QUICK TAKES – What is the “Takeaway” From Last Week’s Israeli Elections?

Current Events
This week QUICK TAKES contributors reflect on the implications of last week’s Israel elections, which received widespread global attention and have been surrounded by much controversy.  QT poses the questions: what is the meaning, or the quick “takeaway”, of the Israeli elections for the future of the Middle East?  Is a “peace process” between Israel and its neighbors still possible, or are we entering a new and uncertain era?  Or is something else going on?
QUICK TAKES is a feature managed by PTT Current Affairs Editor Carl Raschke.  If you would like to be part of the “rapid response teams” that responds in this section to news of the week, please send the editor an email along with a brief description of the general topics on which you would like to comment.

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Long-Term Implications of Israeli Elections Still Remain Unclear

Last week’s elections in Israel handed yet another in a string of victories to the country’s pro-settlement right-wing voting bloc.

While many working and middle class Israeli Jews have complained bitterly for the past several years about rising housing costs in the country, ultimately many Israeli Jews voted for the party they believed best served Israel’s security needs. This is interesting as Israel’s national security is often linked to its close relationship with the United States and Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election all but assures that U.S.-Israeli relations, at least on the Executive-to-Executive level, will remain cooler than at any time since the early 1990s.

At this point it is unclear what kind of impact Netanyahu’s re-election will have on the Middle East in general. It is likely that, emboldened by a right-wing victory in Israel, Republicans in the U.S. sympathetic to Netanyahu’s foreign policy will attempt to hold up an international agreement on the Iranian nuclear program.

Such a result, though unlikely, would lead to continued sanctions against the Iranian government and, irrespective of Iran’s cooperation with the United States in Iraq in the fight against ISIS, may lead Iran to continue to attempt to ratchet up both anti-Israeli and anti-Sunni activities, via its proxies, in both the Levant and the Persian Gulf. It is more likely, however, that Netanyahu’s victory will not disrupt negotiations and the region will continue to focus more on threats of non-state and Islamist actors, while continuing to ignore or at least tolerate Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

Shifting to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are some prominent commentators, like Peter Beinart, who contend that Netanyahu’s re-election has ended the peace process, as the latter came out publicly against the two-state solution just days before the election.

Meanwhile some Palestinian activists argue that Netanyahu’s victory is actually better for the Palestinian national movement as at least the world knows where he stands.  On the other hand,  his opponents, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, would have, along with the United States, forced Palestinians back into a fake peace process the only goal of which would have been to continue Israel’s near 48 year occupation.

Looking back over the past quarter-century I tend to agree with the latter group. The U.S. backed peace-process, if it can be accurately called that, has prioritized Israeli needs and desires over those of the Palestinians and allowed successive Israeli governments, starting with Yitzhak Rabin’s, effectively to outsource the occupation, at least in the West Bank, to Palestinian security forces. Meanwhile Israel has continued to expand its settlement project, thereby making the two-state solution that its governments have claimed to support almost impossible to implement if Palestinians hope to form a contiguous state in the West Bank.

When it comes to the possibility of a two-state solution neither a Zionist Union nor a Likud led government would have been able or willing to engage in a meaningful peace process, and the United States seems incapable of facilitating such a process anyway.   What is more interesting in the aftermath of the elections is the fact that a major party in Israel is now publicly committed to retaining the settlements.

While it is clear to many that Likud has been committed to this policy in practice ever since the party’s creation in the 1970s, this admission should re-energize the public debate over the two-state solution in Israel.

Indeed, some right-wing politicians have recently called for Israel to annex the West Bank. We should expect more of these demands to be publicly voiced in the near future and some furious reactions by some on what remains of the Israeli political left and also those in the center or on the center-right who don’t care much about a Palestinian state but fear the so-called demographic threat that the occupation poses to Israel’s existence as a majority Jewish state.

Jonathan Sciarcon is Assistant Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Denver. His research focuses on Ottoman Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He teaches courses on the rise of Islam in the Middle East, the modern Middle East, the Crusades, the Arab-Israeli conflict and other related topics.

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Elections Suggest That The Election Is Less About “Peace” And More About Race

When “the only democracy in the Middle East,” which is also considered the most secular state in the Middle East, defines itself as a Jewish democracy, what could “Jewish” mean? It couldn’t possibly mean religion, right? Could it perhaps mean race? And if it does, could a Jewish state be democratic?

Almost a week has passed since the elections for the twentieth Israeli parliament. Almost a week since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been elected for the fourth time after warning the Israeli Jewish public that “the Arabs are voting,” prompting them to vote Likud and save the country from its Palestinian citizens.

This call has raised red flags for Americans, who are particularly sensitive about race and voting rights. Almost a week of trying to convince myself (and others) that despite his appearance as a tyrant, these elections are not about Netanyahu himself at all. It is Israel’s regime that matters, and there is a growing chance we will be able to change it in the foreseeable future, given the growing representation of Palestinians – the most invisible group in the state of Israel – in its parliament. Therefore, we should really be hopeful.

Then, yesterday, a six-year old Palestinian girl was attacked and injured by two Jewish settlers in Hebron. In the face of this incident I am having a hard time feeling hopeful, or writing about the future of the Middle East or of the “peace process.”

In reality, peace is not on the agenda of any of the major parties in Israel anyway. Peace, which was a part of all major parties’ campaigns in 1996 (the Likud’s 1996 elections campaign slogan was “Netanyahu – Making Safe Peace”), was not a part of any of the major parties’ campaigns in 2015. The racist slogan seen on billboards during the last weeks before the elections – “with Bibi-Bennett we will be stuck with the Palestinians forever” – was sponsored by an ostensibly leftist non-governmental organization.  Its logic is also the logic of the peace process and of the Oslo Accords: Jews want to disengage from Palestinians – they should disengage. And if this is the logic of the peace process – if the peace process is not really about peace, but about disengagement – is it really Netanyahu’s racist comments that are to blame for yesterday’s horrible incident?

If the peace process follows a logic of disengagement, which is essentially a racist logic, perhaps we should talk about something else instead. Perhaps instead of talking about peace we should talk about freedom.

A new hope for a peaceful protest, for a peaceful struggle for change, has risen in this round of elections in Israel. The unification of the Palestinian parties and their campaign as the Joint List, declaring war on racism, won them thirteen seats in Israel’s parliament, an increase of almost 25% in comparison with the last elections, when they ran separately.

Race, of course, plays a more complicated role in Israel, where the oppression not only of Palestinians but also of Mizrahi Jews is an ongoing problem. And race has been a large part of this round of elections, more visible than in previous rounds. The ultra-orthodox Shas party’s identity politics and its campaign slogan “A Mizrahi votes Mizrahi” is one example.

The disqualification of ultra-orthodox party Yahad’s racist campaign video, a campaign against “terrorism, asylum seekers, and immigrant workers,” by the elections committee (and the party’s disappearance from Israeli politics for the time being) is another. The success of Kulanu party, with an agenda of social and economic justice, and with it the anticipation of a new, working class, Mizrahi Jew minister of finance is yet another example.

But race was also visible when immediately after the elections the web has filled with denouncements of marginalized racial groups for their failure to see Netanyahu’s role in their oppression and for their contribution to his victory. The Israeli Jewish left was called to stop “giving charity” to and showing solidarity with these groups until they wake up and stop supporting him (later we discovered that Likud had more Ashkenazi than Mizrahi voters).

So perhaps it is freedom from oppression, not peace, we should all strive for. Bringing racial oppression into the vocabulary of mainstream Israeli public discourse – which certainly happened in these elections – might be a first step in the right direction.

Once, Israeli elections were about peace – but merely the illusion of peace. In 2015, Israeli elections are about (finally) race – racial solidarity and racial hatred. If this change – from peace to race –brings about a shift from a logic of disengagement to one of solidarity, then perhaps there is a reason to be hopeful.

Dana Lloyd has studied and practiced law in Tel Aviv.  She is currently a PhD student in the department of religion at Syracuse University.

 

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