Pales­tinian suf­fer­ing will con­tinue no mat­ter who rules Is­rael

Arab News - - OPINION - Ramzy barouD | spe­Cial to arab News

Cor­rup­tion-tainted Ne­tanyahu’s time as prime minister may be al­most up, but his likely re­place­ments all have sim­i­lar views on the oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine.

IF scan­dal-plagued Is­raeli Prime Minister Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu ex­its his coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal scene to­day, who is likely to re­place him? And what does this mean as far as Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine is con­cerned? Ne­tanyahu, who has been im­pli­cated in mul­ti­ple cases of cor­rup­tion and mis­use of govern­ment funds and pub­lic of­fice, has for years epit­o­mized the im­age of Is­rael in­ter­na­tion­ally. In Is­rael, Ne­tanyahu has mas­ter­fully kept his right-wing Likud Party at the cen­ter of power. Even if as part of larger coali­tions — as is of­ten the case in the for­ma­tion of Is­raeli gov­ern­ments — the Likud, un­der Ne­tanyahu, has shaped Is­raeli pol­i­tics and for­eign pol­icy for many years.

As Is­rael’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to move to the right, the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy has been re­peat­edly re­de­fined in the last two decades. Now, a neg­li­gi­ble 8 per­cent of Is­raeli Jews see them­selves as left-wing, while a whop­ping 37 per­cent con­sider them­selves to be right-wing. Al­though 55 per­cent see them­selves as cen­trist, that term does not rep­re­sent what po­lit­i­cal cen­ters tra­di­tion­ally do in other coun­tries. For ex­am­ple, it is quite ac­cept­able to be a mem­ber of Is­rael’s cen­ter and sup­port the idea of forced ex­pul­sion of Pales­tinian Arab na­tives liv­ing in Is­rael: In fact 48 per­cent of all Is­raeli Jews do.

But what does all of this mean for the Pales­tinian peo­ple, for the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion and for a just solution to the on­go­ing suf­fer­ing in Pales­tine? Here are some char­ac­ters that are seen as pos­si­ble heirs to Ne­tanyahu’s po­lit­i­cal throne. This should cer­tainly not in­di­cate that Ne­tanyahu’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture is over but, due to the number and se­ri­ous­ness of the scan­dals sur­round­ing him, Ne­tanyahu’s skills may no longer save him.

Mind­ful of that pos­si­bil­ity, some Is­raeli politi­cians, even in Ne­tanyahu’s own party, are ready to take the helm when the op­por­tu­nity arises.

Minister of Ed­u­ca­tion and leader of Bayit Ye­hudi ( Jew­ish Home) Naf­tali Ben­nett is a right-wing ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist. He is ve­he­mently op­posed to any talks with the Pales­tini­ans and has long ad­vo­cated the full an­nex­a­tion of all il­le­gal Jew­ish set­tle­ments in the West Bank. In an in­ter­view with Is­rael’s Army Ra­dio on March 8, Ben­nett made it clear he would run for the post of prime minister when Ne­tanyahu “ex­its the po­lit­i­cal stage.”

In re­cent re­marks made at the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee (AIPAC) con­fer­ence, Ben­nett, a cham­pion of the set­tlers’ move­ment, in­sisted that nei­ther set­tle­ment blocs nor large sec­tions of the oc­cu­pied West Bank will ever be re­lin­quished. He was quoted in the Washington Post as say­ing that any criticism from the West re­gard­ing the an­nex­a­tion of oc­cu­pied land is likely to be fleet­ing: “Af­ter two months (of an­nex­a­tion) it fades away, and 20 years later and 40 years later it’s still ours. For­ever.”

Head of the cen­trist party Ku­lanu (All of Us) and the coun­try’s Fi­nance Minister, Moshe Kahlon is a vi­tal mem­ber of Ne­tanyahu’s right-wing ex­trem­ist coali­tion. He was pre­vi­ously a mem­ber of Ne­tanyahu’s Likud and he merely dif­fers with the PM on some do­mes­tic is­sues.

Al­though Kahlon ad­vo­cates the re­sump­tion of the so-called peace process, he, like Ne­tanyahu, places the blame mostly on the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship, not on Is­raeli poli­cies pred­i­cated on the con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of the il­le­gal set­tle­ments. If he is to be­come PM, he is likely to re­pro­duce Ne­tanyahu’s po­lit­i­cal strat­egy to keep his party as close to the right as pos­si­ble, and to en­gen­der fu­ture coali­tions with the coun­try’s ul­tra­na­tion­al­ists and ex­trem­ists.

Gideon Sa’ar is also an ex-Likud mem­ber. De­spite his pop­u­lar­ity in the party (as shown in the re­sults of the 2008 and 2012 elec­tions), he stepped down from pol­i­tics in 2015 due to strong dis­agree­ments with Ne­tanyahu. He made it clear that his ul­ti­mate “goal is to lead the coun­try in the fu­ture.”

As he is now back in pol­i­tics fol­low­ing Ne­tanyahu’s cor­rup­tion scan­dals, Sa’ar is ar­tic­u­lat­ing his po­lit­i­cal pro­grams in var­i­ous me­dia plat­forms. He dis­missed the “two-state solution” as a “two-state slo­gan,” not be­cause he is a be­liever in co-ex­is­tence in one demo­cratic state, but be­cause the sta­tus quo suits Is­rael well.

De­lighted by the de­ci­sion made last De­cem­ber by US President Don­ald Trump to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael he said: “Un­der­stand­ing, as the US president has said lately, that this con­flict is not the heart of the re­gional con­flict, is cru­cial. It’s a very, very small and mar­ginal con­flict in com­par­i­son to the mul­ti­front re­gional war be­tween Shi­ites and Sun­nis.”

One of the most out­spo­ken right-wing ul­tra­na­tion­al­ists, known for her racially loaded and of­ten ou­tra­geous views, is Ayelet Shaked. She is a very in­flu­en­tial mem­ber of Ben­nett’s Jew­ish Home party and serves as the Minister of Jus­tice in Ne­tanyahu’s cur­rent coali­tion.

What is most prob­lem­atic about her views is not sim­ply her lack of in­ter­est in a Pales­tinian state, as she has re­peat­edly made clear, but rather her views on non-Jew­ish mi­nori­ties in the coun­try and on democ­racy as a whole. “There are places where the char­ac­ter of the state of Is­rael as a Jew­ish state must be main­tained, and this some­times comes at the ex­pense of equal­ity,” she said, as re­ported by Is­raeli daily news­pa­per Haaretz. “Is­rael is a Jew­ish state. It isn’t a state of all its na­tions. There is place to main­tain a Jew­ish ma­jor­ity even at the price of vi­o­la­tion of rights.”

And, fi­nally, there is Avi Gab­bay, who split from the Ku­lanu Party two years ago to run for, and even­tu­ally lead, the La­bor Party, the lead­ing “left” party in Is­rael. Gab­bay’s po­lit­i­cal views are, in fact, as hawk­ish as that of Ne­tanyahu and other right-wing politi­cians re­gard­ing the Jew­ish set­tle­ments, as he un­der­stands that the most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal con­stituency in Is­rael is now that of the right. He said in an in­ter­view soon af­ter tak­ing over the La­bor Party that peace with the Pales­tini­ans does not nec­es­sar­ily re­quire dis­man­tling the il­le­gal Jew­ish set­tle­ments.

Is­raeli pol­i­tics can be com­pli­cated, as of­ten dis­played in its in­tri­cate govern­ment coali­tions. How­ever, when it comes to the mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine, lead­ing Is­raeli politi­cians are, more or less, the same.

This means that, re­gard­less of Ne­tanyahu’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture, Is­raeli poli­cies to­ward Pales­tini­ans will re­main un­changed, leav­ing Pales­tini­ans with the ur­gent re­spon­si­bil­ity of de­vel­op­ing their own uni­fied po­lit­i­cal strat­egy to counter the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion, hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and il­le­gal Jew­ish set­tle­ments.

Ramzy Baroud is a jour­nal­ist, au­thor and ed­i­tor of Pales­tine Chronicle. His lat­est book is ‘The Last Earth: A Pales­tinian Story’ (Pluto Press, Lon­don, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Pales­tine Stud­ies from the Univer­sity of Ex­eter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Or­falea Cen­ter for Global and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Univer­sity of California Santa Bar­bara. His web­site is www.ramzy­ Twit­ter: @Ramzy­Baroud

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