Netanyahu has triumphed again – here's what that means for Palestinians

The Israeli election – in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents could not vote for the government that rules their lives – has been a sobering reality check. But things could be about to get worse for Palestinians 

Ben White
Wednesday 10 April 2019 13:50
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Benjamin Netanyahu on course for Israel poll win

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done it again. Facing serious corruption allegations, and challenged by a “dream team” ticket including three former military chiefs of staff, Likud’s leader is now poised to form a new coalition government.

Although the Blue and White list headed by Benny Gantz secured 35 seats in the next Knesset, a majority of Israelis have voted for the so-called “right-wing” bloc headed by Likud (also on 35 seats), along with United Torah Judaism, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, Right-wing Union and Kulanu.

Before considering what happens next, it’s vital to remember who didn’t – or more specifically, couldn’t – vote in these elections.

Some 300,000 Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem who have residency but not citizenship could not vote for the government that rules their city.

More than 4 million more Palestinians, who live under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, also could not vote for the government that – like every Israeli government for more than half a century – has ruled their lives.

It is truly extraordinary that Israel continues, with a straight face, to declare itself “the only democracy in the Middle East”, and even more extraordinary that anyone takes such a claim seriously.

Excluded from the political decision-making, what do the election results mean for Palestinians?

Israel election: prime minister Netanyahu votes in Jerusalem in decisive election for fifth term

In the last few days before Israelis went to the polls, Netanyahu made a number of remarks in which he declared that under his leadership, a new Israeli government will proceed to formally annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Precisely what this means is up for debate – plausible interpretations include territorial annexation of certain illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, or the application of certain Israeli laws to settlements (a sort of bureaucratic form of annexation).

It is important to remember, of course, that the occupied West Bank has long been de facto annexed by Israeli authorities, through the settlement enterprise, exploitation of natural resources and national infrastructure.

Furthermore, as documented by Israeli NGO Yesh Din, in recent years the Knesset has already seen a raft of bills and laws “that have elements of annexation”.

Nevertheless, in light of Netanyahu’s pre-election statements, his looming legal woes, and the way he will be beholden to coalition partners committed to annexation, it is reasonable to suppose that the next Israeli government will consolidate and formalise the de facto single state.

As the editor of Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz put it this morning, the new government will pursue two goals that can “be summed up as ‘immunity in exchange for sovereignty’.”

That is to say, Netanyahu’s coalition partners will ensure the passage of legislation that “buries the indictments against Netanyahu”, while “the prime minister will have to coordinate the tarrying ‘deal of the century’ with US president Donald Trump in a manner that enables Israel to declare sovereignty over the settlements and assures that no settler will be evicted”.

Not that the Trump administration necessarily needs much encouragement – just yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to condemn potential Israeli annexation measures.

These are grim times, then, for Palestinians, but it is also worth reflecting on what a clear victory for Gantz’s Blue and White list would have meant.

Gantz – along with partners Moshe Ya’alon, Yair Lapid, and Gabi Ashkenazi – barely spoke about the Palestinians during the election campaign. To the extent that the Blue and White list spoke of a vision for the Palestinians, it was simply a recipe for a continuation of the status quo: vague promises to further “separate” from Palestinians and deploy devastating military force.

The election results, then, are a sobering reality check for those who still needed one.

As the head of human rights NGO B’Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, wrote on Twitter this morning: “The election results confirm something deep, and very rotten: resounding vote of confidence in favour of furthering the existing situation, more dispossession & control of millions of Palestinian denied fundamental rights; the debate limited to pace, scope, level of brutality used”.

The Israeli electorate has – spoken and the international community must act accordingly.

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