Netanyahu's re-election leaves Palestinians facing bleak future

A right-wing government in Israel could mean more restrictions on Palestinian life, faster annexation of the West Bank.

by
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

    Jerusalem - When US President Donald Trump congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his election win, he said it gave the yet-to-be-revealed US regional peace plan a "better chance".

    "The fact that Bibi won, I think we'll see some pretty good action in terms of peace," Trump said on Wednesday. "Everybody said you can't have peace in the Middle East with Israel and Palestinians. I think we have a chance and I think we now have a better chance," he added.

    In his election campaign, Netanyahu, whose last government was the most right-wing in Israeli history, showed little interest in peacemaking. Ahead of the vote, he said he would annex illegal Israeli settlements if he won a fifth term.

    With the new coalition government likely to be even more right-wing than the last, analysts expect it will lead to tougher restrictions on Palestinian daily life and a more rapid annexation of the occupied West Bank.

    'Our existence is under threat'

    The 2019 election campaign was riddled with anti-Palestinian racism as Israeli political discourse shifted further rightwards.

    Benny Gantz, leader of the "centrist" Blue and White party, bragged in campaign videos about the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza during the Israeli military assault in 2014 when he was in command. He boasted about "sending parts of Gaza back to the Stone Age".

    On election day itself, 1,200 activists from Netanyahu's Likud party were provided body cameras and sent to voting centres in predominately Palestinian neighbourhoods, seemingly in an attempt to intimidate voters there. When asked about the controversy, the prime minister said there should be cameras everywhere to ensure a "free and fair vote".

     

    Commentators have remarked on the weakness of left-wing parties in Israel; in the election, voters were choosing between the right and the far-right.

    With all votes counted, it appears likely that only 10 out of 120 Knesset members (from the predominantly Arab political parties) will support equality for Palestinians, an end to the occupation and do not back Israel's bombing of Gaza.

    Of the parties elected to the Knesset, left-wing Meretz is the only predominantly-Jewish Israeli party that supports an end to the occupation. However, it has a record of supporting Israel's bombing of Gaza, according to Diana Buttu, a Haifa-based analyst and former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators.

    Dahlia Scheindlin, an international public opinion analyst and strategic consultant based in Tel Aviv told Al Jazeera that as 46 to 50 percent of Israel's population is right-wing, candidates had "correctly calculated" that they would need to compete to appear more right-wing during the campaign to win more votes.

    As far as Israel's government is concerned, there is no end in sight for the 52-year-old occupation of the Palestinian territories.

    "They won't even talk about a two-state solution and certainly not a Palestinian state because the phrasing is important. And the last thing they will do is use the word 'occupation' because that's left-wing," Scheindlin told Al Jazeera.

    In the three election cycles after 2009, Likud has declined to offer a platform on conflict resolution or anything else, she added.

    190407110322201

    Buttu said that Netanyahu's renewed mandate will allow him to continue his "policies of apartheid, colonisation, and racism".

    "He has done everything in his power to make it difficult if not impossible to live in this country. We saw this with the language he's used, with the passage of the nation-state law, with series of home demolitions of Palestinians in Israel his government has taken and all these measures to erase Palestinian identity," Buttu said.

    "Unfortunately Israeli fascism and Israeli racism ends up having a disproportionate impact on Palestinians … Our existence is under threat here. I don't say this lightly."

    Annexation 'under way'

    Just days ahead of the vote, Netanyahu made headlines when he promised to annex illegal settlements in the West Bank to Israel.

    But annexation has already been under way for some time, according to Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, which says there was a marked shift from de-facto to de-jure incremental annexation of the West Bank during the previous parliament shift.

    In four years, 60 bills pertaining to annexation were presented to the Knesset and eight were approved, becoming law in Israel.

    "The Israel Knesset regards itself as the legislative authority in the West Bank and the sovereign there," Yesh Din noted.

    "Israel is transforming itself into an apartheid state, in which two types of people live: Israeli citizens who have full rights and Palestinians who lack political rights, as well as other rights."

    While Israeli civil law applies to Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank, Palestinians living in the same territory live under Israeli military law.

    "They've erased the green line … All that has been missing is simply to do that formal annexation. But on the ground it already has been annexed," Buttu said.

    While some dismissed Netanyahu's annexation pledge as an election gambit, others took him at his word.

    Many alluded to the previous election in 2015 when Netanyahu said that if he returned to the office he would never establish a Palestinian state, reversing his previous endorsement of a two-state solution.

    "And guess what, there is no Palestinian state under his watch. We have no reason to doubt him especially because there is already de facto annexation going on in the ground today and it has been going on for years," Scheindlin said. "We should believe him".

    US peace plan

    Israel's attorney general said in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

    190410002223703

    Post-election negotiations are likely to involve Netanyahu extracting majority support for a law that would see parliament members, including prime ministers, granted immunity from prosecution.

    In return, his potential coalition partners are likely to make strategic demands for positions in the cabinet or for policy guarantees, such as a form of annexation of the West Bank, assurances that no settlers will be evicted or the application of additional Israeli laws in the West Bank.

    It's rumoured that the US plan, expected to be released in the coming months, will allow Israel to keep Area C, some 61 percent of the West Bank which includes the illegal settlements and areas used by the army.

    According to Aluf Benn, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Palestinians are expected to be offered some form of economic compensation.

    "If they reject the plan, as expected, it will be easier to support Israeli annexation of [the occupied West Bank], as Washington justified its recognition of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights," he wrote.

    According to political analyst Ofer Zalzberg, the "highly likely Palestinian rejection" will drive the Israeli government to further advance the pro-settlement policy.

    "Broad policies of settlement construction and limitations on Palestinian life due to supposedly Israeli security needs, will continue and be more pronounced," Zalzberg predicted.

    Furthermore, the new right-wing coalition may promote the implementation of Israeli law in occupied East Jerusalem, most controversially completing the land registration reform so that all land in East Jerusalem will need to be registered in the Israeli land register, Zalzberg said.

    "This could be very significant in terms of the crisis it would provoke. It would create conflicts over land between East Jerusalemites and the state of Israel," he added.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News