We may have more time to build mobilisation against the plan of the Israeli right to annex part or all of “Area C” (60% of the West Bank) to Israel.
Israel’s election on 17 September gave no majority to outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor to his main rival, a “softer” right-winger, Benny Gantz. A long period of haggling about possible coalitions now probably lies ahead.
Publication of the new “plan” for the Middle East long announced by Donald Trump as “coming soon” is now likely to be postponed longer.
Trump’s people have indicated the new plan will drop even nominal commitment to “two states”, i.e. to the right of the Palestinian people to have a state of their own. Publication of the plan will give a boost to Israeli right-wingers who seek annexation.
The election result showed a slight softening of the right-wing drift in Israeli politics. Netanyahu’s Likud lost seven seats.
The Democratic Union, an alliance formed around the soft-left Meretz, gained one. The Joint List, led by Hadash, which is linked to the Communist Party of Israel, gained three seats.
The Joint List’s score depends almost entirely on Arab voters, whose turnout rose from 50% to 60%.
The very right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman and drawing votes mostly from Israelis of Russian background, gained three seats.
Lieberman refused after the April election to form a “narrow” right-wing governing coalition with Likud and the ultra-Orthodox religious parties, because he wants to breach the ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service and the bans on public transport on Saturdays.
Lieberman now says he wants a grand coalition of Likud, Gantz’s “Blue and White”, and his own party. That coalition will work if Likud agrees to drop Netanyahu and let him face trial for the corruption charges which Israeli police have made against him. How far Likud will budge — and whether such a coalition will go with Netanyahu’s pledges of annexation, made shortly before polling day both in April and in September — remains unclear.
The West Bank has been under Israeli rule since the war of 1967. In the early 1990s, under the “Oslo process”, Areas A, B, and C were outlined. Areas A and B comprise 165 distinct patches of land, cities and villages, including the big majority of the Palestinian population. In them the Palestinian Authority has some rights to autonomy (basically, to police the areas and to distribute aid money). Area C, over 60% of the land area, surrounds those 165 areas and includes the Israeli settlements and the Israeli-controlled roads serving them. The promise of the “Oslo process” was that Palestinian autonomy in Areas A and B would be a first step to a Palestinian state in the whole of the occupied territories, but that has never been delivered.
Declaring Area C to be formally part of the Israeli state would not change day-to-day control.
It would however create a big new political barrier to the right of the Palestinian people to have their own viable and independent state, in territory where they are still 90% or so of the population.
Under Israel’s procedures, the members of parliament vote on whom they recommend the president asks to form a government. For the first time since 1992, most of the members of parliament representing Israel’s Arab minority voted to recommend a candidate: Benny Gantz. The Joint List members of parliament were clear that they do not expect Gantz will meet their demands, or want to be part of a Gantz government. They want to use Gantz as a lever to “end Mr. Netanyahu’s long reign of corruption, lies and fear”.
Gantz, a former Israeli army chief of staff, is a right-winger. He launched his political career eight months ago with videos boasting about the hundreds killed by the Israeli military under his command in two Gaza campaigns. Yair Lapid, Blue and White’s no.2, said after a close election result in 2013 that he would not “join a bloc with the left and the Zoabis,” referring dismissively to an Arab member of parliament, Haneen Zoabi.
The no.3, Moshe Ya’alon, once called Peace Now a virus and has insisted that a Palestinian state won’t be established in this century. The no.4 is Gabi Ashkenazi, who was Gantz’s predecessor as Israel’s military chief and commanded Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09.
Hadash leader Ayman Odeh wrote:
“Our demands for a shared, more equal future are clear: We seek resources to address violent crime plaguing Arab cities and towns, housing and planning laws that afford people in Arab municipalities the same rights as their Jewish neighbours and greater access for people in Arab municipalities to hospitals. We demand raising pensions for all... and a plan to prevent violence against women.
“We seek the legal incorporation of unrecognised — mostly Palestinian Arab — villages and towns that don’t have access to electricity or water. And we insist on resuming direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace treaty that ends the occupation and establishes an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders.
“We call for repealing the Nation-State Law that declared me, my family and one-fifth of the population to be second-class citizens”.
The Jewish-Arab movement Standing Together responded to the election result with a call for new activists to join it.
“We’re leaving the election with enormous energy, with power to take on the challenges that will arise — and we’re inviting you to join us. Join our political movement struggling towards peace, our socialist Jewish-Arab movement, our movement that isn’t afraid of the word ‘power’.”
We need a global movement now, not “boycotting” Israel as many do, but building links and solidarity with groups like Standing Together.