Saturday, February 7

The Israeli General Elections in the Aftermath of the Gaza Tragedy

The war against Hamas in Gaza has come and gone. The damage done to Gaza was horrendous, especially the loss of innocent lives and immense suffering of the Palestinian population. Hamas still appears to have its honour intact and there is still sporadic firing of Qassam rockets into Israel despite the declared cease-fire brokered by Egypt. This means that despite the outcome of the war, Hamas remains as adamant and determined as ever not to reach any agreement with Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist. This will influence the Israeli voting patterns very strongly.

The Israeli General Elections are in the offing and it is very difficult to show any enthusiasm for it. The atmosphere is far from that of the US Election where there was some hope for a new deal for the American people. A fleeting optimism was released when Obama was elected as president of the US. Here in Israel, there is none of that optimism. It will be more of the same and probably even worse for peace.

A very clear trend amongst the Israeli electorate has emerged since the end of this war. It is an almost foregone conclusion that the Likud and the right wing parties will win the elections and the next Prime Minister will be Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli public will swing to the right and racial overtones will be very much of the right wing campaign for votes. Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant from Moldavia, will become a very important factor. His ideology is similar to the defunct racist Kach Party. His Yisrael Beteinu Party, which is racist and anti-Arab, is embarking on a campaign of citizenship for Israeli Arabs based on their loyalty to the state. This is abominable! What criteria will be adopted to assess Israeli Arab loyalty to Israel? How will this be put into practice? Does he expect Arab citizens of Israel to be Zionists and if not, agree to transfer out of Israel? Lieberman was instrumental in trying to ban the Arab Parties Ra’am –Ta’al and Balad from taking part in the upcoming elections. He even managed to get Labour and Kadima to support preventing these parties from participating in the elections. Fortunately, the High Court overturned the Lieberman-run electoral committee’s decision and these parties will be participating.

The elections this year are very lack luster with a plethora of has-beens such as Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu attempting re-election as Prime Minister. There is also Tzippi Livni also having a go for that position. All in all the choice is not great. A vote for the Likud-Labour-Kadima triumvirate is not going to bring peace any closer to this region. After all, there is not much difference between these three parties. In any case, Yisrael Beiteinu will also be a part of this new government which will give its citizens pretty much of the same.

The voter who happens to be left has a real problem in deciding for whom to vote. Meretz is not the Meretz of the stalwarts such as Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid. It is a rather watered-down version of what it once was. The fact that Meretz supported the war effort in the beginning, despite the terrible loss of innocent lives, has driven many potential voters on the left away. The Arab Parties are no less one-issue than the extremist right wing Zionist parties are.

It is as if both the extreme right wing of Israel and Hamas has a common language in assuring that peace will never occur. Both sides are against a two state solution and both sides survive on unrest and hatred. It seems as if Hamas would like to see an extreme right wing government in Israel. This is obvious from the cease-fire violations that they have committed. Every missile fired into Israel will garner more votes for Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party. This will give Hamas legitimacy by proving that Israel does not want peace. This tactic will work in Lieberman’s favour.

The choice available to the Israeli voter is large because of the number of small parties participating, but the issues that are so important have not been addressed. Issues such as peace with the Palestinians, economic issues, education and so on have not been addressed by the main parties. Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party behave as if they have won the election. Netanyahu who always seems to have plenty to say at election time has remained silent. When he does open his mouth he utters some banality.

The religious parties such as Shas and Torah Judaism will wait for the juicy pickings from the winning party in order to feather their own religious nests. They will do almost anything to become part of the coalition after the elections. They need the tax payers’ money to maintain their religious institutions of bigotry. The easiest way they can achieve this is to extort whichever government comes into power after the elections. This scenario takes place every time once the elections are over and the results are finalized.

The voter’s choice in this lack-luster election is poor. The left wing has been shattered by Hamas violence that resulted in the Gaza War. Even on the left, there are those who supported the war and only after the injuries and deaths of innocent Palestinians became known, they did an about turn and ceased to support the war.

Israel maintains that Hamas used the Palestinians as human shields and this caused the loss of lives of many innocent Palestinians. Weapons had been hidden in the homes of many Palestinians who had been coerced under the pain of death to shelter Hamas militants and their armaments. Whether this is true has to be verified. Israel is also not truthful in its assessments of the situation and the total secrecy that it had declared on any information coming out of Gaza. Under these conditions it is very difficult to assess the entire truth of the Gaza operation.

The “disproportionate reaction” of Israel against the Palestinians and not only against Hamas is there for all to see. One cannot help not being outraged by the total destruction of many homes and towns in Gaza. The aimless wonderings of victims of IDF retaliation looking for their possessions and families buried in the rubble is heart rending.

Israel’s reaction to the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas militants over the last 8 years is understandable. The heavy loss of innocent Palestinian lives is not justifiable.

While Hamas does not show any signs of wishing to negotiate with Israel or recognizing Israel’s rights to exist makes it very difficult if not impossible to reach an agreement with them. Despite this, one must also remember that Israel is an expert at double talk. On the one hand Israel claims that it has no desire to rule over another people while in practice, settlements on the West Bank are being expanded and new settlements are even being built. This surely results in the displacement of Palestinians and the encroachment of Jewish settlers into their agricultural lands. This also results in another nail being hammered into the coffin of the two-state solution. Even the Labour Party under Ehud Barak has been instrumental in establishing new settlements by stealth in the occupied territories.

The dilemma of the Israeli left for whom to vote has never been greater than in these elections. Labour is not left anymore but a slightly watered down version of the Likud and even Kadima. All three parties would even be prepared to sit with Lieberman despite his repulsive and racist ideology. Meretz has not tackled the important issues of peace in these elections. Perhaps they felt that discussing peace would lose it votes and it is not popular these days.

For the Jewish, secular non-Zionist left, the choice is even poorer. All that remains is to vote for a party that makes Jewish and Palestinian coexistence and equality a central part of its platform as well as remaining democratic in its ideology. This could send a strong message to the right wing racist Zionists of Avigdor Lieberman ideology that his message as well as the message of the right wing religious parties is unacceptable.

1 comment:

Michael Shurman said...

"For the Jewish, secular non-Zionist left" the choice is not poor at all, HADASH represents the clear voice of Jewish-Palestinian partnership in our common struggle for democracy, equality and justice.