Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Occupier's democracy

Holon, 8.30 am, Wed. March 18

A bitter morning. A morning of disappointment and dashed hopes, after a tense elections day and a long sleepless night.

No further need of discussing and debating whether or not an Israeli Labor Party government would be truly able to reach peace with the Palestinians, and if Yitzchak Herzog can become a good Prime Minister.

In the freshly printed issue of "Yediot Aharonot", Sima Kadmon writes: "Those who hoped to wake up to the dawn of a new day, will find themselves in yet another yesterday morning. The State of Israel is today getting the Super-Netanyahu, a master campaigner who in three days managed to transform his party’s negative momentum into a wild victory. But Netanyahu’s victory cannot hide the fact that Israel is split and polarized. For half of us, yesterday’s result was no less than a fist in the belly." (Of course, had we won it would have been a fist in the belly for the other half…)
Only yesterday morning (how far away that looks now) I listened to the Voice of Israel news bulletin reporting that "Supreme Court Judge Salim Jubran, Chair of the Central Elections Committee, visited the Ofer Military Base near Jerusalem in order to follow the voting of the IDF soldiers". The radio reporter had recoded Justice Jubran talking with two young women soldiers, who had been charged with preparing the camp’s Military Polling Station for their comrades-in-arms. The judge congratulated the two for their contribution to the popular decision-making process of Israeli democracy.

The reporter did not mention what is the Ofer Military Base and to what use the IDF is putting it. But it is not exactly classified information that Ofer is a Military Detention Center erected on a parcel of West Bank land near the city of Ramallah, designed for holding the Palestinians captured on the raids conducted every night into Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank. Many of them are held in Administrative Detention without trial. Needless to say, these imprisoned Palestinians have no share in the democratic process and cast no votes in the ballot box reserved for their guards. What was truly going through the head of Salim Jubran, the first Arab to ever get appointed to Israel’s Supreme Court?

photo Gadi Elgazi

It is already for forty-eight years that the State of Israel maintains this double system. On the one hand there is a multy-party parliamentary democracy in which the citizens of Israel – about eighty percent Jews and twenty percent Arabs – elect the government which governs them and the legislature which makes their laws; and on the other hand a military dictator called the Commanding General, IDF Central Command who is the almighty governor, legislator and judge who rules over the lives of millions of Palestinians, his authority not seriously impaired in the twenty years when the Palestinians were allowed to have a "Palestinian Authority" to whom the Commanding General deigned to delegate some limited authority.

Even we, who are totally opposed to this state of things and seek to change it, have become used to it. After every general elections the Central Elections Committee publishes the precise and detailed report of the results; we have gotten used to it that every time this report contains a column entitled "Hebron" which provides information of the votes cast by several hundred Israeli settlers living in an armed enclave at the heart of Hebron (invariably, they all vote for the extreme right). This column would, on the other hand, contain no reference to more than two hundred thousand Palestinians living in the city of Hebron, who have no vote or voice in Israeli elections.
In these elections we had a sweet illusion which lasted a few weeks. The illusion that the citizens of Israel, in majority vote under these rules of Israeli democracy, might freely vote to elect a government which would get its armes forces out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In that case, at long last, by the next elections all who are governed by the Government of Israel would also take part in electing that government. It had happened before in other countries, where those having the vote decided to terminate a colonial or military rule over others. But it was not to be – not in Israel, not in these elections.
Not that we had the illusion that the issue of the occupation and of the Palestinians under occupation, as such, would be at the focus of the Israeli voters’ attention. To the contrary, throughout the campaign it was clear that this was precisely the subject which Israelis avoid to mention by name. But there were good reasons to feel that most Israeli citizens have had enough of the rule of Binyamin Netanyahu. Especially, because of the socio-economic woes which in 2011 brought hundreds of thousands into the streets, and which were not seriously addressed also after that. And if the Labor Party were to come to power, even if due to other causes, perhaps its leaders would have also taken up the difficult and painful Palestinian issue.

So, what did happen here? Were all the dozens of flattering opinion polls fundamentally mistaken, in persistently showing the Labor Party ("The Zionist Camp" as it is now called) opening a gap ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud? Or were the polls accurate, as of last week, but "Wizard Bibi" did manage to reverse the trend and get Likud supporters to come out en masse, with his intensive inflammatory campaign of the last days? There is an international conspiracy against me, tens of millions of Dollars are coming is from Europe and especially from Scandinavia in order to finance a defamation campaign against myself and my wife in order to put the Left back into power and that they would give up territory which would be used by radical Islamists to construct missile bases. The rule of the Right-wing is in danger, the Arab voters are moving in droves to the ballot boxes, the Leftist associations are bussing them in, the Arabs are coming to the ballots, the Arabs are coming to the ballots, the Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming, Danger, Danger, Danger, Danger…

Certainly, there are going to be dozens and hundreds of detailed analyses of these elections. But the bottom line on this bitter morning is obvious and clear-cut: Netanyahu had gotten an unequivocal mandate, and he will be once again Israel’s Prime Minister. He had drawn into his own party most of the votes of his extreme right partners, creating a large and powerful Likud faction in the new Knesset. (Not that I shed any tears over various racists and nationalist demagogues in the smaller parties who got their wings clipped by Netanyahu’s clean sweep…).
In order to gain the extreme-right voters, Netanyahu needed to make an unequivocal declaration: "If I am re-elected Prime Minister, a Palestinian state will not be created". Clear cut. No more "Bar Ilan Speech, no more lip service, no more ambiguous formulations. The veteran Saeb Erekat – who, it seems, will not be negotiating with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians any time soon – reacted: "Clearly, the Palestinians have no partner for peace in Israel. Now, more than ever, the international community must rally behind Palestinian efforts to internationalize our struggle for dignity and freedom through the International Criminal Court. The first case to be brought by the Palestinians in the Hague is due in early April.

Meanwhile, there remains on the agenda the resolution of the PLO institutions to put an end to the cooperation of the Palestinian Security Services with Israel, a cooperation which is highly unpopular among Palestinians. This resolution has only the status of a recommendation – but now, President Mahmud Abbas might find it more difficult to ignore it. The Israeli Security Service has gone on record stating that ending of the Palestinians’ security cooperation might lead to instability and the outbreak of violent incidents throughout the West Bank. As will be remembered, in the beginning of this month, the army carried out large-scale exercises, simulating various scenarios of the outbreak of a new Intifada

Immediately upon formation of a new cabinet, Israeli Prime Ministers are in the habit of going to the White House. But Netanyahu is not a new PM, he is well known – and not particularly loved – in Washington. So what is going to be said in the Oval Office when Netanyahu goes there and declares outrightly his new position "No Palestinian state on my watch. Period"? What will happen in the State Department? In the European capitals? In the UN Assembly General, and in the Security Council, and on the next occasion when the issue of casting or not casting an American veto will come on the agenda? The task of the new Foreign Minister, to be appointed in Netanyahu’s cabinet, is not enviable (though several senior Likud ministers will anyway contend for the job…)

It can also be expected the words and acts of the new Israeli government might increase the tendency of civil society in various countries to call for a boycott of Israel. By coincidence, precisely on elections day Ha’aretz published an extensive article about Israeli artists who perform abroad, who increasingly encounter hostile reactions, and some of whom tend to hide or obscure their Israeli identity.

What kind of cabinet is Netanyahu going to form? With the elections results, he will have no difficulty in forming a governing coalition with what he calls "my natural partners", the whole collection of extreme-right, religious and ultra-orthodox parties (or what is left of them after Netanyahu’s blitz capture of their voters…). But facing such a government, it should be possible to form a big and strong parliamentary opposition – the Zionist Camp aka Labor Party, which did not attain power but did significantly increase its representation; the newly formed Joint Arab List, which managed to significantly increase the voting percentage among Israel’s Arab citizens; the Meretz Party, which was caught in between the last two, lost many voters but did manage to survive and get back into the Knesset; and Yesh Atid (There is a Future), headed by Ya’ir Lapid who was Netanyahu’s Finance Minister for nearly two years until being kicked out, and who insists upon being "not a Leftist but a Centrist". Could all of these work together in a concerted parliamentary opposition, harass the new Netanyahu Government from its first day and shorten its lifetime? Or would one of them be tempted to crawl into the cabinet and serve as Netanyahu’s fig leaf?

Knesset Member Stav Shafir, who got to the Labor Party from the 2011 social protest movement and who in the outgoing Knesset distinguished herself in an relentless struggle against the funding of West Banks settlements, was the first to regain her wits early this morning, immediately after the elections results have become clear. Appropriating on behalf of the left-wing parliamentary opposition the veteran slogan of the Israeli right-wing "The Eternal People is not afraid of a long and hard road" she wrote:
"Friends, this is not the time for self-pity. This is the time for hard works, maintaining militancy and hope, with the same determination and courage which were exhibited in earlier key moments of this country’s history.

It is the morning after, and it is not an easy time. These are not the results we expected. The Prime Minster had conducted a shameful campaign, systematically inciting hatred. A campaign of incitement against the media, incitement against the trade unions, incitement against the Arabs, incitement against the left. In other words, incitement against anybody who does not agree with him.

Nevertheless, our party, our camp, has become stronger. A large part of the public has expressed a complete lack of confidence in Bibi’s way. The challenge now facing us is to give expression to this wide section of the public, to offer it a leadership and a vision. And most important – to work together, out of the opposition benches, in order to build an alternative to the right-wing’s misrule, their violence and corruption.

Bibi’s new government will be a bad government. A government which would further inflame social polarization, which would isolate Israel in the world and will endanger Israel’s security. We will struggle against this government, relentlessly.

We must not let ourselves be drawn into internecine struggles. On the contrary: all forces which share the aims of Social Justice, Democracy, Peace and A Real Security must come together. We must present a clear and comprehensive vision, adhere to it and struggle for it with all our might.

Good Morning, Israel!