 2019

Israel's election campaign is in full swing, but you'd be hard pressed to find any debate over the occupation or how to make peace with the Palestinians.

( AP )

Jerusalem—During a recent conference organised by Women in Green, a Zionist, pro-settler group dedicated to applying Israeli sovereignty across the entire, occupied West Bank, Likud politician and Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Yoav Galant, explained what his country had to achieve.

“From the hills of Samaria, I say clearly, ‘No to a Palestinian state’,” he argued. “It’s impossible to establish more than one state west of the Jordan. This is the place of the Jewish, Zionist and democratic State of Israel.”

Other senior politicians at the event agreed including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy (and former Israeli ambassador to the United States) Michael Oren and Welfare Minister Chaim Katz.

Israel’s general election in April sets the scene for ferocious months of campaigning and yet all the major Israeli political parties agree on one thing; no end to the more than 50 years of occupying Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

The ruling Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, voted in a non-binding resolution in late 2017 to apply sovereignty over the West Bank, rendering millions of Palestinians second-class citizens in perpetuity. 

The resolution barely caused a ripple because it’s become an increasingly mainstream view across the Israeli, Jewish public.

Netanyahu is embroiled in countless corruption scandals, mainly revolving around the alleged receiving of favours and gifts from wealthy patrons and friends. The Times of Israel asked in late 2018: “Is Israel about to re-elect a corrupt prime minister?” 

Netanyahu remains a popular leader despite the controversies and could win the April poll (if he hasn’t resigned before due to a possible indictment in February). 

How to make an occupation disappear 

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Israel’s leading organisation working on refugee rights, migrant workers and human trafficking victims, tells TRT World that the most vulnerable people in Israeli society are completely ignored during the election campaign.

Although an Israeli court recently froze the imminent deportation of 312 Congolese asylum seekers back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the founders of Hotline, Public Policy Director, Sigal Rozen, says that “the media shows no interest in the issue and nor do the politicians.”

Rozen says, “we always have hope yet we are not satisfied with only hoping, so we also strive to make sure that all decision makers are aware of the reasons that brought the asylum seekers to Israel and their situation here.”

Many Israeli politicians are committed to removing all African refugees from the country.

To the outside world, regularly bombarded with stories about unarmed Palestinians in Gaza being shot dead by Israel or never-ending expansion of illegal, West Bank settlements, understanding the Israeli mindset can be challenging and yet certain facts are clear.

Racist incitement against Arabs and Palestinians is rife in public spaces, the press and social media. A study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2018 found that the majority of Israeli citizens agreed with the sentiment that, “most Jews are better than most non-Jews because they were born Jews”. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they were “somewhat disturbed” or “very disturbed” that half the pharmacists in Israel are Arabs.

The study was initiated after a concerning CNN poll that discovered anti-Semitic attitudes across Europe.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is virtually invisible in the Israeli media except when Arabs are reported as a security threat. There’s only one Israeli journalist based permanently in the West Bank, Amira Hass with Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, and her readers are regularly exposed to the grim realities of life under occupation.

What’s mostly ignored in the international press, at least in the corporate media, is what Israel has allowed festering in Israel and the West Bank for decades; Jewish fanaticism that advocates the ethnic cleansing and murder of Palestinians. This isn’t just a few hundred Zionist settlers but a sizeable movement with strong political support. Leading Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard recently explained the phenomenon:

“We have to face reality. We are witnessing the flourishing of a Jewish Ku Klux Klan movement. Like its American counterpart, the Jewish version also drinks from the polluted springs of religious fanaticism and separatism, only replacing the Christian iconography with its Jewish equivalent. Like white racism’s modus operandi, this Jewish racism is also based on fearmongering and violence against its equivalent of Blacks — the Palestinians.”

How is this connected to the April election? It explains the social and political milieu in which the Israeli public lives on a daily basis. Settlers are routinely treated respectfully in the Israeli media instead of as illegal occupiers. It’s therefore unsurprising that no major political party has any interest or desire to end the occupation. Over decades, this perspective has found innumerable advocates to defend, ignore or support Israeli, settler actions.

Yes, there are many Israeli Jews who are appalled by the violence, but they have little or no political power. Instead, the international community has largely turned a blind eye to Israel’s descent into a proud ethnostate. 

Remember that only a small minority of the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli rule, in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, are even allowed to vote in the upcoming poll.

Now, with Donald Trump as US President, the European Union mostly toothless when facing the Israeli state and the Arab world increasingly turning towards Israel to form an anti-Iran alliance, the Jewish state has no limits on what it can achieve in its territory.

Netanyahu has expanded the defence, and intelligence industries and the country now sells equipment and weapons to some of the most brutal regimes on the planet.

The elephant in the room

Consider the leading Israeli political candidates in the April poll. Yair Lapid is a former journalist who proudly talks about building a high wall between Israelis and Palestinians to “get them [Palestinians] out of our sight.” 

Former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz, wants to keep some illegal settlements in any peace agreement. Labour leader Avi Gabbay has told supporters that the “Arabs have to be afraid of us”. Pro-settler politician Naftali Bennett has spent years explaining his satisfaction in killing Palestinians.

Any Israeli politician expressing a desire for a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank has no chance of electoral success (and the party popular with Arabs, the Joint List, has an uncertain future).

This leaves the forthcoming election dealing with many other issues except the one that arguably affects Israelis and Palestinians more than any other; the occupation.

The Jerusalem-based, Israeli writer and activist Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), tells TRT World that, “what people abroad associate with the big issue here, occupation and the peace process, is a non-issue to the Israeli electorate, who feel no need, urgency or pressure from any quarter to do anything. ‘Security’ remains an issue but it is boiled down to Hamas, and Iran and there is no real difference among parties - Labour leader Avi Gabbay says Netanyahu isn't strong enough on Gaza - or public interest that would make that an electoral issue.”

The only alternative, Halper argues, is an “extra-parliamentary one, to work on establishing a single democratic state between the River and the Sea to replace the single apartheid regime we have today.” 

Halper is involved in building a coalition with Palestinians and critical, Israeli Jews to establish a Palestinian-Israeli movement called The One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC).

This plan, Halper tells TRT World, would lead to a “democracy offering equal rights to everyone, in which the country becomes genuinely whole - people live wherever they want, one common citizenship and parliament, the return of the [Palestinian] refugees, individual, equal rights, collective rights protecting all the country's groups and peoples and the building of a new, shared civil society.”

This vision is necessary, but it’s still a long way off. In the meantime, the April election will feature a cast of Israeli characters who will try to outdo each other in expressing contempt for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are mostly invisible in the Israeli election campaign coverage, their plight and future deemed unimportant by the Israeli mainstream media.

Nonetheless, Palestinian voices are speaking out, some calling for a massive civil rights movement and demand for the right of return, but the Israeli elites don’t want to hear it.

The Trump administration’s long-delayed “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians is destined to continue Washington’s role as Israel’s lawyer rather than an honest broker between the two sides.

What the Israeli election reveals most of all is what decades of occupation can achieve with global acquiesce, rendering powerless the invisible millions of Palestinians over whom you have complete control.

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