Israeli right plans to annex West Bank

Submitted by AWL on 17 April, 2019 - 11:18 Author: Ira Berkovic

Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to secure a fifth term, after his Likud party won 36 seats in the country's 9 April election.

Likud's nearest rival, the centre-right Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) coalition, won 35, but in Israel's coalition-based system, Netanyahu can rely on smaller right-wing parties to support him.

Before the election, Netanyahu announced his intention to formally annex “Area C” of the West Bank. In the West Bank, Areas A and B are governed by the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, but those areas are made up of over 160 distinct Palestinian population centres, each one surrounded by the settlements, roads, and military presence of Israeli-controlled Area C. Annexation would make Area C formally part of Israel proper, rather than a non-Israeli territory under military occupation.

This “Greater Israel” chauvinism seeks to wipe out the possibility of Palestinian national rights, and make the Palestinian population of the West Bank, numbering nearly three million, formally second-class citizens under the domination of (but without any rights in) a Jewish state. Palestinian self-government would be limited to the Gaza Strip, which is strangled by an economic blockade maintained by Israel, with the support of Egypt.

Against this bleak backdrop, characterised by a deepening national chauvinism in Israel, the left in Britain and internationally can best serve the cause of the Palestinians by supporting those forces, such as Standing Together, fighting for Jewish-Arab unity, and for a settlement to the conflict that ends Israeli occupation and blockade of Palestinian Territories, grants full equality to the Arab minority in Israel, and acknowledges the national rights of both the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs.

The 9 April election results were bleak for the left. The Israeli Labor party was all but wiped out, reduced to just six seats. The left-Zionist Meretz took four seats, and Hadash-Ta'al, an alliance between the Israeli Communist Party's electoral front Hadash, and the Arab nationalist Ta'al, took six seats.

Responding to the exit polls on Twitter, Alon-Lee Green, national director of Standing Together, said that activists should respond by “shaking off conservatism” and “building a new left”.

4.75 million Palestinians living under Israeli colonial rule (directly, in the case of those in the West Bank, and indirectly, as a result of economic blockade, in Gaza) had no right to vote in the Israeli elections, despite having a very great deal at stake. Israeli Arabs, part of a 20% minority within Israel, have voting rights, but many boycotted the election, leading to historically low levels of Arab turnout. 6.5 million Jews, including those living as settlers in Palestinian Territories, were able to vote.

There were numerous accusations of gerrymandering and intimidation of Arab voters. Likud supporters were caught installing cameras and recording devices in polling booths in Arab towns in order to intimidate voters away. Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

But it is a democracy distorted by national chauvinism, and by the discrimination against its Arab minority.

Jewish-Arab unity to fight back

The horrifying re-election of Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc, a government which will pursue the most extreme policies yet, including annexing the West Bank and dismantling the Supreme Court, is the result of incidental, tactical problems as well as, most importantly, deeply structural ones.

On the tactical level, there was the disastrous decision on the part of the Labour Party to leave Avi Gabay in charge, as he tried repeatedly, and failed, to pander to center-right voters. There was Gantz and Lapid's superficiality, their macho-photo-op style, their expressions of Jewish exclusivity, while running mostly on “not being Bibi”. The Arab parties deciding to split up into two and waste time infighting rather than campaigning. Meretz's oId guard protecting itself and keeping some new politicians with good ideas from rising up and changing the party's 90s style political language.

These mistakes all certainly mattered. And we must be honest and say that a "centrist" government under Gantz would have been better than the Likud and Kahanist coalition that won: at the very least, he would not have attempted to dismantle the Supreme Court and he would have been sensitive to pressure from the left. As much as I am disgusted by Gantz, I admit that his loss is nonetheless a loss; the old adage of “the worse things get, the better” is a form of lazy self-defence on the left.

But, the structural problems that led to these results go beyond any of these personal campaign errors. The biggest setback in this election was the decline in Arab voter turnout - dropping from 60 to 50%, dropping from low to very low. As a point of contrast, consider how the Haredi (Chasidic) voter turnout is close to 90%.

The drop in Arab voter turnout meant not only a loss of seats for the Arab parties (falling from 13 to 10 seats), but also allowing each right wing vote to count for more (since there were a fewer number of total voters in the whole country).

The decline was the result of blatant voter intimidation - Likud openly hired a PR firm who would keep Arabs away from the polls - as well as a conscious choice on the part of some in the Palestinian-Arab community not to participate in elections after the Nation State Law acted as the last straw.

I can sympathise with that anger. It is not my place to scold Palestinian-Arab voters who skipped the election. There are very strong voices within their community who are working on this internal conversation, like the rapper Tamer Nafer and the journalist Odeh Bisharat.

The most important thing to do now is to fight for the conditions of true Jewish-Arab political and social partnership. This is both a moral commitment and a tactical one.

One of the most critical steps to ending the occupation and fighting for a just peace for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is to create a movement that bridges the gap between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian-Arabs of Israeli citizenship. Numerically speaking, there is no way to defeat the Israeli right without such a partnership.

And by partnership, I certainly do not mean Jewish party leaders simply getting angry when Bibi does something racist, or mentioning that Palestinian-Arabs are welcome to join the party as an afterthought.

I mean that the party and the campaign needs to be built on true equality, both in its policies and in its personnel, from the very start. I am open to the idea of combining existing parties or forming a new one. Either way, an urgent project.

In fact, the will for Jewish-Arab political partnership does exist, is growing and it must be properly organized: Meretz members voted to put two Arab politicians in their top five in their primaries, and as a result doubled the number of Arab votes in this election from the last. Without those votes, the party would have been completely erased, since their traditional supporters, Jewish urbanites, chose to vote for Gantz en masse as a so-called strategic, lesser-evil choice.

Similarly, Hadash-Ta'al, the Arab-led party that is most dedicated to Jewish-Arab partnership, maintained its size despite the drop in Arab voting, a sign that their message does work.

And over the course of two days following the election results, over 300 people have joined Standing Together, the grassroots joint Jewish-Arab left movement, as dues-paying members. We have to harness the energy of those who are already convinced of this message, a minority though they be at the moment, and use it to create a massive cultural and moral change.

The second major structural problem is the minimal attention to issues of economic justice and public welfare, in this election cycle especially.

Currently, elderly patients have to sleep in showers in our hospitals because of the shortage of beds. Our schools are completely underfunded. Working-class wages have not risen with cost of living. And yet Bibi gets away with declaring that this is "a time of economic prosperity", just because no one challenges him on it sufficiently.

I believe we need to go into those crowded hospital lines, show up in schools, and show people that they deserve better and that this can change. This was not done in the current election and, as a result, populist racism won out.

Lastly, the rise of the international right has great sway over voters here. People were waving Trump flags at Bibi's election party. In my fieldwork, I hear all the time how “Europe loves the Likud”. Israeli voters are feeding off of the energy of right-wing movements all over the world.

We cannot make the change alone without international political changes as well.

• Hannah Pollin-Galay is a Yiddish researcher and activist involved in Standing Together, a left-wing Jewish-Arab social movement.

Israeli Arabs

In this election cycle, we saw the lowest voter turnout in the Arab community. But the election-boycott movement did not actually achieve its goal. Instead of 13 seats for Arab parties, we now have 10.

A great swath of the community is apathetic towards politics, and that apathy actually hasn't changed much over the years. Some of the young people who received the right to vote for the first time decided to boycott, claiming that the Knesset is part of the Zionist structure, in which they refused to take part. Some portion of the voters also wanted to punish the Arab parties, and show the power that they could wield over them if they do not perform.

If we are looking at the big picture, there is a great sense of frustration and disappointment in the Arab community, and there has yet to emerge real leadership that can answer our needs and represent us.

• Rula Daood is a community organiser and member of Standing Together, a left-wing Jewish-Arab social movement.

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