Israelis vote for one state, but no solution

March 27, 2015
Joint List candidates in Nazareth. The Joint List has united Palestinians in Israel from across the political perspective.

Israelis voted for the status quo in elections on March 17. The ruling Likud party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were re-elected, as voters endorsed ongoing apartheid and military rule for the Palestinian population.

Israeli Jewish society is itself wracked by economic and social crisis. It is also conflicted by class, gender, religious and ethnic divides. But like all Israeli elections, the campaign was fought over how Israel should relate to its subject Palestinian population.

Israel is not a normal nation state. It is an apartheid state explicitly based on the supremacy of one community ― Jewish immigrants and their descendants ― over another, the indigenous Palestinian people.

This is reflected in who gets to vote in Israeli elections ― which is those inside Israel's formal borders and the illegal Jewish settlers living on occupied Palestinian land.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, who live under Israeli military rule, and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who are subject to an Israeli blockade, do not get to vote. This is despite their lives being largely controlled by decisions of the Israeli government.

Israel's founding

Israel was established in 1948 through the seizure of power and ethnic cleansing of 78% of Palestine by Jewish settlers and their militias. This created Israel's internationally recognised borders. In 1967, Israel conquered the rest of Palestine.

More than half a million Jewish Israeli settlers have moved beyond the 1948 borders into the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with military support and financial subsidies from the state.

Israel rules all historic Palestine. About half the population are Jewish, who are allowed to vote regardless of whether they live inside the 1948 borders.

Palestinians inside Israel's internationally recognised borders, who can vote, make up about a fifth of all Palestinians under Israeli rule and a fifth of the Israeli electorate.

Palestinians who live beyond Israel's 1948 borders do not have Israeli citizenship and cannot vote. They live under Israeli military rule with limited municipal self-rule that allows for a slightly accountable Palestinian Authority to represent them.

Palestinians living under Israeli military rule are subject to arbitrary detention and arrest, violent repression of dissent, extreme restrictions of freedom of movement, economic marginalisation and the constant threat of eviction.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israeli elections have been fought over how to approach the “peace process”. This process has not given Palestinians a state or democratic rights, but has allowed Israel to expand Jewish settlements beyond its pre-1967 borders, and maintain a military siege and wage brutal wars against Palestinians in Gaza.

Settlement expansion and violence against Gaza have continued regardless of whether Likud or its opponents have been in government.

Netanyahu's victory was dramatic, however, because he campaigned on explicitly ruling out allowing any independent Palestinian state. Superficially, this defies the entire peace process.

'Two-state solution'

The stated goal of the process begun with Oslo is a “two state solution”. This involves creating an independent Palestinian state that rules at least some of the territory conquered by Israel in 1967, but requires Palestinians to renounce claims to the rest of historic Palestine.

The opposition Zionist Union's platform called for a “two state solution” based on principles including: “Demilitarising the Palestinian state, keeping the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria [in the West Bank] under Israeli sovereignty [and] strengthening Jerusalem and its status as the eternal capital of the State of Israel.”

Middle East Monitor said on March 10 that the Zionist Union's borders for the Palestinian state were not specified, but would leave Israel ruling over much of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Under the plan, a large block of Jewish settlements would divide the territory in half and a strip along the Jordan Valley separating it from Jordan.

The Zionist Union's position is similar to that of the US and its Western allies. Under the label of the “international community”, these are the arbiters of the peace process that began in 1993.

The US gives Israel US$4 billion a year in military aid alone. In practice, the Western position is that the Palestinians must accept the territorial concessions in the Zionist Union's platform and the limits on sovereignty implied in a “demilitarised state” ― which would sit next to the only nuclear-armed power in the region.

The West also accepts in practice Israel's right to maintain racist immigration laws. Palestinian demands for a “right of return” for those Palestinians expelled from territory Israel controls ― which is slightly larger than the Palestinian population inside Palestine ― are ruled out.

However, an existing “Jewish right of return” allows Jews from anywhere in the world to obtain citizenship and be subsidised to reside in the country, including in the West Bank settlements. There is support across the Israeli Jewish political spectrum for this racist immigration policy because it is essential for Israel to maintain its identity as a Jewish state.

The Zionist Union also agreed with Likud on maintaining the siege and aggression against Gaza.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, argued that even granting Palestinians a couple of semi-independent Bantustans was too great a concession. A majority of Israeli voters agreed with him.

Likud also campaigned on constitutional changes that would change the way Israel officially defines itself from a “Jewish and democratic state” to the “nation state of the Jewish people”. This is consistent with Likud's stated goal of officially incorporating the West Bank and Gaza into Israel while denying their Palestinian population citizenship.

The Zionist Union's opposition to these changes is consistent with its goal of supporting officially independent Palestinian Bantustans to allow Israel to continuing promoting itself as a state that is both Jewish and “democratic”.

US President Barack Obama's reaction to the election appeared to confirm US support for the Zionist Union's position.

“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions,” Obama told the Huffington Post on March 21.

“That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly …

“We continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic.”

However, he emphasised that the US military aid that underwrites Israel would remain.

“We’re gonna make sure, regardless of disagreements we have on policy that our military and intelligence cooperation to keep the Israeli people safe continues, and that cooperation also helps the American people stay safe,” he said.

'Peace process' doomed?

The peace process would seem doomed by Netanyahu's victory. However, past experience has involved Western arbiters demanding Palestinian concessions in return for the mildest tempering of Israeli intransigence.

The mainstream media will breathlessly report a “war of words” between Israeli and Western leaders, but Netanyahu only needs to return to the negotiating table for the West to hail a magnanimous back-down and demand fresh concessions from Palestinians.

Western policy is determined by geopolitical interests, but Likud's win will accelerate the growing support for Palestine in global public opinion. Palestinian author and editor of the Electronic Initifada Ali Abduminah described the result as a “victory for truth in labelling”.

Pro-Israel political activists concur. “Netanyahu’s victory is also a victory for BDS,” Avinoam Baral, a University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) student and representative of “Bruins for Israel” wrote in the March 20 Haaretz.

“The situation has gotten so bad, so indefensible, that, over the past year, the pro-Israel community has given up on defending Netanyahu’s policies,” he laments. “Instead, on-campus activism consists of harmless events about Israel’s startup scene or innovative water conservation research.”

Palestinian list

The third-largest party in the newly elected Knesset (parliament) is the Joint List. This is a coalition representing Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, which won 13 seats ― the best result ever for a Palestinian party.

This success was based on uniting Palestinian parties from across the political spectrum. The January 23 New York Times described its candidates as “somewhat strange bedfellows ― Islamists, feminists, Palestinian nationalists and even a Jewish member of an Arab-dominated party with communist roots”.

Palestinians inside Israel, while enjoying some rights denied to Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens, nonetheless suffer second-class status.

On March 26, newly elected United List parliamentarians led a march from the Negev desert to Jerusalem to highlight the plight of Bedouin Palestinians. Despite holding Israeli citizenships, the Bedouin live in villages that are unrecognised by the Israeli state and therefore denied essential services and utilities. The Bedouin are also subjected to arbitrary evictions.

Reporting on a meeting the Joint List held with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas on March 25, Aljazeera America said the United List parliamentarians “affirmed a common identity between Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and those who live under its occupation”.

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