Netanyahu’s End in Sight?

Guest Contributor: Nayyer Ali, MPAC Boardmember

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, has been avoiding political defeat for the last two years. Israel’s complex politics has been so deadlocked that four elections have been held without a winner in that time. No one has been able to cobble together a government that requires 61 members of the 120 seat Knesset to hold power. As such, Netanyahu has been able to cling to power. But this last election in March may have finally resulted in his removal.

Netanyahu is part of the Israeli hard-right, completely opposed to any settlement with the Palestinians and utterly committed to preserving total Israeli control of the entire land of Palestine from the Jordan River to the sea. No room anywhere for a Palestinian state, meaning that the 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank are to be consigned to a permanent apartheid, a slave-like status where they have no citizenship in any state whatsoever, and no rights that any Israeli government has to respect, and no voice in the power that is ultimately sovereign over their lives. This is what makes the Occupation so uniquely pernicious and evil. The Kashmiris are citizens of India, the Kurds are Turkish citizens, the Chechens are Russian citizens, and the Tibetans are Chinese citizens. Only the Palestinians are denied any legal status, which is why it is basically apartheid.

This lack of any legal rights explains why Israel feels free to bomb and kill women and children in Gaza whenever fighting breaks out. If a terrorist was active in Los Angeles and launched a missile at some target, no American President would respond with an airstrike. That would be a criminal act, but not in Israel. In Israel, one can unleash F-16’s on an apartment block if Hamas fires a rocket at Israel.

Netanyahu, who was an avid supporter of Trump, had no answer as to how the conflict with the Palestinians could be brought to an end. He just wanted to persist in subjugation and oppression, and he was quite effective at it, keeping the Palestinians caged up and docile for over a decade. Meanwhile, he struck some meaningless peace deals with some tiny petrostates in the Gulf with the help of Jared Kushner. These miss the obvious point. The conflict is not between Israel and its neighboring or distant states. It is between the Jews and Palestinians in geographic Palestine. Everything else is window-dressing.

Netanyahu has been highly motivated to retain power. He has actually been indicted for accepting bribes and other corrupt acts, and has tried to avoid prosecution by keeping control of the government. This has worked up to now, but the game may be up. In the last election, the right-wing bloc was able to win 59 seats, just two short of giving Netanyahu another term as Prime Minister. But the opposing centrist/liberal bloc only won 51 seats. The remaining 10 seats were won by Arab (Palestinians who live in Israel and have Israeli citizenship) parties. In the previous election last fall, the Arabs had created a “Joint List” rather than dividing their votes among three different small parties, as such they won 13 seats, the most ever for Arab Israelis. This time the small Islamist party Raam split off on its own and won 4 seats, while the Joint List managed to grab the other 6. This appeared to be a political defeat for Arab Israelis, as their bloc in the Knesset shrunk. But Arab parties have never played a role in Israeli politics, as there is an unwritten rule among the Jewish parties that no Arab party can be in government.

It appeared that there was going to be continuing gridlock. Netanyahu was given a chance to form a government but failed to add to his 59 seats, and then the opposition was given a chance. With time running out and prospects of another election rising, a breakthrough occurred. First, one of the right-wing parties declared they would enter a power-sharing government with the center and left. But this only got the bloc up to 60 seats, still one shy of forming a government. Now it gets interesting. The new coalition is going to rely on the votes of Raam, with its 4 Arab members of the Knesset, to provide the cushion to win a confidence motion and seat the government. This is a rare but occasional maneuver seen in parliamentary systems. A government takes power without a majority by relying on a smaller party that stays outside the governing coalition but agrees to vote to support it. In return, Raam is asking for changes that improve the lives of Israeli Arabs, but with no impact on the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

At this moment, it is unclear if Netanyahu will be able to undo this rickety alliance and force another election. If he cannot, his era of dominating Israel’s politics will be at an end. He will have achieved nothing of any lasting significance, simply marking time as the conflict continues with the Palestinians.

There is some dim light at the end of the tunnel. If Israelis can make peace with Gulf Arabs, and jet off to holiday in Dubai, and if they can form a government that relies on the votes of an Arab party to hold power, and if they can live side by side with the 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, then at some point it may dawn on them that living in peace with the other 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is reasonable. As Israel’s settlements on the West Bank have become so large and extensive, it makes the possibility of a complete withdrawal and creating an independent Palestine more and more remote. A single state, made up of both Arabs and Jews, is the only long term alternative. The persistence of the current apartheid and subjugation, with the occasional airstrike to keep the inmates docile in their massive open-air prison, is not something the rest of the world is going to accept. The left in America is becoming more and more critical of Israel, as have large segments of the populations in Europe. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.