Category Archives: Benny Gantz

On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel

How did Benjamin Netanyahu manage to serve as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister? With a total of 15 years in office, Netanyahu surpassed the 12-year mandate of Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The answer to this question will become particularly critical for future Israeli leaders who hope to emulate Netanyahu’s legacy, now that his historic leadership is likely to end.

Netanyahu’s ‘achievements’ for Israel cannot be judged according to the same criteria as that of Ben Gurion. Both were staunch Zionist ideologues and savvy politicians. Unlike Ben Gurion, though, Netanyahu did not lead a so-called ‘war of independence’, merging militias into an army and carefully constructing a ‘national narrative’ that helped Israel justify its numerous crimes against the indigenous Palestinians, at least in the eyes of Israel and its supporters.

The cliched explanation of Netanyahu’s success in politics is that he is a ‘survivor’, a hustler, a fox or, at best, a political genius. However, there is more to Netanyahu than mere soundbites. Unlike other right-wing politicians around the world, Netanyahu did not simply exploit or ride the wave of an existing populist movement. Instead, he was the main architect of the current version of Israel’s right-wing politics. If Ben Gurion was the founding father of Israel in 1948, Netanyahu is the founding father of the new Israel in 1996. While Ben Gurion and his disciples used ethnic cleansing, colonization and illegal settlement construction for strategic and military reasons, Netanyahu, while carrying on with the same practices, changed the narrative altogether.

For Netanyahu, the biblical version of Israel was far more convincing than secular Zionist ideology of yesteryears. By changing the narrative, Netanyahu managed to redefine the support for Israel around the world, bringing together right-wing religious zealots, chauvinistic, Islamophobic, far-right and ultra-nationalist parties in the US and elsewhere.

Netanyahu’s success in rebranding the centrality of the idea of Israel in the minds of its traditional supporters was not a mere political strategy. He also shifted the balance of power in Israel by making Jewish extremists and illegal settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories his core constituency. Subsequently, he reinvented Israeli conservative politics altogether.

He also trained an entire generation of Israeli right-wing, far-right and ultra-nationalist politicians, giving rise to such unruly characters such as former Defense Minister and the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, and former Defense Minister, and Netanyahu’s likely replacement, Naftali Bennett.

Indeed, a whole new generation of Israelis grew up watching Netanyahu take the right-wing camp from one success to another. For them, he is the savior. His hate-filled rallies and anti-peace rhetoric in the mid-1990s galvanized Jewish extremists, one of whom killed Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s former Prime Minister who engaged the Palestinian leadership through the ‘peace process’ and, ultimately, signed the Oslo Accords.

On Rabin’s death in November 1995, Israel’s political ‘left’ was devastated by right-wing populism championed by its new charismatic leader, Netanyahu, who, merely a few months later, became Israel’s youngest Prime Minister.

Despite the fact that, historically, Israeli politics is defined by its ever-changing dynamics, Netanyahu has helped the right prolong its dominance, completely eclipsing the once-hegemonic Labor Party. This is why the right loves Netanyahu. Under his reign, illegal Jewish colonies expanded unprecedentedly, and any possibility, however meager, of a two-state solution has been forever buried.

Additionally, Netanyahu changed the relationship between the US and Israel, where the latter was no longer a ‘client regime’ – not that it ever was in the strict definition of the term – but one that holds much sway over the US Congress and the White House.

Every attempt by Israel’s political elites to dislodge Netanyahu from power has failed. No coalition was powerful enough; no election outcome was decisive enough and no one was successful enough in convincing Israeli society that he could do more for them than Netanyahu has. Even when Gideon Sa’ar from Netanyahu’s own Likud party tried to stage his own coup against Netanyahu, he lost the vote and the support of the Likudists, later to be ostracized altogether.

Sa’ar later founded his own party, New Hope, continuing with the desperate attempt to oust the seemingly unconquerable Netanyahu. Four general elections within only two years still failed to push Netanyahu out. Every possible mathematical equation to unify various coalitions, all united by the single aim of defeating Netanyahu, has also failed. Each time, Netanyahu came back, with greater resolve to hang on to his seat, challenging contenders within his own party as well as his enemies from without. Even Israel’s court system, which is currently trying Netanyahu for corruption, was not powerful enough to compel disgraced Netanyahu to resign.

Until May of this year, Palestinians seemed to be marginal, if at all relevant to this conversation. Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation looked as if they were mollified, thanks to Israeli violence and Palestinian Authority acquiescence. Palestinians in Gaza, despite occasional displays of defiance, were battling a 15-year-long Israeli siege. Palestinian communities inside Israel seemed alien to any political conversation pertaining to the struggle and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

All of these illusions were dispelled when Gaza rose in solidarity with a small Palestinian community in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Their resistance ignited a torrent of events that, within days, unified all Palestinians, everywhere. Consequently, the popular Palestinian revolt has shifted the discourse in favor of Palestinians and against the Israeli occupation.

Perfectly depicting the significance of that moment, the Financial Times newspaper wrote, “The ferocity of the Palestinian anger caught Israel by surprise.” Netanyahu, whose extremist goons were unleashed against Palestinians everywhere, similar to his army being unleashed against besieged Gaza, found himself at an unprecedented disadvantage. It took only 11 days of war to shatter Israel’s sense of ‘security’, expose its sham democracy and spoil its image around the world.

The once untouchable Netanyahu became the mockery of Israeli politics. His conduct in Gaza was described by leading Israeli politicians as “embarrassing”, a defeat and a “surrender”.

Netanyahu struggled to redeem his image. It was too late. As strange as this may sound, it was not Bennett or Lieberman who finally dethroned the “King of Israel’, but the Palestinians themselves.

The post On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Tech giants help Israel muzzle Palestinians

Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to shut down all use of the popular video-sharing app TikTok in Israel last month.

The attempt to censor TikTok, details of which emerged last weekend, is one of a number of reported attempts by Israel to control social media content during last month’s military assault on the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu tried to impose the blackout as Israel faced an international social media outcry over its 11-day attack on Gaza, which killed more than 250 Palestinians, and the violent repression by Israeli police of Palestinian protests in occupied East Jerusalem and inside Israel.

Government law officers are understood to have resisted the move.

Benny Gantz, the defense minister, also lobbied senior officials at Facebook and TikTok to crack down on posts critical of Israel, labelling them incitement and support for terror.

The tech giants responded by agreeing to act “quickly and effectively,” according to a statement from Gantz’s office.

The revelations follow widespread reports last month that social media corporations regularly removed posts that referred to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israel recently stepped up moves to force out Palestinian families and replace them with Jewish settlers.

Social media users and digital rights organizations also reported censorship of posts about the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Threats of expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah and an invasion by Israeli soldiers of al-Aqsa were the main triggers causing Hamas to fire rockets into Israel last month. Israel responded by destroying swaths of Gaza.

Shadowy cyber unit

Israel’s success in manipulating social media last month follows warnings from Israeli human rights groups about the longer-term threat of Israeli censorship faced by Palestinians.

Adalah, a legal rights group in Israel, said a shadowy Israeli government “cyber unit” – which works hand in hand with tech giants like Facebook and Twitter – had been given “a blank check” to police social media and muzzle online dissent.

Israel’s supreme court ruled in April that the cyber unit could continue its often secretive operations from inside the justice ministry, arguing that its work contributed to national security.

Since 2016, the cyber unit has removed many tens – and more likely hundreds – of thousands of Palestinian social media posts in collaboration with global tech corporations.

The posts are erased without any legal oversight and usually without notifying users, Adalah pointed out. In many cases, users’ accounts are suspended or removed entirely, or access to whole websites blocked.

The vast bulk of those being silenced are Palestinians – either those under a belligerent Israeli occupation or those who live inside Israel with degraded citizenship.

The cyber unit was established in late 2015, part of a raft of measures by Israel purportedly intended both to identify “terrorists” before they strike and to curb what Israel describes as “incitement”.

Given the opaque nature of the process, it is impossible to know what content is being taken down, Rabea Eghbariah, one of the Adalah lawyers who filed a petition against the unit to Israel’s high court, told The Electronic Intifada.

Examples in the Israeli media, however, suggest that Israel regularly targets posts critical of Israel’s belligerent occupation or express solidarity with Palestinians.

The court petition to end the cyber unit’s work was filed in November 2019 by Adalah, which represents 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of Israel’s population.

According to Adalah, the unit’s methods violate “the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and due process”.

In approving those methods, Adalah observed, the courts had conferred on the Israeli state the “unchecked” power “to govern online speech” and had allowed private tech companies to usurp control of the judicial process.

Eghbariah said Palestinians could rarely challenge their silencing on social media. The tech companies do not reveal when Israel is behind the censorship or what “terms of service” have been violated.

In court, Israeli officials defended their sweeping suppression of online content by arguing that ultimately social media companies like Google and Facebook were free to decide whether to accede to its requests.

News sites shuttered

However, Israeli officials have previously boasted that the tech giants almost always agree to remove whatever content Israel demands. In 2016, the justice ministry reported that Facebook and Google were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content” – almost all of it Palestinian.

Eghbariah told The Electronic Intifada that some 80 percent of Israel’s referrals for removing content relate to Facebook and its other major platform, Instagram, both of which are heavily used by Palestinians.

The next most targeted site was YouTube, where Palestinians often post videos showing attacks by Jewish settlers illegally taking over Palestinian land or Israeli soldiers invading Palestinian communities.

The accounts of Palestinian news agencies and journalists have also been repeatedly shut down.

Eghbariah noted that submissions by Israel’s cyber unit to social media platforms had skyrocketed since it was set up. In 2019, the last year for which there are figures, some 19,600 requests to remove content were submitted – an eightfold increase on three years earlier.

He added that each referral to a tech company could relate to tens or hundreds of posts, and that the removal of a whole website typically counted as a single request.

“What’s noticeable is the increasing cooperation rate of the social media platforms,” he said. “In 2016, three quarters of Israeli requests were complied with. By 2019 that had risen to 90 per cent.”

Distinctions blurred

Human Rights Watch is among those who have criticized Israel for blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism made by Palestinians and incitement.

By contrast, the Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh has noted, Israel rarely takes action against Israeli Jews, even though they are responsible for posting racist or inciteful material roughly every minute.

And the politicized nature of Israel’s crackdown on social media is often hard to disguise.

In December 2017, Nariman Tamimi was detained for incitement.

She had streamed a video on Facebook of her then 16-year-old daughter, Ahed, confronting and slapping an Israeli soldier who was invading their home in the occupied West Bank moments after his unit shot her cousin.

Dareen Tatour, a poet from the town of Reine, next to Nazareth, spent years either in jail or under strict house arrest for supposedly glorifying violence in a poem.

Experts said the lines had been misunderstood by Israel’s security services.

Indeed, errors in translations from Arabic have been regularly evident. In a case in October 2017, a Palestinian laborer was arrested for supposedly threatening a terrorist attack on Facebook before it was discovered that the Arabic expression he used meant “good morning.”

In 2019, 7amleh reported that fears over this online crackdown had left two-thirds of Palestinians worried about expressing their political views on social media.

Normalizing censorship

Other governments may look to the Israeli court’s decision in April as further encouragement to adopt a more aggressive role in censoring online content.

Eghbariah said that the UK, France and the European Union already had their own cyber referral units, although unlike Israel’s those units were explicitly authorized by legislation.

In a sign that Israel’s politicized approach to crushing online dissent could become normalized worldwide, an architect of Israel’s cyber unit was appointed to Facebook’s new oversight board last year. Emi Palmor was the justice ministry’s director-general at the time the unit was established.

The board is supposed to oversee what content should be allowed on Facebook and Instagram.

The Israeli cyber unit’s increasing efforts to remove content from Palestinians, labelling it “terrorism,” “disinformation” or “incitement,” are the latest stage in more than a decade of moves by Israel to control and manipulate its image online as social media has become more central in most people’s lives.

Israel stepped up its digital activities after its large-scale attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, which killed large numbers of civilians, including children, and shocked much of the world.

During the attack, the Israeli army established its own Youtube channel, the first army to do so, offering a model that the US army quickly sought to emulate.

At the same time tech-savvy youngsters were recruited to pose as ordinary web-surfers as they secretly promoted foreign ministry talking-points.

Several “cyber warrior” teams established in the following years, including one that recruited former officers from Israel’s military spying unit 8200.

Erased from maps

Since then, Israel has expanded its digital operations, not only promoting hasbara (propaganda) online but intensifying its silencing of Palestinians.

At a conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2018, local representatives for Google and Facebook conceded that the companies’ priority was to avoid upsetting powerful governments like Israel’s that could tighten regulation or constrain their commercial activities.

The tech giants are also unlikely to be neutral between the claims of the Israeli state and ordinary Palestinians when they are so reliant on Israel’s hi-tech sector. Technologies developed using the West Bank and Gaza as a testing-bed have been eagerly bought up by these global corporations.

Incensed by Facebook’s censorship, a Palestinian campaign of online protests was launched in 2018 under the hashtag #FBcensorsPalestine.

In Gaza, demonstrators have accused the company of being “another face of occupation.”

Google and Apple have also faced a wave of criticism for colluding in Israel’s policy seeking to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. The tech companies have failed to identify many Palestinian villages in the West Bank on their online maps and GPS services while highlighting illegal Jewish settlements.

They have also refused to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine,” in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations, subordinating these areas under the title “Israel.”

Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible.

• First published in Electronic Intifada

The post Tech giants help Israel muzzle Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel’s new government will deepen rifts, not heal them

The photo was unprecedented. It showed Mansour Abbas, leader of an Islamist party for Palestinians in Israel, signing an agreement on Wednesday night to sit in a “government of change” alongside settler leader Naftali Bennett.

Caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fervently try to find a way to break up the coalition in the next few days, before a parliamentary vote takes place. But if he fails, it will be the first time in the country’s 73-year history that a party led by a Palestinian citizen has joined – or been allowed to join – an Israeli government.

Aside from the symbolism of the moment, there are no other grounds for celebration. In fact, the involvement of Abbas’s four-member United Arab List in shoring up a majority for a government led by Bennett and Yair Lapid is almost certain to lead to a further deterioration in majority-minority relations.

There will be a reckoning for this moment, and Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of the population, will once again pay the heaviest price.

The sole reason that this makeshift coalition exists – the only glue holding it together – is the hostility of the various parties towards Netanyahu. In most cases, that is not a hostility towards his political positions; simply towards him personally, and towards the corrupting stranglehold he has exerted on Israel’s political system for the past 12 years.

The “change” referred to by this proposed government coalition begins and ends with the removal of Netanyahu.

Doubly offended

It barely needs stating again that Bennett, who will serve first as prime minister in rotation with Lapid, is even more right wing than Netanyahu. In fact, three of the new coalition’s main parties are at least, if not more, rabidly nationalistic than the Israel’s longtime leader. In any other circumstances, they would be enthusiastically heading into government with his Likud Party.

As Bennett and Mansour huddled inside a hotel near Tel Aviv to sign the coalition agreement as the clock ticked down on Lapid’s mandate to form a government, far-right demonstrators noisily chanted outside that Bennett was joining a “government with terror supporters”.

Much of the ultra-nationalist right is so incensed by Bennett’s actions that he and other members of his Yamina party have been assigned a security detail for fear of an assassination attempt.

No one has forgotten that it was Bennett’s own settler camp that produced Yigal Amir, the man who in 1995 shot dead the then-prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in a bid to foil the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. Amir killed Rabin in large part because the latter was seen to have betrayed the Jewish people by allowing “Arabs” – Palestinian parties in the parliament – to prop up his minority government from outside. They did so to pass legislation necessary to begin implementing the Oslo process.

The chain of events that followed the assassination are well-known. Israelis lurched further rightwards and elected Netanyahu. The Oslo track with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was derailed. A Palestinian intifada erupted. And – coming full circle – Netanyahu returned to power and is now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Today’s potential Yigal Amirs are doubly offended by Bennett’s behaviour. They believe he has stabbed the right’s natural leader, Netanyahu, in the back, while at the same time allowing Abbas – seen by the right as Hamas’s man in the Knesset – to dictate policy to the Jewish owners of the land.

Digging in heels

It was notable that Bennett and Abbas were the last to sign the coalition agreement, after both made great play of digging in their heels at the final moment for more concessions. Each risks inflaming their own constituency by being seen to cooperate with the other.

Commentators will try to spin this agreement between a settler leader and the head of an Islamic party as a potential moment of healing after last month’s unprecedented inter-communal fighting inside Israel.

But such a reading is as misleading as the narrative of the recent “Jewish-Arab clashes”. In fact, protests by Palestinian youths against systematic discrimination escalated into confrontations only after Israeli police turned violent and let Jewish gangs take the law into their own hands. Just as the balance of power on the streets was weighted in favour of Jewish vigilantism, so the balance of forces in this new coalition will work solidly against Abbas.

When Bennett spoke publicly on Sunday, as the horse-trading began in earnest behind the scenes, he underscored his credentials as the former head of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements. That will be the theme of this proposed “government of change”.

Pact with the ‘devil’

During the coalition-building negotiations, the more moderate Labor and Meretz parties conceded time and again to the demands of the far-right and settler parties on ministerial positions and policy. That is because the moderates have nowhere else to go.

They have built their whole electoral strategy on ousting Netanyahu at any cost, using the anti-Netanyahu street protests of the past two years as their rallying cry. They cannot afford to be seen as missing this opportunity.

By contrast, as the death threats highlight, Bennett has far more to lose. Some 60 percent of his party’s voters recently told pollsters they would not have backed him had they known he would join a coalition with Lapid. Equally at risk are Gideon Saar, whose New Hope party broke away from Likud to challenge Netanyahu, and Avigdor Lieberman, a settler politician whose right-wing base has found in him their local strongman.

These three must now do everything in their power during the term of this new government – if it happens – to prove to their constituencies that they are not betraying the far-right’s favourite causes, from settlements to annexation. Baiting them from the sidelines at every turn will be Netanyahu, stirring up passions on the right – at least until he is forced to step down, either by his party or by a verdict against him in his current corruption trial.

The Achilles heel Netanyahu will keep prodding as viciously as he can is the fact that his rivals on the right have made a Faustian pact with the Arab “devil”. Netanyahu has never been shy to incite against the Palestinian minority. To imagine he will restrain himself this time is fanciful.

Bennett understands the danger, which is why he tried to legitimise his dealings with Abbas on Thursday by calling him “a brave leader”. But Bennett was also keen to emphasise that Abbas would not be involved in any security matters and that he was not interested in “nationalism” – in this case, indicating that Abbas will neither offer support to Palestinians under occupation nor seek to advance national rights for Palestinian citizens of the kind Israeli Jews enjoy.

Early on Thursday, Netanyahu had decried the new coalition as “dangerous” and “left wing”. He will most likely be in the driving seat, even while in opposition. Far from healing the country, a “government of change” could rapidly provoke yet more street violence, especially if Netanyahu believes such a deterioration would weaken Bennett as prime minister.

Extracting benefits

Abbas, the United Arab List leader, reportedly held out until last before signing. His whole electoral strategy was built on a promise to end the permanent exclusion of Palestinian parties from Israel’s national politics. He will be keen to show how many benefits he can extract from his role inside government – even if most are privileges the Jewish majority has always enjoyed by right.

Abbas trumpeted that the agreement would “provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society – planning, the housing crisis, and, of course, fighting violence and organised crime”. He has reportedly secured some $16bn in extra budgets for development and infrastructure, and three of the many Bedouin villages the state has long refused to recognise will be given legal status.

Abbas is also pushing for the repeal of a 2017 law that makes tens of thousands of homes in Palestinian communities inside Israel vulnerable to demolition.

One of his fellow legislators, Walid Taha, observed of the United Arab List’s new role: “For decades, Arab Israelis [Palestinian citizens] have been without any influence. Now, everyone knows that we’re the deciding votes as far as politics goes.”

Abbas has every incentive to use such claims as a whip to beat his rivals in the Joint List, a coalition of several other Palestinian parties that are staying in opposition. He needs to emphasise his role in bringing about change to make them look weak and irrelevant.

Hostility and disdain

But despite the promises that lured Abbas into the new government, he will face a rough ride getting any of them translated into tangible changes on the ground.

Lapid will be busy as foreign minister, selling this as a new era in Israeli politics. Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, the current defence minister who just oversaw the destruction yet again of Gaza, will offer continuity.

Back home, the key internal ministries will be held by the far-right. Lieberman will control the purse strings through the finance ministry, directing funds to settlements before Palestinian communities inside Israel. Bennett’s partner, Ayelet Shaked, will be interior minister, meaning the settlements in the occupied West Bank will be treated as more integral to Israel than the communities of Palestinian citizens. And Saar will be justice minister, helping to drive the legal system even further to the right.

Faced with this bloc, all of them keen to be seen as upholding the values of the right, Abbas will struggle to make any progress. And that is without considering the situation he will find himself in if Bennett pushes for annexation of the West Bank, or authorises another police invasion of al-Aqsa, or oversees the expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, or launches a fresh attack on Gaza.

Abbas put the coalition negotiations on pause during Israel’s assault on Gaza last month. He won’t be able to do the same from inside the government. He will be directly implicated.

As a result, Palestinian citizens are likely to end up growing even more disillusioned with a political system that has always treated them with a mix of hostility and disdain. They will finally have representatives inside government, but will continue to be very much outside of it. The triggers for the protests that erupted among young Palestinians in Israel last month are not going away.

The most likely scenario over the coming months is that Netanyahu and Bennett will engage in a furious competition for who deserves the title of champion of the right. Netanyahu will seek to break apart the coalition as quickly as possible by inciting against Abbas and the Palestinian minority, so he has another shot at power. In turn, Bennett will try to pressure Likud to abandon Netanyahu so that Bennett can collapse the “government of change” as quickly as possible and rejoin a large majority, far-right government with Likud.

Rifts will not be healed; coexistence will not be revived. But the preeminence of the ultra-nationalist right – with or without Netanyahu – will be restored.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel’s new government will deepen rifts, not heal them first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel is Ethnically Cleansing Gaza

This started becoming clear on May 12th, and has become increasingly confirmed by events since then.

On May 12th, Al-Arabia, CBS News, and other media, reported Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz as promising that “The army will continue to attack to bring a total, long-term quiet.” And, “Only when we reach that goal will we be able to speak about a truce.” Britain’s Guardian reported his speech as having said that “Israel vows not to stop Gaza attacks until there is complete quiet.” Britain’s The Express reported him as saying that “There is no end date and we will not receive moral sermons from any organization on our right to protect the citizens of Israel. Only when we reach that goal will we be able to speak about a truce.”

In other words, Israel is promising that until Gazans are totally conquered, there will be no “truce”: Israel will continue this until total victory is achieved — conquest, surrender by all Gazans.

Throughout the conflict, U.S. President Joe Biden has said that America’s policy is to request that there be a truce. However, ever since at least May 12th, Israel has made clear that a “truce” will occur only when the Gazans are totally defeated, so that there is, in Gaza, “a total, long-term quiet.” Does that differ from Israel’s announcing that they are ethnically cleansing Gazans from Gaza?

The difference would be equivalent to the difference between offering Gazans a choice ultimately between remaining quiet in the world’s largest-ever open-air prison, versus becoming totally exterminated by their enemy. What type of choice is that, actually?

On 15 April 2018, Elliott Gabriel reported from Gaza City, that

Palestinians confined to Gaza have faced several devastating onslaughts by the Israelis, as well as a crippling blockade by Tel Aviv and Cairo that has resulted in the collapse of the coastal strip’s economy. Monitors and advocates across the world have decried the grave humanitarian crisis prevailing in Gaza that has resulted directly from its being deprived of needed goods including construction material, electricity, food, water and medicine.

In a report on Gaza last November, local human rights monitor B’Tselem noted:
“Israel used its control over the crossings to put Gaza under a blockade, turning almost two million people into prisoners inside the Gaza Strip, effecting an economic collapse and propelling Gaza residents into dependency on international aid.”

On 15 May 2019, the Guardian bannered “One million face hunger in Gaza after US cut to Palestine aid,” and noted that,

The UNRWA, created in 1949 to provide short-term relief for Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, runs schools, hospitals and social services in five areas including the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

It is largely propping up Gaza, subject to a total blockade by air, land and sea since 2007. Political stalemate, conflict with Israel and divisions among Palestinian factions have left the territory an economic ruin, without health and social services and with almost no access to clean water and only four or five hours of electricity a day.

With no peace in sight, a generation is growing up in Gaza who have only known the fenced-in territory and never met an Israeli.

So, if that is the reality there, then how is this ‘choice’ anything other than an ethnic cleansing of Gaza, turning it into a prison that’s designed for its inhabitants to be “quietly” exterminated until Israelis can then ultimately take over that land and make it a new land for settlement by Israelis?

On 14 May 2021, U.S. Professor Juan Cole, an internationally recognized expert on the Middle East, headlined “Shooting Fish in a Barrel: Israel bombs Palestinian Refugees from Israel in Gaza, 50% of them Children,” and he wrote:

At one point in the zeros the Israeli military made a plan to only allow enough food into Gaza to keep the population from becoming malnourished, but nothing more. No chocolate for the children. It was one of the creepiest moments in the history of colonialism.

The unemployment rate in Gaza is 50%, the highest in the world. Half the population depends on food aid. The aquifer is polluted and increasingly salty from rising seas owing to climate change, so truly clean water is available to only about 5 percent of the population. Israel has several water purification plants. The Palestinians of Gaza do not.

There is no equivalence between Israel and Gaza. Israel has the best-equipped military in the Middle East and has several hundred nuclear bombs, Its gross domestic product (nominal) per capita is on the order of $42,000 per year.

The nominal GDP per capita in Palestine is $3000, and those who live in Gaza earn less yet.

On 19 May 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin who was selected because he is both a Black and a neoconservative, headlined at the ‘Defense’ department, “Readout of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s Phone Call With Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin ‘Benny’ Gantz,” and here is the entirety of that news-report:

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke today with Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin “Benny” Gantz.  Secretary Austin underscored his continued support for Israel’s right to defend itself, reviewed assessments of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, and urged de-escalation of the conflict.

The United States Government has ‘urged de-escalation’ but “underscored [its] continued support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” while exterminating Gazans.

Also on May 19th, the White House issued a statement about the phone conversation that day between Biden and Netanyahu, “The president conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire.”

However, on the morning of Thursday, May 20th, CNBC reported that, “Israel launched a fresh wave of airstrikes over the Gaza strip early Thursday in what it says are continued operations to take out Hamas targets.” That action by Netanyahu — a flagrant disregard for what U.S. President Biden had publicly instructed him to do (and the United States Government donates annually $3.8 billion to Israel for purchase of U.S.-made weapons) — was very embarrassing for Biden. However, Biden had not publicly threatened Netanyahu, but had only instructed him. Therefore, the question, at this point, was whether Netanyahu’s disobedience would be publicly punished (such as by means of applying U.S. sanctions against Israel and against Netanyahu personally). Which was the master, and which was the slave, in the U.S.-Israel relationship? Absent a public punishment of Israel for its disobedience, Israel would appear to be the master, and the U.S. its slave.

Also on May 20th, Al Jazeera, a news-operation that represents the royal family of Qatar, headlined “Death, destruction in Gaza as Israel defies truce call: Live”, and reported that, “Israeli fighter jets continued to pound the Gaza Strip on Thursday, … as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied calls for a de-escalation.” This was specific public recognition that Israel was defying the publicly announced policy of the U.S. Government.

It’s good to know what America stands for, and has been standing for, at least after the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, if not ever since Harry S. Truman became America’s President in 1945. The United States has certainly been like this, continually, for a very long time.

So has Israel.

It is now out in the open. If Biden will retaliate strongly against Israel, he will change U.S. foreign policy since 1945. If he fails to retaliate at all, he will be profoundly embarrassed. If he continues to try to walk the fence on this matter, then, since it’s all out in the open now, the United States itself will be profoundly embarrassed. No matter what he does, the future will not be like the past. This juncture is a historical turning-point, whichever way he might turn.

The post Israel is Ethnically Cleansing Gaza first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu

As 13 parties struggle with Israel’s complex post-election maths, seeking alliances that can assure them power, the most significant outcome of the vote is easily missed. The religious fundamentalists and settler parties – Israel’s far right – won an unprecedented and clear-cut victory last week.

Even on the most cautious assessment, these parties together hold 72 seats in the 120-member parliament. For more than a decade they have underwritten Benjamin Netanyahu’s uninterrupted rule. That is why all the current talk in Israel and the western media about two equal camps, right and left, pitted against each other – implacably hostile and unable to build a majority – is patent nonsense.

The far right has a large majority. It could easily form a government – if it wasn’t mired in a now seemingly permanent crisis over the figure of Netanyahu.

Standing against the far right are what are loosely termed the “centrists”, equally committed to the takeover of swaths of the occupied territories, if in their case more by stealth.

There are two parties on the “centre-right” – Yesh Atid and Blue and White – that won between them 25 seats. The “centre-left”, represented by the Labor party and Meretz, still struggling to maintain the pretence that they comprise a “peace camp”, secured 13 seats. A final 10 seats went to the various parties representing Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

Both the far right and the “centrists” subscribe to versions of the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism. To outsiders, the similarities between the two camps can sometimes look stronger than the differences. Ultimately, with the possible exception of Meretz, both want the Palestinians subjugated and removed.

The “centrists” may best be understood as the apologetic wing of Zionism. They worry about Israel’s image abroad. And that means they have, at least ostensibly, emphasised dividing territory between Jews and Palestinians – as the Oslo accords proposed – rather than visibly dividing rights. The centrists’ great fear is that they will be seen as presiding over a single apartheid state.

Jewish Supremacy

The 60 percent of the parliament now in the hands of extreme religious and settler parties takes the opposite view. They prefer to divide rights – to create an explicit apartheid system – if they can thereby avoid dividing the territory. They want all of the region, and ideally only for Jews.

They care little what others think. All subscribe to an ideology of Jewish supremacy, even if they differ on whether “Jewish” is defined in religious or ethnic-nationalist terms. In 2018 Netanyahu’s government began the process of legislating this worldview through the Jewish Nation State Law.

The far right explicitly views Palestinians, the native people whose homeland the European-led Zionist movement has been colonising for the past 100 years, as interlopers or unwelcome guests.

Unlike the centrists, the far right places little weight on the distinction between Palestinians under occupation and the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and have degraded citizenship. All Palestinians, wherever they live and whatever their status, are seen as an enemy that needs to be subdued.

Allying with Centrists

So why, given the far right’s incontestible triumph last week, are the media filled with analyses about Israel’s continuing political impasse and the likelihood of a fifth election in a few months’ time?

Why, if a clear majority of legislators are unapologetic Jewish supremacists, has Netanyahu kept courting centrists to stay in power – as he did after the last election, when he ensnared battle-hardened general Benny Gantz into his coalition? And why after this election is he reported to be reaching out for the first time to a Palestinian party for support?

Part of the answer lies in a deep disagreement within the far right, between religious fundamentalists and its more secular components, on what “Jewish rule” means. Both sides focus on the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians and refuse to make a meaningful distinction between the occupied territories and Israel. But they have entirely different conceptions of Jewish sovereignty. One faction thinks Jews should take their orders from God, while the other looks to a Jewish state.

Further, they disagree on who counts as a Jew.

It is hard, for example, for Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, to break bread with the extremist rabbis of Shas and United Torah Judaism, when those rabbis don’t regard many of his supporters – immigrants from the former Soviet Union – as real Jews. To them, “Russians” no more belong to the Jewish collective than Palestinians.

Oppressive Shadow

But an even bigger obstacle is to be found in the figure of Netanyahu himself, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The far-right is largely unperturbed by Netanyahu’s trial on multiple corruption charges. Israel’s short history is full of major crimes: wars of aggression, forcible population transfer, executions and looting, land theft and settlement building. All Israeli leaders, Netanyahu included, have had a hand in these atrocities. The current focus on allegations against him of fraud and acceptance of bribes looks trivial in comparison.

The far right’s problem with Netanyahu is more complex.

He has been presiding over this bloc, relatively unchallenged, since the early 1990s. He has become by far the most skilled, experienced and charismatic politician in Israel. And for that reason, no other far right leader has been able to emerge from under his oppressive shadow.

He may be King Bibi – his nickname – but the far right’s more ambitious princes are getting increasingly restless. They are eager to fill his shoes. Their knives are out. Gideon Saar, his Likud protege, created a party, New Hope, to run in last week’s election precisely in the hope of ousting his old boss. But equally, Netanyahu is so wily and experienced that he keeps outsmarting his rivals. He has managed to avoid any of his opponent’s lethal lunges by exploiting the far right’s weaknesses.

Netanyahu has employed a twofold strategy. Despite perceptions abroad, he is actually one of the more moderate figures in the extreme religious and settler bloc. He is closer ideologically to Benny Gantz of Blue and White than he is either to the rabbis who dictate the policies of the religious parties or to the settler extremists – or even to the bulk of his own Likud party.

Netanyahu has become a bogeyman abroad chiefly because he is so adept at harnessing the energy of the religious and settler parties and mobilising it to his own political and personal advantage. Israeli society grows ever more extreme because Netanyahu has for decades provided an aura of respectability, statesmanship and intellectual heft to the rhetoric surrounding the far right’s most noxious positions.

In this election he even brokered a deal helping to bring Jewish Power – Israel’s most fascistic party – into parliament. If he has to, he will welcome them into the government he hopes to build.

Wearing Thin

But Netanyahu’s relative moderation – by Israel’s standards – means that he has, at least until recently, preferred to include centrists in his coalitions. That has helped to curb the excesses of a purely far right government that might antagonise the Europeans and embarrass Washington. And equally, it has kept the extreme right divided and dependent on him, as he plays its parties off against the centrists.

If the princes of the settlements push him too hard, he can always tempt in a Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), or a Gantz (Blue and White), or an Ehud Barak (Labor) to replace them.

He has been loyal to no one but himself.

Now that strategy is wearing thin. His corruption trial and the resulting campaign he has waged to weaken Israel’s legal and judicial systems to keep himself out of jail has left a sour taste with the centrists. They are now much warier of allying with him.

After last year’s election, Gantz only dared join a Netanyahu government after citing exceptional grounds: the urgent need to fight the pandemic in an emergency government. Even so, he destroyed his party in the process. Now, it seems, only a rookie, conservative Islamist leader like Mansour Abbas may be willing to fall for Netanyahu’s trickery.

Sensing Netanyahu’s weakness and his loss of alternative partners, parts of the far right have grown unruly and fractious.

Netanyahu has kept the extreme religious parties on board – but at a steep cost. He has given them what they demand above all else: autonomy for their community. That is why Israeli police have turned a blind eye throughout the pandemic as the ultra-Orthodox have refused to close their schools during lockdowns and turned out in enormous numbers – usually without masks – for rabbis’ funerals.

But Netanyahu’s endless indulgence of the ultra-Orthodox has served only to alienate the more secular parts of the far right.

Betrayed on Annexation

Worse, as Netanyahu has focused his energies on ways to draw attention away from his corruption trial, he has chosen to play fast and loose with the far right’s political and emotional priorities – most especially on annexation. In the recent, back-to-back election campaigns he has made increasingly earnest promises to formally annex swaths of the West Bank.

But he has repeatedly failed to make good on his pledge.

The betrayal hit hardest after the election a year ago. With then-President Donald Trump’s blessing, Netanyahu vowed to quickly begin annexation of large sections of the West Bank. But in the end Netanyahu ducked out, preferring to sign a “peace deal” with Gulf states on the confected condition that annexation be delayed.

The move clearly indicated that, if it aided his political survival, Netanyahu would placate foreign capitals – behaviour reminiscent of the centrists – rather than advance the core goals of the far right. As a result, there is a growing exasperation with Netanyahu. Sections of the far right want someone new, someone invested in their cause – not in his own political and personal manoeuvrings.

In the fashion of Middle Eastern dictators, Netanyahu has groomed no successor. He has cultivated a learnt helplessness in his own ideological camp, and the princes of the settlements are fearful of how they will cope without him. He has been their nursemaid for too long.

But like rebellious teenagers, they want a taste of freedom – and to wreak more havoc than Netanyahu has ever allowed.

They hope to break free of the political centre of gravity he has engineered for himself. If they finally manage it, we may yet look back on the Netanyahu era as a time of relative moderation and calm.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ready to Work with Netanyahu: Mansour Abbas Splinters Arab Vote in Israel

At a glance, it may appear that the split of Arab political parties in Israel is consistent with a typical pattern of political and ideological divisions which have afflicted the Arab body politic for many years. This time, however, the reasons behind the split are quite different.

As Israel readies for its fourth general elections within two years,  scheduled for March 23, Israel’s Palestinian Arab voters seem to be in a position of power, slated to become the kingmaker in the country’s future coalition government. But something peculiar has happened. The Joint List, which has successfully united the Arab vote in Israel in previous elections, suffered a major setback with the split of the United Arab List (Raam) on February 4.

Raam is the political arm of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. In April 2019, it entered the elections in a joint coalition with the National Democratic Alliance (Balad) Party. In September 2019 and, again, in March 2020, it contested in the general elections as part of the Joint List, an Arab alliance, which, in addition to al-Balad, included the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) and the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al).

Despite their ideological divides and different socio-economic visions, Arab parties in Israel have felt that their unity is more urgent than ever before. There are reasons for this.

Israel has been rapidly moving to the right, where ultra-nationalist and religious groups now represent mainstream Israeli politics. The center, which temporarily unified under the banner of Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), has actively promoted a similar discourse to Israel’s traditional right of yesteryears.  Finally, the left has disintegrated, to play an unprecedentedly marginal role with little or no impact on Israeli politics.

As the Israeli right has grown emboldened in recent years, various anti-Arab legislations were passed by the right-dominated Knesset (Parliament). The most obvious example is the ‘Nation-State Law’, which elevated the exclusive identity of Israel as a Jewish State, while devaluing Palestinian Arab rights, religions and language.

In the September 2019 elections, Arab unity finally paid dividends, as the Joint List won 13 of the Knesset’s 120 contested seats. In April 2020, united Arab parties performed even better, emerging, for the first time in Israel’s history, as the country’s third-largest political bloc after Likud and Kahol Lavan.

Clearly, Arab parties were ready to engage in the political process, not as marginal forces but active participants. Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, had made several overtures to Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Kahol Lavan. Odeh had reasoned that, with the help of the Joint List, a centrist-led coalition would finally be ready to dislodge right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from power.

Gantz refused to allow Arab parties into his government coalition, preferring instead to seek common ground with his archenemy, Netanyahu. Both formed a unity government in May 2020, which only lasted for seven months.

By refusing to incorporate the Joint List, Gantz took the first step in destroying his own promising centrist coalition, which then included Yesh Atid and Telem. Leaders of the latter two factions officially split soon after Gantz agreed to the Netanyahu union. In the coming March elections, Yesh Atid will be contesting independently, while Telem decided to refrain from entering the election fray altogether so as, reportedly, not to further splinter the opposition’s votes.

From a strategic point of view, this would have been the most opportune moment for the Arab Joint List to finally translate its electoral victories into political success. There is a growing realization that a coalition government in Israel, even if formed, would remain unsustainable without Arab support. Consequently, the country’s leading political camps are openly jockeying to court the Arab vote.

Indeed, Netanyahu, who, in 2015 used fear mongering to rally the right behind him by saying that Arab voters were “heading to the polling stations in droves,’ is now turning around. During a visit to the Arab city of Nazareth on January 13, he claimed that his previous comments were misinterpreted. In other Arab towns, he boasted about his record in support of Arab communities and in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. His anti-Arab rhetoric is currently at an all-time low.

The centrist, Yair Lapid, of Yesh Atid has also shown willingness to work with Arab politicians, stating on January 17 that “It was a loss that we did not do it in the current Knesset,” referring to Gantz’s rejection of Arab endorsement and exclusion of Arabs from the coalition government.

Yet, instead of taking advantage of their electoral success, the Joint List, once again, splintered, or precisely, an important party, Raam, has exited the coalition. This time, however, the fragmentation was not an outcome of ideological differences but the result of the bewildering position of Raam’s leader, Mansour Abbas.

In February, Abbas had indicated his willingness to join a Netanyahu-led coalition. He justified his shocking turnabout with unconvincing political platitudes as one “needs to be able to look to the future, and to build a better future for everyone,” and so on.

The fact that Netanyahu is largely responsible for the despairing outlook of Israel’s Arabs’ future seems entirely irrelevant to Abbas, who is inexplicably keen on joining any future political alliance even if it includes Israel’s most chauvinistic political actors.

Israeli right-wing newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, sums up Abbas’ devastating blow to Arab unity just before the elections, with this headline, “Meet Mansour Abbas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unlikely ally”.

According to a recent poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 13, Abbas’ Raam party could potentially control 4 Knesset seats following the March elections. Also plausible, Raam might fail to achieve the required 3.25 percent threshold, thus receiving no political representation whatsoever. Either way, Abbas’ obvious self-serving folly could cost Arab parties a historic and unmatched opportunity to assert themselves as a decisive political force that could challenge Israeli racism and Palestinian Arab marginalization.

Now that all electoral alliances have been finalized, Mansour Abbas has clearly made the wrong choice and, no matter the outcome, he has already lost.

The post Ready to Work with Netanyahu: Mansour Abbas Splinters Arab Vote in Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Israel’s Netanyahu helped break apart the Joint List

For six years the Joint List had served as a beacon of political hope. Not just for the large Palestinian minority in Israel it represented, but also for a global Palestinian audience disillusioned by years of infighting between Fatah and Hamas that has sidelined the national cause.

But last week, the Joint List’s coalition of four Palestinian parties split asunder, weeks ahead of an Israeli general election that will focus on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The List’s component parties, representing a fifth of the Israeli population, had found it impossible to set aside their long-running ideological and tactical differences.

The coalition that broke the mould of Palestinian politics has now broken apart itself, and, according to analysts, the toll is likely to be severe.

Netanyahu’s manipulations

There are at least superficial parallels between the Joint List’s breakup and the ongoing hostility between Fatah and Hamas. On one side, three largely secular parties – Hadash, Taal and Balad – have remained in the List, while the fourth, the United Arab List (UAL), a conservative Islamic party led by Mansour Abbas, is going it alone.

Once again, Israeli actors have played a decisive role in manipulating internal Palestinian divisions. Netanyahu has been widely credited with offering incentives to encourage Abbas to quit the Joint List and form a rival political coalition, one bolstered by the support of popular local politicians.

The rupture in the Joint List, Netanyahu appears to hope, will change the electoral maths in the Israeli parliament and help him foil his corruption trial.

And as Awad Abdelfattah, a former secretary-general of Balad, observed to Middle East Eye, Israel’s four main Palestinian parties – like Fatah and Hamas in the occupied territories – have been unable to find a unifying vision of where Palestinian politics is heading next.

In an era when neither Washington, the Europeans or Arab states are showing the slightest interest in pushing for Palestinian statehood, the Joint List has found itself forced to concentrate on domestic issues. But those have proved far more divisive.

Victim of own success

The Joint List has in many ways been a victim of its own success.

It was born in early 2015 out of crisis. The Netanyahu government had passed legislation raising the electoral threshold specifically to prevent the four Palestinian parties in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, from winning seats individually.

Out of necessity, these very different factions, representing 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, were forced to sit together.

Until the arrival of the List, voter turnout among Palestinian citizens had been in terminal decline. The minority had grown ever-more disenchanted with an Israeli political scene over which its elected representatives had zero influence.

The Joint List instantly reversed that trend.

In the 2015 election it became the third largest party, offering a greater political visibility to the Palestinian minority than ever before. And the List’s personable, conciliatory leader, Ayman Odeh, of the socialist Hadash party, was soon being feted abroad.

But the rapid growth of the Joint List – it won a record 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset in the last election a year ago – was also its undoing.

Netanyahu has spent the last two years desperately trying, and failing, to cobble together a decisive majority government after a series of inconclusive elections. His goal is to pass legislation to block his trial on multiple corruption charges. The Joint List’s sizeable bloc in the Knesset is one significant reason for why success has constantly eluded him.

Netanyahu’s initial instinct was to follow a well-trodden path: incite against the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the hope of dissuading them from voting. He questioned Palestinian citizens’ right to vote, implied that they were stealing the election, and declared that they belonged to a terrorist population. None of it worked.

Instead, Netanyahu inadvertently fired up the Palestinian minority to turn out in ever larger numbers, making it even harder for him to secure a Jewish majority.

Rise in crime

At the same time, however, Palestinians were not just voting against Netanyahu. As Asad Ghanem, a political scientist at Haifa University, noted to MEE, voters wanted the Joint List to use its increased size to elbow its way into an Israeli political arena that had always ignored the Palestinian parties.

Palestinian voters in Israel have highlighted two key, festering issues they expected action on.

One is the refusal by the Israeli authorities to designate public land to Palestinian communities or issue building permits. Both factors have led to massive overcrowding for Palestinian citizens and a plague of illegal building under threat of demolition.

And the other is a rapid growth in criminal gangs in Israel’s Palestinian towns and villages that were sucked into the void left by a mix of negligent and hostile policing. Shootings and murders have rocketed in Palestinian communities, stripping residents of any sense of personal security.

Toxic politics

It was these pressures from their own voters that encouraged the Joint List to abandon its traditional unwillingness to get involved in the political horse-trading between the Jewish parties that follow each election, as the largest factions try to build a government.

After the election last year, the Joint List parties reluctantly backed Benny Gantz, the former military general who oversaw the destruction of Gaza in the 2014 war, because his Blue and White party was the best hope of ousting Netanyahu.

But Netanyahu had used the campaign to make the Joint List toxic for most Jewish voters. He once again incited against the Palestinian minority, arguing that Gantz would form a government by relying on “supporters of terror”, in reference to the List.

The Blue and White leader balked at the Joint List’s support and headed into a coalition with Netanyahu instead.

It is hard to underestimate the damage Gantz’s decision did to the List. Last week’s breakup is its most poisoned fruit – and Netanayhu’s big electoral achievement.

Gantz’s rebuff was especially a slap in the face to Odeh, the secular leader of the Joint List who had pushed the hardest for supporting a Blue and White government. His socialist Hadash party has always prized the idea of Arab-Jewish solidarity and cooperation.

Gantz’s rejection offered an opening to Netanyahu to change his approach to the List. He would now try to kill it through selective kindness.

He drew on his favourite policy to win over Palestinians, whether in Israel or the occupied territories: what he terms “economic peace”. The transactional idea is that he offers small economic incentives in return for political quiescence from Palestinians.

The Nazareth model

Netanyahu’s test bed in Israel for this old-style, patronage politics was Nazareth, where a new mayor, Ali Salam, was elected in 2014 – a break with decades of rule by the socialist Hadash party.

Salam was part of a new wave of populist politicians emerging around the world. Immediately following the US election of 2016, Salam credited himself with being a political mentor to Donald Trump, whom he never met.

Salam sidelined the Palestinian national cause, even rhetorically, and focused on a narrow agenda of cosying up to the Israeli government in the hope of winning favours for his city and prolonging his personal rule.

Netanyahu was keen to win a political ally in Nazareth, the effective capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel, and especially one as divisive as Salam. The two were soon flaunting a relationship of mutual convenience.

This, it seems, did not go unnoticed by Abbas, leader of the outgoing UAL party in the Joint List. After Gantz’s rebuff, Abbas began to replicate, on the national stage, the political alliance with Netanyahu fostered locally by Salam in Nazareth.

Odeh, the Joint List’s leader, had accepted the need to make an alliance with Gantz in the hope of gaining political influence, but was rejected.

Abbas pursued a similar logic. As Abdelfattah put it: “His view was, why can’t I do the same and make a deal with Netanyahu? As prime minister, Netanyahu is better placed to deliver than Gantz and needs support to avoid his corruption trial.”

Last October, Abbas revealed how this would work in practice. He used his powers as a deputy Knesset speaker to void a parliamentary vote that had approved a commission of inquiry into Netanyahu over highly damaging allegations in what is known as the “submarine affair”.

Netanyahu is suspected of profiting from a deal for German submarines in defiance of advice from the military. The “submarine affair” has been the main spark for more than a year of anti-Netanyahu protests across Israel.

Behind the scenes, it emerged, Abbas had been cultivating ties with Netanyahu and his advisers. He has repeatedly hinted that he may be willing to vote in favour of an immunity law that would scotch Netanyahu’s trial.

The key reason cited for the collapse of the Joint List negotiations last week was Abbas’ insistence to his coalition partners that they agree to impossible conditions before he would rule out recommending Netanyahu as prime minister.

In return, Netanyahu has built up Abbas as the man he can work with to staunch the crime wave and overcrowding in Palestinian communities.

Additionally, Netanyahu has implied that Abbas is the politician who can cash in on the peace dividend Palestinian citizens will supposedly enjoy as a result of Israel’s warming ties with Arab states through the so-called Abraham Accords.

Unreliable partner

Abbas’ former allies in the Joint List understand that Netanyahu is an entirely unreliable political partner, as he has demonstrated throughout his career and repeatedly in his dealings with Gantz.

Nonetheless, Abbas appears to believe that, on the back of Netanyahu’s implied endorsement, he can build a new conservative, largely Islamic political coalition to rival the Joint List.

His ambition, it seems, is to become an Islamic version of Shas, the Jewish religious party that has long allied with Netanyahu in return for regular concessions on narrow religious interests and socially conservative policies.

Abbas is wooing prominent local politicians, including Nazareth’s Salam, to build up the party’s popular base.

In a move to sow further division and drive a wedge in the Joint List, Netanyahu made a high-profile visit to Nazareth last month that was greeted with large protests. The prime minister declared a “new era in relations between Jews and Arabs”, adding that “Arab citizens should fully be a part of Israeli society.”

Attacking the Joint List, he said: “I am excited to see the huge change that is taking place in the Arab society towards me and the Likud [party] under my leadership. The Arab citizens of Israel, you join the Likud because you want to finally join the ruling party.”

Salam further twisted the knife into the Joint List as he praised Netanyahu: “The entire Arab society is disappointed over what they have given, and about their work and attitude toward their electorate.”

Despite Netanyahu’s promises of greater investment, violence has continued to rip through Palestinian communities during the election campaign. A 22-year-old nursing student was the latest victim last week, shot dead in the crossfire between a local gang and the police in the Palestinian town of Tamra.

Abbas will hope to exploit such violence as further evidence that he will be able to exert real pressure on Netanyahu if the prime minister is politically dependent on a strong Abbas-led party for support.

Duplicitous courtship

Netanyahu has little to lose from a political courtship of Abbas, however duplicitous.

As Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Knesset member, observed to MEE, the split risks damaging all Palestinian politicians. “We promised to fight the Israeli right. If we can’t do that, then why vote for us? Our electorate will head towards the Zionist parties,” she said.

Ghanem, the political analyst, agreed: “Netanyahu is telling the Palestinian public that they don’t need the Arab parties, that they are better off dealing directly with him.”

A recent poll suggested that Netanyahu’s new conciliatory approach might win his Likud up to two extra seats from Palestinian citizens, especially in more marginalised communities in the Negev.

Good vs bad Arabs

But Netanyahu stands to gain, however the Palestinian public in Israel responds.

If it punishes its parties over the split by failing to turn out to vote, the prime minister will benefit from the larger share of ballots cast for Jewish parties.

And if Abbas convinces enough Palestinian citizens that he has the key to unlock Netanyahu’s favours, his party may win a handful of seats – enough to enable Netanyahu to pass an immunity law to stymie his trial.

Last month, Odeh said in a tweet that Netanyahu “will not succeed in dividing us into good and bad Arabs”. And yet, having subverted the Joint List, that is exactly what Netanyahu has already achieved.

Now there are bad Arabs like Odeh and good, responsible ones like Abbas. And Netanyahu will hope to play them off against each other to keep himself in power.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post How Israel’s Netanyahu helped break apart the Joint List first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Country in Turmoil: Why Netanyahu is a Symptom, Not Cause of Israel’s Political Crisis

It is convenient to surmise that Israel’s current political crisis is consistent with the country’s unfailing trajectory of short-lived governments and fractious ruling coalitions. While this view is somewhat defensible, it is also hasty.

Israel is currently at the cusp of a fourth general election in less than two years. Even by Israel’s political standards, this phenomenon is unprecedented, not only in terms of the frequency of how often Israelis vote, but also of the constant shifting in possible coalitions and seemingly strange alliances.

It seems that the only constant in the process of forming coalitions following each election is that Arab parties must not, under any circumstances, be allowed into a future government. Decision-making in Israel has historically been reserved for the country’s Jewish elites. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Even when the Arab parties’ coalition, the Joint List, imposed itself as a possible kingmaker following the September 2019 elections, the centrist Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) list refused to join forces with Arab politicians to oust Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Kahol Lavan’s leader, Benny Gantz, preferred to go back to the polls on March 2 and eventually join forces with his arch-enemy, Netanyahu, than make a single concession to the Joint List.

Gantz’s decision did not only expose how racism occupies a central role in Israeli politics, but also illustrated Gantz’s own foolishness. In rejecting the Joint List, he committed an act akin to political suicide. On the very day, March 26, that he joined a Netanyahu-led coalition, his own Blue and White alliance collapsed, with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon of Telem breaking away immediately from the once-dominant coalition.

Worse, Gantz lost not just the respect of his own political constituency, but of the Israeli public as well. According to an opinion poll released by Israel’s Channel 12 News on December 15, if elections were to be held on that day, Gantz’s Blue and White would receive only 6 seats out of 120 seats available in the Israeli Knesset. Gantz’s former coalition partner, Yesh Atid, according to the same poll, would obtain an impressive 14 seats.

While Netanyahu’s Likud Party will remain on top with 27 seats, Gideon Sa’ar’s “New Hope – Unity for Israel,” would come a close second with 21 seats. Sa’ar’s is a brand new party, which represents the first major split from the Likud since the late Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, formed the offshoot Kadima party in 2005.

Netanyahu and Sa’ar have a long history of bad blood between them, and although anything is possible in the formation of Israel’s political alliances, a future right-wing coalition that brings them both together is a dim possibility. If Sa’ar has learned anything from Gantz’s act of political self-mutilation, it is that any coalition with Netanyahu is a grave and costly mistake.

Ideological differences between Netanyahu and Sa’ar are quite minimal. In fact, both are fighting to obtain the vote of essentially the same constituency – although Sa’ar is hoping to extend his appeal to the disgruntled and betrayed Blue and White voters, who are eager to see someone – anyone – oust Netanyahu.

Never in the history of Israel, spanning seven decades, had a single individual served as the focal point of the country’s many political currents. While beloved by some, Netanyahu is much loathed by many, to the extent that entire parties or whole coalitions are formed simply to remove him from politics. That in mind, the majority of Israelis agree that the man is corrupt, as he has been indicted in three separate criminal cases.

However, if this is the case, how is a politically controversial and corrupt leader able to remain at the helm of Israeli politics for over 14 years? The typical answer often alludes to the man’s unmatched skills of manipulation and backdoor shady dealings. In the words of Yossi Verter, writing in the daily Haaretz, Netanyahu is “a first-class master swindler”.

This analysis alone, however, is not enough to explain Netanyahu’s durability as the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister. There is an alternative reading, however, one that is predicated on the fact that Israel has been, for quite some time, navigating uncharted political territories without a specific destination in mind.

Prior to the inception of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948, Israel’s Jewish political elites clashed quite often over the best way to colonize Palestine, how to deal with the British Mandate over the country, among other weighty subjects. These differences, however, largely faded away in 1948, when the newly-founded country unified under the banner of Mapai – the predecessor to Israel’s current Labor party – which dominated Israeli politics for decades.

Mapai’s dominance received a major boost after the Israeli occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967. The building and expansion of more Jewish colonies in the newly-acquired territories breathed life into the mission of Israel’s founding fathers. It was as if Zionism, the founding ideology of Israel, was rediscovered once more.

It was not until 1977 that the erstwhile negligible Israeli right formed a government for the first time in the country’s history. That date also ushered in a new age of political instability, which worsened with time. Still, Israeli politicians remained largely committed to three main causes in this specific order: the Zionist ideology, the party and the politicians’ own interests.

The assassination of the Labor Party leader, Yitzhak Rabin, at the hands of a right-wing Israeli zealot in 1995, was a bloody manifestation of the new era of unprecedented fragmentation that followed. A decade later, when Sharon declared the ‘Disengagement from Gaza’ plan of 2005, he further upset a barely functioning political balance, leading to the formation of Kadima, which threatened to erase the Likud from the political map.

Throughout these turbulent times, Netanyahu was always present, playing the same divisive role, as usual. He led the incitement against Rabin and, later, challenged Sharon over the leadership of the Likud. On the other hand, he was also responsible for resurrecting the Likud and he kept it alive notwithstanding its many ideological, political and leadership crises. The latter fact explains Likud’s loyalty to Netanyahu, despite his corruption, nepotism and dirty politics. They feel that, without Netanyahu’s leadership, the Likud could easily follow the same path of irrelevance or total demise as was the case with the Labor and Kadima parties, respectively.

With none of Israel’s founding fathers alive or relevant in the political arena, it is hard to imagine what course Israel’s future politics will follow. Certainly, the love affair with the settlement enterprise, ‘security’ and war is likely to carry on unhindered, as they are the bread and butter of Israeli politics. Yet, without a clear ideology, especially when combined with the lack of a written Constitution, Israeli politics will remain hostage to the whims of politicians and their personal interests, if not that of Netanyahu, then of someone else.

The post A Country in Turmoil: Why Netanyahu is a Symptom, Not Cause of Israel’s Political Crisis first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Netanyahu Seeks to Smash the Joint List and Cement Permanent Rule by Israel’s Far-Right

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is only weeks away from the scheduled start of his long-awaited corruption trial – the endgame in a series of investigations that have been looming over him for years. As a result, he has been taking extraordinary measures to save his political skin.

One of the most surprising is his moves to get into bed with politicians representing a section of Israeli society he has long characterized as the enemy.

In recent weeks Netanyahu has been working overtime to prise apart the Joint List, a coalition of 15 legislators in the parliament who represent Israel’s large Palestinian minority. In particular, he has been making strenuous overtures to Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List, a conservative Islamic party.

This is a dramatic about-face. Netanyahu’s political trademark over the past five years has been incessant incitement against Israel’s Palestinian minority – one in five of the population.

These 1.8 million citizens are the remnants inside Israel of the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom were ethnically cleansed from their homeland in 1948, in events Palestinians call their Nakba, or Catastrophe.

Netanyahu appears to hope that sabotaging the Joint List will offer him short-term help as he seeks to evade his trial. But there may be a longer-term electoral dividend too. Destroying the Joint List, now the third largest party in the Israeli parliament, would remove the main stumbling block on the path to permanent rule by the far-right coalition he dominates.

Torrent of incitement

Israel’s Palestinian parties – like the minority they represent – have always been regarded as illegitimate political actors within a self-declared Jewish state. Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, regularly depict them as a “fifth column” or “supporters of terror”.

The Palestinian parties have never been invited into any of the regular coalition governments that rule Israel. The closest they have been to power was when they propped up the government of Yitzhak Rabin – very much from the outside – in the early 1990s. Even then the arrangement was implemented out of necessity: it was the only way Rabin could get the “Oslo peace process” legislation through the parliament over the opposition of a majority of Jewish legislators.

But even by Israel’s normal standards of racist disdain towards its Palestinian citizens, Netanyahu has unleashed a torrent of incitement against the minority in recent years as he has struggled to maintain his grip on power.

His fear has been that the Palestinian parties might once again gain a role, as they did under Rabin, of serving as kingmakers, helping to support a government from which he would be excluded.

On the eve of polling in a critical general election in 2015, Netanyahu famously issued a warning to Israeli Jews that the Palestinian public were “coming out to vote in droves”.

And during one of last year’s indecisive elections he sent operatives from his Likud party into polling stations in Palestinian communities armed with body cameras in an effort to “kosher” the result – creating the impression that the Palestinian minority was defrauding the Jewish public.

Netanyahu’s Facebook page also sent out an automated message last year to voters claiming that “the Arabs” – including Palestinian citizens – “want to annihilate us all – women, children and men”.

Falling turnout

Netanyahu’s incitement has had two main goals.

He hoped for a low-turnout among the Palestinian minority – and conversely a strong showing by Likud voters – so that Palestinian parties could not bolster his Jewish opponents in the parliament. Falling turnout had been the long-term trend among Palestinian citizens, with barely half voting in the 2009 election that began Netanyahu’s current consecutive governments.

But the incitement efforts largely backfired, stirring the Palestinian minority to turn out in record numbers this March and rallying their support overwhelmingly to the Joint List rather than more moderate Jewish parties.

But more successfully, Netanyahu has also sought to make the idea of allying with the Joint List so toxic that no rival Jewish party would dare to consider it.

In part because of this, Benny Gantz, a former army general who became leader of the center-right Blue and White party, Israel’s version of a “resistance” party to Netanyahu, threw in his hand and joined the Netanyahu government following the inconclusive results of March’s election rather than work with the Joint List.

In return, he is supposed to become alternate prime minister late next year, though few – including apparently Gantz – think Netanyahu will honor such a handover.

The current wave of mass protests by Israeli Jews against Netanyahu, which have been growing weekly despite fears of the pandemic, reflect the sense of many, especially among Gantz’s supporters, that they have been politically abandoned.

Submarines affair

The issue chiefly driving protesters to the streets is not the boxes of cigars and pink champagne Netanyahu and his wife are accused of treating as bribes from rich businessmen. Nor is it the pressure Netanyahu is alleged to have exerted on media organizations to garner himself better coverage.

What really incenses them is the thought that he played fast and loose with – and possibly profited from – the national security of Israel, in what has become known as the submarines affair.

Evidence has amassed that Netanyahu’s government purchased three submarines and four ships from a German firm in defiance of advice from the military. The attorney general, however, appears to have balked at adding yet another indictment to the charge sheet.

It was precisely over the matter of the submarines deal that the budding romance between Netanyahu and Abbas was cemented last month.

Yariv Levin, speaker of the parliament and Netanyahu’s righthand man, appears to have pressured Abbas, a deputy speaker, into voiding a parliamentary vote Abbas oversaw that narrowly approved a commission of inquiry into the submarines affair. That would have proved disastrous for Netanyahu.

In return, the prime minister appears to have offered Abbas a series of favors.

That has included Netanyahu’s unprecedented appearance last week via Zoom at a meeting of a special parliamentary committee headed by Abbas on tackling the current crime wave in Palestinian communities in Israel.

Netanyahu’s attendance at an obscure committee is unheard of. But his sudden interest in the rocketing number of criminal murders among Israel’s Palestinian minority was hard to swallow. He helped to create the economic and social conditions that have fueled the crime wave, and he has done almost nothing to address the lack of policing that turned Palestinian communities into lawless zones.

‘Peace dividend’?

Abbas, however, hopes to leverage his ties with Netanyahu to his own political benefit, despite deeply antagonizing the rest of the Joint List by doing so.

Netanyahu has publicly argued that Palestinian citizens will feel a peace dividend from Israel’s warming ties to Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He recently told the media: “This revolution that we are carrying out outside of the State of Israel’s borders, we must also carry out within the State of Israel’s borders.”

Abbas has taken credit for Netanyahu’s assurances of an imminent program to improve public safety in Palestinian communities – an issue high on the minority’s agenda.

Netanyahu’s office also recently sent an “official” letter to Abbas confirming plans for large-scale investment in developing Palestinian communities in Israel, allowing the United Arab List leader to claim credit for the initiative.

In fact, the plan was drawn up by Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, and negotiated not with Netanyahu’s Likud party but with a Blue and White minister – part of Gantz’s own cynical efforts to keep Joint List legislators onside in case they are needed in a later push to oust Netanyahu.

Return on investment

Netanyahu hopes for a long-term return on his initial investment in Abbas.

First he may need Abbas’s four seats in his complex coalition arithmetic. If Netanyahu calls another general election – as he is expected to do to avoid implementing the promised hand-over to Gantz, the defense minister, next year – the United Arab List leader could deprive any rival to Netanyahu of the votes needed to oust the prime minister.

And second, Abbas could help Netanyahu either pass or thwart legislative moves related to his trial. Abbas could, for example, block efforts by Netanyahu’s opponents to pass a law banning him from running for prime minister while on trial. Or if Netanyahu succeeds again in exploiting COVID-19 to postpone the legal proceedings against him, Abbas might help him pass a so-called immunity law exempting a sitting prime minister from being put on trial.

Abbas has shocked other Joint List members by hinting in interviews that he might consider voting in Netanyahu’s favor on just such a law.

Abbas, meanwhile, has his own long-term incentives to cultivate this pact. There are already deep tensions within the Joint List that Abbas wishes to exploit for his own ends.

Ideological divisions

The four parties making up the List share limited, if core, concerns about ending both Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians under occupation and Israel’s rampant and systematic discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel that severely degrades their citizenship.

The consensus on these issues has tended to overshadow the parties’ very different, wider ideological positions.

Hadash is a bloc of explicitly socialist groups that emphasize class concerns they believe can unite Israel’s Palestinian and Jewish populations. They have, however, failed dismally to draw poorer Jews away from supporting the right-wing populism of Netanyahu’s Likud.

Balad appeals particularly to a new and aspiring secular middle class that wishes to advance social democratic values that clash with Israel’s Jewish ethnic nationalism. That is one reason why, paradoxically, Balad feels the need to highlight its own community’s Palestinian national identity, as a counterweight.

Abbas’s United Arab List is a socially and culturally conservative Islamic party, but willing to horse-trade on issues that benefit its largely religious constituency. It tends to accentuate its “moderation”, particularly after Netanyahu banned its chief rival, the more politically radical and extra-parliamentary Northern Islamic Movement, in 2015.

Finally, a faction under Ahmed Tibi, a former adviser to Yasser Arafat, operates as a more charismatic party, tending to cherry pick policies – and voters – from the three other parties.

Lower votes threshold

None of these parties wishes to be in the Joint List, but they have been forced into an uneasy alliance since the 2015 election by the actions of Avigdor Lieberman, who was then a minister in Netanyahu’s coalition.

Shortly before that election, Lieberman advanced the so-called Threshold Law on behalf of the Israeli right. It lifted the electoral threshold – the point at which parties win seats in the parliament – just high enough to ensure that none of the four Palestinian parties could pass it.

The right had assumed that these parties were so hostile to each other that they would never be able to work together. But faced with electoral oblivion, and pressure from Palestinian voters in Israel, the four factions set aside their differences at the last minute to create the Joint List.

It has proved a success with Palestinian voters in Israel, who turned out in such large numbers that the party has become easily the third largest in the parliament – after Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White. But it has been a rocky ride by all other measurements.

The parties have been contemplating ways to break free of the alliance ever since – and now Abbas may believe he has found an answer. It is rumored – not least by Lieberman, who is now a vocal opponent of Netanyahu – that Netanyahu may agree to lower the threshold again.

That would benefit Abbas, freeing him to desert the Joint List and run on his own party’s platform. Lieberman has claimed that Netanyahu might offer Abbas a post in a future government, making concessions to its Islamic religious demands much as he already does to Jewish religious parties like Shas.

In return, Netanyahu would smash the Joint List apart, and likely see the turnout among a disillusioned Palestinian public drop precipitously, bolstering his far-right coalition by default.

Looking inwards

Why Abbas might play along with this plan is revealed by two related developments that have transformed the political scene for Israel’s Palestinian parties over the last couple of years.

The first is that there has been an almost complete loss of interest – in the west, among the Arab states and, of course, among Israeli Jews – at the deteriorating plight of Palestinians under occupation.

This has left the Palestinian parties in Israel bereft of their traditional role promoting the Palestinian cause, either rhetorically or substantively. There is simply no audience willing to listen to what they have to say on the matter.

That has required the Palestinian parties to quickly reinvent themselves. And that transformation has been further accelerated by changing attitudes among their own voters.

With demands for Israel to end the occupation increasingly off the table, Palestinians inside Israel have preferred to look inwards, addressing their own situation as second and third-class citizens of a Jewish state. If they can’t help their Palestinian kin in the current international climate, many think it would make more sense to pressure Israel to make good on its false claims that they enjoy equal rights with Jewish citizens.

Political influence

The sense that this is a historic moment for the Palestinian minority to take the initiative has been underscored by the spate of inconclusive elections that have made Netanyahu’s grip on power look increasingly shaky. Palestinian citizens have started to wonder whether they can parlay their potential kingmaker status into political influence.

Polls show that Palestinian voters in Israel want their parties to try to elbow their way into mainstream politics any way they can. In one survey last year, 87 percent said they wanted their parties involved in government.

That was one reason why all the Joint List legislators made a historic decision earlier this year, jettisoning their usual indifference to post-election horse-trading by Jewish parties, and backed Gantz as prime minister. He spurned their support and joined Netanyahu’s government.

The reality is that no ruling Jewish party is ever going to invite the Joint List into government, and none of the Palestinian parties – apart from possibly Abbas’s United Arab List – would ever contemplate joining one.

So Netanyahu has seen a chance both to pry apart the Joint List, making the Palestinian vote in Israel once again marginal to his calculations, and to recruit one of its factions into his orbit where he can offer its tidbits in return for support.

Profound crisis

None of this has gone unnoticed by Abbas’s partners. Mtanes Shehadeh, head of Balad, warned that “Netanyahu is trying to disband the Joint List,” using familiar “divide and rule” tactics.

Abbas, however, seems open to such divisions if he can exploit them to his benefit. He has written on Facebook: “We need to decide whether we’re going to serve our community or just grandstand.” He has said elsewhere: “I want to be part of the political game.”

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, he clarified: “What do I have in common with the left? In foreign policy [relating to the occupation] I’m with them, of course – we support the two-state solution. But on religious affairs I’m right wing. I have a lot more in common with [the religious Jewish parties] Shas and United Torah Judaism.”

The paradox is that the Joint List is in profound crisis a few months after it celebrated an unmitigated success at the March election. It received a record number of seats – 15 in the 120-member parliament – having unified the Palestinian minority’s votes. It broke for the first time the taboo among left-wing Israeli Jews on voting for the Joint List. And coalition-building arithmetic, given the Joint List’s status as the third largest party, has pushed the Israeli Jewish political scene into a prolonged upheaval that has Netanyahu finally on the defensive.

But Netanyahu, ever the experienced tactician, has more incentive than ever to play high stakes to keep himself out of jail. With the Joint List as one of the main obstacles to his political survival, he will do whatever it takes to bring the alliance down.

• First published by Mondoweiss

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The ‘Desaparecidos’ of Palestine: Gantz Escalates Israel’s War on the Dead 

On September 2, the Israeli government approved a proposal that allows the military to indefinitely withhold the bodies of Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli army. The proposal was made by the country’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz.

Gantz is the main political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also serves the role of the ‘alternate Prime Minister.’ If Netanyahu does not renege on the coalition government agreement he signed with Gantz’s Blue and White Party last April, Gantz will take the helm of Israel’s leadership, starting November 2021.

Since his official induction to the tumultuous world of Israeli politics, Gantz, supposedly a ‘centrist’, has adopted hawkish stances against Palestinians, especially those in Gaza. This way, he hopes to widen his appeal to Israeli voters, the majority of whom have migrated en-masse to the Right.

But Gantz’s latest ‘achievement’, that of denying dead Palestinians a proper burial, is not entirely a novel idea. In fact, in Israel, bargaining with corpses has been the modus operandi for decades.

According to the Defense Minister’s logic, the withholding of bodies will serve as a ‘deterrent against terror attacks.’ However, judging by the fact that the practice has been in use for many years, there is no proof that Palestinians were ever discouraged from resisting Israel’s military occupation due to such strategies.

The new policy, according to Israeli officials, is different from the previous practices. While in the past, Israel has only kept the bodies of alleged ‘Palestinian attackers’ who belonged to ‘terror groups’, the latest decision by the Israeli government would extend the rule to apply to all Palestinians, even those who have no political affiliations.

Aside from Gantz’s attempt at shoring up his hawkish credentials, the military man-turned politician wants to improve his chances in the on and off, indirect negotiations between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. Israel believes that there are four soldiers who are currently being held in Gaza, including the bodies of two soldiers who were killed during the devastating Israeli war on the besieged Strip in July 2014. Hamas has maintained that two of the four soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Shaul Aaron – are, in fact, still alive and in custody.

For years, low-level talks between Hamas and Israel have aimed at securing a deal that would see an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for the detained Israelis. By withholding yet more Palestinian bodies, Tel Aviv hopes to strengthen its position in future talks.

The reality, however, is quite different. The Israeli army has not been returning the bodies of Palestinians who are accused of attacking Israeli soldiers for months, which includes all Palestinians, regardless of their purported political affiliations.

Undoubtedly, withholding corpses as a political strategy is illegal under international law. Article 130 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that persons who are killed during armed conflicts should be “honorably buried … according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged.”

The Israeli Supreme Court, however, which quite often rules contrary to international law, resolved on September 9, 2019 – exactly one year before the Israeli cabinet’s decision – that the army has the right to continue with the practice of withholding the bodies of dead Palestinians.

While Israel is not the first country to use the dead as a bargaining chip, the practice in Israel has lasted as long as the conflict itself, and has been utilized in myriad ways with the intention of humiliating, collectively punishing and bargaining with Palestinians.

During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-1983), tens of thousands of Argentinians ‘disappeared’. Students, intellectuals, trade unionists and thousands of other dissidents were killed by the country’s regime in an unprecedented genocide. The bodies of most of these victims were never recovered. However, the practice largely ceased following the collapse of the military junta in 1983.

Similar ordeals have been inflicted by other countries in many parts of the world. In Israel however, the practice is not linked to a specific military regime or a particular leader. The ‘desaparecidos’ of Palestine span several generations.

To this day, Israel maintains what is known as the ‘cemeteries of numbers’. Salwa Hammad, a coordinator for the Palestinian National Campaign to Retrieve Martyrs, estimates that there are six such cemeteries in Israel, although Israeli authorities refuse to divulge more details regarding the nature of these cemeteries, or exactly how many Palestinian bodies are buried there.

The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center estimates that 255 Palestinian bodies are buried in these cemeteries, 52 of them being ‘detained’ there by Israeli authorities since 2016.

In the ‘cemeteries of numbers’, Palestinians are known, not by name, but by a number, one that only Israel can cross-reference to the actual individual who is buried there. In 2011, the body of Hafez Abu Zant was released after being held in one of these cemeteries for 35 years, Bernama news agency reported.

According to Hammad, “If the remains are in a ‘cemetery of numbers’, we get it back in a black bag – some bones, some soil and maybe their clothes.”

Following the Israeli cabinet’s approval of his proposal, Gantz bragged about his ability to apply “an extensive policy of deterrence since entering office”. The truth is that Gantz is merely posturing and taking credit for a protracted Israeli policy that has been applied by all previous governments, regardless of their political orientations.

If Gantz is truly convinced that holding dead Palestinian bodies — while maintaining the Israeli military occupation — will bring about whatever skewed definition of peace and security he has in mind, he is sadly mistaken.

Such policies have proven a complete failure. While Palestinian families are absolutely devastated by this hideous practice, the detention of corpses has never quelled a rebellion, neither in Argentina nor in Palestine. 

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