Apartheid Democracy: Israel Elects Itself

A masked Palestinian girl attends a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails outside the International Red Cross offices in Gaza on 21 January 2013. (Photo: AFP - Mahmud Hams)

A masked Palestinian girl attends a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails outside the International Red Cross offices in Gaza on 21 January 2013. (Photo: AFP – Mahmud Hams)

 Mohamad Bdeir | Al Akhbar English | Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israel’s recent election has been light on political programs and heavy on personal competition. Talk of the peace process has been marginal, one sign among many of the growing clout of the Israeli right-wing.

Before Israel’s 1977 elections, with Likud defeating Labor for the first time in Israel’s history, Israeli elections were more often than not held amid absolute certainty regarding their outcomes. The same could be said of the Israeli elections being held today, 22 January 2013.

Over the past three months, all rival factions conceded that the next government will be formed by current PM Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of the Likud-Beiteinu electoral alliance, which is poised to win the largest number of seats.

When Netanyahu called for early elections on 9 October 2012 – on the grounds that the ruling coalition had failed to reach an agreement over the budget for 2013 – he was wagering on a few favorable electoral adjustments. His opponents were weak and inexperienced; none of them represented a realistic alternative to him in the public eye.

Two weeks later, Netanyahu dealt a coup de grâce to his opponents. On 25 October 2012, he announced that Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud, which control between them 42 seats in the current Knesset, would run together on a single ballot. The joint list was dubbed Likud-Beiteinu.Polls predict that Likud-Beiteinu would win 45 seats in the general election. This has created a huge gap between the alliance and the rest of the contenders. Voters thus acknowledge that the next prime minister will be none other than Netanyahu.

The predetermined outcome has greatly diminished the political significance of these elections, as they have now been reduced to a personal competition among the candidates. The best evidence of this is Likud’s failure to formulate a political program that would serve as its platform for the current election. Even desperate attempts by Netanyahu’s opponents to give real substance to the elections were doomed.

Nevertheless, the current round of the Israeli elections – unexciting as it may be – carries important implications for understanding current voter attitudes. For instance, one major trend is the near complete absence of the issue of peace from the electoral discourse.

Peace Rhetoric Fading from Elections

Since the elections of 1992, the political process with the Palestinians occupied center stage in the campaigns of all major parties in Israel.

Observers may recall how one past electoral slogan of Ariel Sharon purported that “Only Sharon Can Bring Peace.” A slogan of Netanyahu’s proclaimed “Netanyahu – making a safe peace.” But now, it seems that peace has become irrelevant for most contenders.

There is growing opposition to the formula of “two states for two peoples” in the ranks of Likud-Beiteinu. Labor is avoiding the issue altogether by hiding behind its social agenda, while the Hatnuah and Yesh Atid parties tackle the peace process timidly, referring to it euphemistically as the “political settlement.”

Another campaigning trend is the aversion of all Jewish factions – with the exception of Meretz – to being categorized as leftist. This applies not only to Hatnuah and Yesh Atid, who were keen on not being painted as left-wing, but also to the Labor Party, which is historically known to be center-left.

Yet the third – and most important – trend may be the political and popular rise of the “religious nationalists,” a segment of Israeli society consisting primarily of settlers with far right leanings.This trend is evident not only through growing support for Naftali Bennett’s party The Jewish Home, but also with the expanding support base the religious nationalists have within Likud and institutions once considered bastions of the secular left, like the High Court of Justice and the Shin Bet.

This reality embodies an extremely important social transformation in Israel. It follows that the sharpest electoral competition is taking place within the right-wing camp itself between Likud and The Jewish Home. While the former sought to appear more “pro-settlement,” the latter attempted to go beyond its factional limits to present itself as a party for “all of Israel.”

Critical Election Results

Whatever the case may be with internal electoral divisions, the elections have evoked fundamental political questions amid strategically consequential events.

Take the peace process for instance. There are indications that it will draw its last breath under the next government, which will probably consist of a right-wing coalition infused with some centrist elements to dilute its extremism for show.

In light of such a coalition, any talk of halting settlements, let alone conceding land in the West Bank, will fade. In the Palestinian context, too, it is likely that the next Netanyahu government will find itself face to face with a new intifada, in light of the restlessness in the occupied territories.

Add to this a record deficit in the Israeli economy that will make it inevitable for any government to raise taxes and cut spending.

All of this without even addressing Iran. Here, Netanyahu has opted to postpone dealing with its nuclear program until next summer. In short, all that the elections in Israel shall bring about is more of the same: solidifying Netanyahu’s leadership and increasing the clout of the Israeli right.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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