Many Canadians were disappointed by the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu. His hard line stance on many issues, including the possibility of a two state solution, seemed to indicate that a just peace was not for the near future. But there are some consequences of the election that bode very well for Palestinians. (And I’m not referring to the silly “worse is better” theory.) Read more.
While much of the post-election commentary focused on the surprising success of Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party, and the immediate consequences for negotiations toward the “two state solution”, some thoughtful observers have reflected on the longer-term consequences of the election. Three trends appear to be especially positive from the perspective of those who are working toward a just solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.
- 1. Congressional unanimity on Israel is finished
Netanyahu’s highly contested speech in the US Congress marked the end of an era. For the last 40 years, the influential Israel lobby has successfully argued that US interests and Israeli interests are identical. As a result, it has been political suicide to make any public criticism of Israel. That has now changed.
Netanyahu not only succeeded in infuriating the White House by his speech, but his subsequent comments warning Israeli Jews about the dangers of Arab Israelis “flooding to the polls”, have also drawn US public attention to Israel’s flagrant racism. According to liberal Zionist Peter Beinart, this will have negative consequences for Israeli support in the USA.
The election has also revealed a difference that goes much further than a simple Bibi-Obama spat. As geostrategist George Friedman of Stratfor has argued, US and Israeli interests in the region are starting to diverge. Many US strategic thinkers now believe that US interests lie in making arrangements with several of the region’s powers, and not only Israel. Whether Republicans or Democrats take the White House next year, this will not change. As a result, it will now become possible to criticize Israel in public, and there will be congressmen and women who will do it. Israel will no longer be able to count on automatic US support for whatever it does. Last year, during the Gaza war, the US senate voted unanimously to send more arms to Israel. Will that happen next time Israel attacks Gaza? We will see.
- 2. Diminished support for Israel among America’s Jews
A second consequence of this election is a further alienation of American Jews from Israel. American Jews tend to be liberal in their politics. Netanyahu most definitely is not, and few of the Israeli parties running in the election hold to what Americans would see as “liberal” values. That realization has started to sink in, especially to younger American Jews.
“The biggest losers in all of this, (…) are American Jews and non-Jews who support Israel”, argued Thomas Friedman in the International New York Times. Netanyahu’s election will mean increased scrutiny of Israel on campuses and a probable growth in movements for Palestinian human rights, including the movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) Israel.
In many university campuses in the USA and Canada there are Hillel societies which actively portray Israel as a liberal democracy fighting for its life against the Arab/Palestinian masses. That is going to become more difficult case to make as a result of this election.
- 3. The creation of an Arab common electoral front
A third positive outcome of this election was the creation of a “Joint Arab List” of the 4 tiny Palestinian parties in Israel each of whom had barely secured 1 or 2 % of the electoral vote in previous elections. (Palestinians make up about 20% of the Israeli population, and because of the Israeli proportional representation system, could theoretically win 20% of the 120 seats in the Knesset. In fact, they usually have only half that.)
In an attempt to eliminate the Palestinian parties altogether, last year the Knesset raised the minimum for election to 3% of the vote. However, instead of eliminating the 4 tiny Palestinian parties, the opposite happened. The 4 parties presented a common “Joint Arab Unity’ list, which won 14 seats and is now the 3rd largest party in the Knesset.
It remains to be seen what the effect of the Arab list will be, but a step toward clarifying and unifying the demands for equality by the Palestinian citizens of Israel (also called Arab Israelis) must be a positive development.
The election of the hard line Mr. Netanyahu was the most spectacular outcome of the election. However the election also set in motion a number of processes which are likely to reduce the level of US support for Israel and strengthen the hand of the Palestinians. This will have longterm positive implications for Palestinian human rights.