With the results of Israel’s election in (though the exact final breakdown is still unknown), one message has dominated: “Dead heat!” The Knesset is being presented as split down the middle between “right-wing” and “centre-left” blocs, as discussions take place about how a coalition government will be formed.
It is the recurring problem with how the Israeli political spectrum is presented internationally. Netanyahu and Lieberman are portrayed as “hawks” and on the “right” when it comes to the so-called peace process, while Labour, (the almost extinct) Kadima – and for now Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – are lumped together as being centre-left or moderate.
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These distinctions are important for a variety of Israeli political and socio-economic questions – but less so when it comes to the Palestinians’ struggle for basic rights.
With the three parties representing the vast majority of votes of Palestinian citizens – United Arab List, Hadash, and Balad – taking a dozen seats, the rest of the Knesset is made up of parties who believe in maintaining a regime of Jewish privilege at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians.
This is as true for the “centrists” as it is for the Zionist right – and in some ways, even more so. The alternative to a Netanyahu-led government is a “coalition that believes the best way to secure Jewish privilege in the majority of historic Palestine is to physically separate Jews from Palestinians as much as possible”.
That is the message repeated by the likes of Tzipi Livni, as well as by self-styled “peace” NGOs like One Voice, who in their election campaign urged Israelis to vote for a two state solution in order to “protect a Jewish majority”.
Meretz, a party of the “left”, warned pre-election of the danger posed by the prospect of a “binational state” (as they have done before), a theme picked up by Amos Oz when campaigning for the party recently:
If there won’t be two states here, then there will be one state. If there will be one state it will be an Arab state, not a bi-national state. It won’t be an apartheid state, not for too long anyway. It will be, in the end, an Arab state.
You get a useful insight into the reality of Israeli politics when you pause to reflect on how Oz, a man lauded in the West as a humane liberal, hopes voters will act out of a fear of equality.
International law, decolonisation, human rights – Israel’s so-called centre or centre-left fails on all counts. Livni is proud of her role in the war crimes of “Operation Cast Lead”. Lapid (though there is much unclear still) went to Ariel colony deep in the West Bank and declared his support for Israel holding on to major illegal settlements – with the priority being to maintain a Jewish majority.
What about Labour? Again, party leader Shelley Yacimovich was cited just a few weeks ago as being aware of the danger of “the approaching bi-national state”, and, while proclaiming support of major illegal settlements, clarified that Labour is “not a left-wing party”.
Recall the myth of Yitzhak Rabin, the kind of leader that the smarter Israel advocacy groups must dream of having again. Rabin was feted internationally as a man of compromise, yet he not only sought to preserve Israel’s system of institutionalised racism but he also opposed the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state and furthered colonisation of the West Bank.
Thus in Israel, the centre or centre-left are those focused on separation as a means of protecting ethnocracy – which should ring some historical bells. Their vision of a Jewish state means no return for Palestinian refugees, inequality for Palestinians with citizenship, and annexation of key sections of the West Bank.
Maintaining illusions about the Israeli political spectrum is a key obstacle to the Palestinians realising their rights and bringing an end to Israeli impunity. A peace – or justice – process worthy of the name will not be boosted by racist “centrists”: it is about accountability and the enforcement of international norms.
Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. He is a graduate of Cambridge University.