Bibi’s Back: Netanyahu’s re-election and Israeli 'democracy'
So, there it is. At the end of a dogged, close fought race, Benjamin Netanyahu has once again crawled to the top of the pile, retaining the prime ministership and making himself, come summer, Israel’s longest serving premiere. Once his rival, Benny Gantz accepted defeat, the Israeli right cheered, and another nail was fixed into the coffin of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For a summary of the election: it was a close fought race between a corrupt bedfellow of religious fanatics (Netanyahu) and a former army general, currently involved in a war crimes case in the Hague (Benny Gantz). In the end, an ultra-right coalition has been scraped together around Netanyahu’s Likud party, with Bibi once again at the Helm.
To say that Netanyahu had a clear run to the prime ministership is false. He fought a “dirty” fight to surpass his rival’s Blue and White party. In a campaign imbued with overt, nationalistic and anti-arab sentiment, Netanyahu stooped to even lower means to keep his job. Netanyahu hired and gave 1200 hidden cameras to Likud activists to secretly film voters in Arab towns’ polling stations – which Central Elections Committee Chairman, Justice Hanan Melcer, declared clearly illegal. These charges make a fine addition to the laundry list of corruption, fraud and bribery charges currently held against Bibi. But these things, as with most of Netanyahu’s crimes, will be forgotten so long as the people he is upsetting are Arabs and his nationalistic base is kept happy. Aluf Benn of Haaretz claims his government will pursue “annexation in exchange for immunity,” an acceleration of the right-wing desire for illegal settlement creation in the west bank while overlooking Netanyahu’s mischief.
Some have claimed a blessing from an orange god was Netanyahu’s key to victory. Donald Trump has granted Bibi endless gifts and bragging rights during his time in office. The recent US decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the illegally occupied Golan Heights and Trump’s movement of the US embassy to Jerusalem tells Israeli voters that Bibi gets what he, and his right-wing voters, want. It’s also given him the right to call himself the favourite child of the world’s largest military and Israel’s closest ally. This may have been the deciding factor in an election that was knife-edge, but there is unlikely to be much outrage over this, very real, election interference.
With 36 seats and just over 26% of the vote, Netanyahu’s Likud party got their best result in 15 years, displaying the current landscape of Israeli politics. In a morally normal universe, flagrant violations of international and domestic law would get a candidate fewer votes and seats, not more. But such things are now synonymous with “putting Israel first.” In fact, the continued theft of Palestinian land and semi-regular assaults on Gaza seemed to be the only item on the election agenda not up for discussion. Even the allegedly weak, left-wing opponent, Benny Gantz, once bragged about sending parts of Gaza “back to the stone age,” during the last war.
The great professor, Israel Shahak, once testified to the “encouraging signs of polarization” in Israeli democracy. If this last election cycle has shown one thing, it is that Israel is not undergoing encouraging polarization, but a movement towards and calcification of the hard right, as the Israeli left wanes into lifelessness. The coalition scraped together by Netanyahu contains the ultra-orthodox Shas Party and United Torah Judaism, both of whom won 8 seats. The final days of the campaign saw Bibi promising to annex even more of the west bank and warning of a weak left-wing government, while Meretz, considered by some to be the only truly left-wing party left in Israel, gained only 5 seats.
The loss of the Israeli left is in the form of Knesset seats and their pride. However, the larger failure of any opposition to Israel’s current path of expansion and occupation means the true losers are the Palestinian people. Israel, contrary to the evolution of an apparent “democracy,” is becoming more nationalistic, reactionary, even theocratic, and those who will truly suffer have the smallest say in the matter. Israel will not stray from its current course, taking whatever is of value in the west bank, and leaving the Palestinians in smaller and fewer enclaves, such as Nablus and Tulkarm.
Bibi’s win means the prospect of a Palestinian state of any kind or even a compromise between the warring sides is far on the horizon and, without outside pressure, will remain a fantasy.