A Palestinian View Of Recent Israeli Elections

Diana Buttu and Dennis J Bernstein

Without question, the reporting on recent Israeli elections was devoid of a Palestinian perspective, despite the fact that Palestinians will be deeply impacted by the outcome. Expanding illegal settlements in the thoroughly occupied West Bank, the endless lockdown of two million Gazans–with limited access to pure water and crucial medicines–and an electrical grid that has repeatedly been bombed into oblivion by Israeli occupiers, often makes life for the over 2 million people in the Gaza strip a daily challenge to survive.

Inside Israel,  for Palestinians who comprise more that 20% of the population, life in many ways rivals or is worse than jim crow life for southern US Blacks in the 1950’s. Many prominent South Africans, who lead the fight against apartheid say conditions for many Palestinians are often worse than they faced under apartheid. And in recent years, the the growing attacks on elected Palestinian members of the Knesset have essentially marginalized and criminalized.

Diana Buttu is Palestinian-Canadian Lawyer, human rights activists, and former spokesperson and negotiator  for the Palestinians. Buttu, who now lives in Haifa, Israel, says it does not bode well for peace, that a meager 6 members of the 120 member Israeli Knesset, “support equality for Palestinians and an end to occupation, and do not support Israel’s bombing of Gaza.”

I spoke to  Diana Butto on April 10th, just after the election results were announced, and it was clear that Benjamin Netanyahu would be in charge of forming the next government, with an even  more extreme right wing coalition calling the shots, and campaigning for expanding West Bank Settlements, expedited house demolitions and purging of Palestinians from Jerusalem, and who are already floating legislation for the imposition of the death penalty for Palestinian resisters.

Dennis J. Bernstein: You have heard by now that there was an election in Israel. It looks like Netanyahu will be serving for a fifth term, but it has still not been decided and there are some interesting possibilities. Joining us to talk about that is Diana Buttu, a Palestinian living in Israel proper, in Haifa.  She has worked as a Palestinian negotiator and she knows a great deal about what is going on on both sides of this conflict. Could you give us a sense of what the latest is in terms of this election?

Diana Butto: It is very clear that Netanyahu has won the election. He secured the majority of the votes and he is the only candidate who is going to be able to form a coalition. In Israel, to be able to pass any legislation you have to have 61 out of 120 seats.  His party has secured 35 and he will make up the remaining seats by going alongside with the ultra-right-wing parties. There was no other option out there. Israel doesn’t have any real left-wing parties. The opposition coalition only managed to secure 15 seats.  The remaining 105 are all going to extreme right-wing parties.

Were there any surprises in terms of the way the vote came down?

No, not at all. A lot of people wanted to portray Benny Gantz as being a contender and different from Netanyahu. But for Palestinians, this was a election in which you are either voting for Trump or you are voting for Trump.  The two men were virtually interchangeable on all major policy issues, particularly when it involved Palestinians. What was interesting about this election was that, while in the past other political parties have usually spoken of peace and a vision for the future, in this election every single political party spoke of how they were going to beat up on Palestinians.  Gone was the idea that there was going to be Palestinian freedom or an end to the occupation. Some suggested the death penalty for Palestinian political prisoners. Gantz bragged about bombing Gaza back to the stone age. Netanyahu boasted about how he was able to get all this international support for the continued occupation and spoke about annexing the West Bank and how tough he was on Palestinians.

And let’s not forget the Golan Heights.

A great reward was given to Israel and Netanyahu. Interestingly, after that declaration was made, you didn’t see Gantz or any other political actor come forward and say that this was a wrong move.  Instead they applauded it. If you are a voter inside Israel and you are faced with a man you know to be corrupt versus another man who seems to be applauding the same positions, why not go with the guy you know?  He may be corrupt but he has managed to secure a lot of things for Israel.

Apparently, Israeli prosecutors have brought very serious charges against him. It is extraordinary that he could get elected in this context but it doesn’t seem to matter. Talk a little more about the promises he was making in terms of making permanent the illegal settlements in the West Bank.  

What Netanyahu has done over the course of his tenure is the same thing that other Israeli prime ministers have done, which is make the illegal settlements legal in the minds of Israelis, in terms of Israeli law. The international community has done very little to stop them and so the situation has become normalized in the minds of Israelis and the minds of the rest of the world.  What is new about Netanyahu’s position is that he is making a formal statement that there will be no Palestinian state, no Palestinian freedom. Instead these parts of the West Bank will be brought into Israel with no possibility that they will ever be returned to Palestinians. Not only is this declaration illegal, it also sets a very bad precedent for international relations. What’s next, Crimea?  Where do we go with this? International law 101 says you cannot acquire territory by force. But what Netanyahu is doing, with Trump’s blessing, is exactly that. It is interesting to hear Mike Pompeo say that he is unable to answer questions regarding Israel’s right to annex parts of the West Bank. If we can’t even address the issue, it shows the path we are headed down.

It was clear that he was a little bit edgy and nervous.

He should be because he is setting the tone for a policy of “might is right,” where countries invade each other and it is considered legal. Netanyahu was handsomely rewarded throughout the campaign, including last year with the moving of the embassy, cutting off of funds to the Palestinian Authority and to the agency that supports Palestinian refugees, and now the Golan recognition.  These were all wonderful gifts from Trump to Netanyahu and Israeli voter were aware of this.

You live in Haifa. This is not a good time for Palestinians living in Israel proper. Is there such a thing as representation in the Knesset? We are told it is a democracy in the sense that Palestinians have a voice.  Do Palestinians have any kind of voice within Israel?

Not really. Netanyahu is ideologically opposed to Palestinian freedom. He is ideologically opposed to Palestinians within Israel being equal citizens. You might recall that in the last election he made the statement that Arabs were voting in droves, and he called on his supporters to make sure to vote.  This time around, he managed to get 1,200 body cameras put on individuals to then go into polling stations in Arab towns to intimidate Arab voters and stop them from voting. And it is not just on election day that Palestinians feel the wrath of Netanyahu. In July of last year, Netanyahu pushed the Nation-State Law–which ought to be called the Jewish Supremacy Law.  It enshrines within it the idea that Jewish citizens of the state have greater privileges and rights than non-Jewish citizens. That law really formalized apartheid. But it is not just that law that he has been pushing. He has also managed to achieved the demolition of about 1,200 Palestinian homes inside Israel, as well as the demolition of an entire Palestinian town to make way for a Jewish town in its place.  To be Palestinian within Israel is to be constantly under surveillance, subjected to a host of racist and fascist laws, where it is considered acceptable for members of the Knesset to call for Palestinians to be beheaded and where Netanyahu himself says during his election campaign that Palestinians in Israel have twenty-two other states where they can go. In this context, it is not at all surprising that people are reluctant to go out and vote.  What is surprising is that, given that 20% of the citizens of Israel are Palestinian, you would have expected that there would have been at least a couple political parties that would have spoken about what they wanted to do positive for Palestinians. Instead the entire campaign was focused on how much they wanted to beat up on Palestinians inside and outside Israel.

Meanwhile, life for Palestinians in the West Bank and particularly in the Gaza Strip has only gotten worse. Since March of 2018 over 20,000 Palestinians were wounded and up to 200 were murdered at the fence between Gaza and Israel.  We have seen unbridled violence which has been unreported on here in the United States.

More have been wounded in the Great Return March than in the entire brutal bombing campaign of 2014. It shows that they are deliberately trying to inflict harm, particularly on Palestinian youth, to wipe out a generation of Palestinians and prevent them from having a normal life.  Their life is always going to be bound to missing a limb or requiring care that is unavailable in the Gaza Strip. It is mostly because of the siege but also because, in the words of the Red Cross, no hospital in the world would be able to cope with such a massive number of injured.  What’s alarming is that Netanyahu continues to get away with it. He is like teflon, whether it is the corruption charges, the settlement expansion, the home demolitions, the Jewish Supremacy law, bringing fascists into his government, the gunning down of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.  In fact, he continues to be rewarded by the United States, and I am afraid that Europe is going to follow suit as well.

Despite the level of violence in the West Bank inflicted on Palestinians by illegal settlers, they have been given a new free pass. With Netanyahu saying they are now going to legalize the settlements, this will legalize the violence that settlers feel justified in carrying out.

Even before this past election, there was a great deal of settler violence against Palestinians. In the vast majority of cases, no one is even charged with a crime. I’m sure many of your listeners remember the case of Ahed Tamimi, who served months in prison after she slapped an Israeli soldier who had tried to harm her and previously harmed her cousin.  Not long before, a settler woman did the same thing to an Israeli soldier and they soon dropped all charges against her. If a settler is allowed to get away with hitting an Israeli soldier, try to imagine how little consequence is involved when a settler assaults a Palestinian. Now, with this election, they have not only been emboldened but have been given carte blanche.  With the rise of the Jewish Power Party and the attempt to bring them into the next coalition, the message is very clear that ethnic cleansing is fine.

There used to be this illusion of a Palestinian state, that Palestinians had rights inside Israel. Now there seems to be no longer any hope for a two-state solution. Netanyahu is not talking about one person/one vote in the region.  So this is the new world order.

No, he is not talking about equality for all. What he is talking about is apartheid formalized. He has already done it in Israel with the passage of the Nation-State Law. The second step is going to be the annexation of settlements in the West Bank, while the Palestinians will never receive any form of Israeli citizenship.  The Gaza Strip, under siege and blockade, is never going to be part of the equation. What the world community has allowed Netanyahu to implement is a combination of apartheid and a perpetual blockade over a people who are not only denied their freedom but also the basic necessities of life.

For Palestinians in Israel, it is all the worst aspects of a Jim Crow state.

You have Jim Crow inside Israel and in Gaza a real attempt to strangle off the place and make it totally unlivable. They want to bring Palestinians to surrender and to give up any claims to their homeland, any aspirations for freedom, and instead to be happy with any crumbs that are thrown their way.                                                             

It is one thing for Netanyahu to have such plans, it is another thing for the world to allow him to do this. He should be isolated, but instead he is embraced around the world. Israel has lived with this man now for ten years. They know exactly what he is about. With this endorsement in the elections, it seems Israelis are very happy about where things are going. This is why it is very important for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign to really take off.  It is so important for Israel to be held to account rather than continue to be rewarded for these heinous acts.

The BDS movement is alive and kicking and expanding in the face of powerful resistance in the form of AIPAC in the United States and Zionists all around the world. They are nervous because the more people understand the situation, the less they are going to be willing to support it.

The BDS movement is picking up at an exponential rate. The BDS movement in South Africa began in 1968 but began to be truly effective only in the late eighties and early nineties. Our BDS movement began in 2005 and here we are less than fourteen years later and not only does Israel perceive it as a threat, they consider it the second biggest threat to Israel after Iran.  They have devoted so many resources to try to quash the movement and make it out that it is not legitimate. The BDS movement directly confronts the question of Israel’s legitimacy. Israel has always wanted a measure of security and legitimacy while taking land. Thanks in great part to the Palestinian Authority, they have managed to get security while talking land. But thanks to the BDS movement, they are being denied legitimacy.

I’m sure you have heard about the controversy surrounding two young congresswomen who were trying to call attention to the power that the Israeli lobby has in Congress. There was a move to actually deport American citizens for suggesting that it is not a good idea to have this kind of influence in Congress.  

We are supposed to pretend that AIPAC doesn’t exist or doesn’t have any significant influence over US policy. It is like pretending the NRA doesn’t exist or have any influence. The reason we are seeing so much pushback is that people are beginning to wake up, to see that Israel isn’t this “light unto the nations.”  Israel is an occupier, a colonizer and an oppressor. Increasingly even American lawmakers are beginning to feel uncomfortable, and this is why AIPAC goes out of its way to try to demonstrate that they don’t have this kind of influence over American policy.

Posted on Z Communications April 17, 2019.

Feature image: by AFP, from BBC archives

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