Sobering up after the Israeli elections

The main challenges facing Israel are historical not political.

Israelis attend a right-wing rally in Tel Aviv''s Rabin Square [REUTERS]
Israelis attend a right-wing rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square [REUTERS]

When Israel wakes up to election results on Wednesday, it will realise, once again, that the main challenges facing the country are historical not political.

The elections spectacle has featured new players with new tricks and lots of political firework, but the campaign slogans and party agendas are more of the same.

The centrist parties emphasize the social economic challenges, the growing inequality, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s reckless foreign policies, while on the right, the parties compete over who’s nastier (and nuttier) towards Israel’s foes and friends alike, with Likud emphasizing Netanyahu is better suited to defend Israel’s security.

Israel opposition promises to reignite peace talks if elected

Lost in the madness, is the success of Israel’s three Palestinian parties to mount a joint list for the elections; one that could come up third in terms of parliamentary seats, but carry little or no influence over the next government’s policies.

Bad, worse and worser

Israel’s liberal friends in the West hope the Zionist Union, under the leadership of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, will gain enough lead in the elections to form the next government in coalition with other smaller parties. If that’s at all possible, it’s not clear how it will prove to be a breakthrough.

Here is how the Israel-friendly British Economist summarises Herzog’s priorities:

“… To boost social spending without widening the deficit; rekindle peace talks with the Palestinians; and knit back together the frayed relations with Mr Obama. Tellingly, he makes no promise to achieve peace. ‘I don’t know what Palestinian leadership I will find,’ he says. On settlements he says only that he will choke off funds to communities outside the big settlement blocks. And on Iran he does not dispute the view that Mr Obama is negotiating a ‘bad deal’.”

It’s clear that Israel has moved so far to the right, that such extremist positions by the so-called centre-left are seen as moderate. And when you look at the potential coalition parties from the centre-right, the picture is rather bleak.

In a way, if that ever materialises and Herzog forms a government, the good news may indeed be bad.

As for the expected return of a Netanyahu-led right-wing coalition, expect more of the same. It will prove worse for the day-to-day life of Israelis and disastrous for the Palestinians, just it has shown to be appalling for the region and for US-Israel relations.

Paradoxically, while all Palestinians agree on Netanyahu's terrible record, many prefer Netanyahu to Herzog because as they see it, he exposes the true face of Israel while the latter blurs Israel's real intentions while improving its standing in the West.


Paradoxically, while all Palestinians agree on Netanyahu’s terrible record, many prefer Netanyahu to Herzog because as they see it, he exposes the true face of Israel while the latter blurs Israel’s real intentions while improving its standing in the West.

As for the worst of all plausible scenarios, a national unity government between Netanyahu and Herzog is guaranteed to continue the diplomatic deadlock and deepen Israel’s belligerence, while at the same time improve its international standing.

This assumes that a national majority in Israel must be a majority of Jewish parties – Arabs are not part of the “national consensus” in the so-called “democratic state”. A coalition government, that depends on Arab support in Parliament, is suspect and lacks the legitimacy to take any major decisions. 

It remains to be seen if Herzog has the stamina and the courage to walk in Rabin’s path by depending on Arab votes in the Knesset.

On the other hand, a more favorable coalition between the ideological right (nationalist) and centre-left (Zionist) is seen as the best and most credible manifestation of the nationalist Zionist agenda.

It’s also the most delusional.

Rhetoric and reality

Regardless of who the Israeli president chooses to form the next government, judging from their rhetoric, none of the leading parties – or any feasible coalitions of parties capable of governing – provide new ideas or a vision to normalise Israel’s presence or its future in the region and beyond.

Israeli leaders are either delusional about a continued superior role for Israel in the region or in denial over its dependency on the special relations with the United States and the West in general.

Washington’s economic and military aid investment, along with its diplomatic and strategic cover, have long paved the way to the kind of economic success and strategic advantage Israel enjoys today.

But whatever special status Israel gained during or after the old war has for all practical purposes expired. Sooner or later, Israel will have to wake up to the fact that it is no longer central to the Middle East or to the western role in the region.

Israeli leaders continue to sell Israel to Israelis and others around the world as a democratic island of stability in a sea of chaos, and an extension of the West in the east. But if it was once perceived in the West as a strategic asset, it is today a burden on its allies.

In reality, Israel is increasingly seen around the world as a headache to be avoided, a violator of human rights, an Apartheid regime and even a strategic embarrassment; one that can’t even win small wars against non-state actors like Hezbollah or Hamas.

Rabin was killed by a Jewish, not an Arab, extremist [REUTERS]
Rabin was killed by a Jewish, not an Arab, extremist [REUTERS]

Without America’s unconditional support, without the support of its influential Jewish community, and without the special status of being Washington’s leading Middle East client, Israel is sure to be exposed for what it is: an aggressive colonial entity, an insignificant second rate state, and a nuisance to both its neighbours and its friends.

It’s high time that Israel wakes up to the new realities in the region and the world. Time to avoid false choices and false excuses in favour of real solutions to its bigger problems.

It remains to be seen whether Israel 2015 will repeat Israel 1992 by kicking out the obnoxious right-wing leader (Netanyahu’s guru Yitzhak Shamir) who expanded settlements and upset America in favour of a friendlier centrist leader (Herzog’s guru, Yitzhak Rabin).

An Israeli De Klerk

Without real and comprehensive western and international pressure on Israel, don’t expect the colonial state to produce a peace-loving statesman ready to end injustice and reach a historic reconciliation with their neighbours.

This means electing no less than an Israeli Fredrick de Klerk, who’s ready to reach a historic deal with the Palestinians as did the South African leader.

Some claim Rabin came closest to be that Israeli. I doubt it. At any rate, he was assassinated just when South Africa had reached its historic reconciliation. And Netanyahu who spearheaded the vicious incitement against Rabin went on to become the second longest serving prime minister. Only in Israel.

If Israelis do elect a De Klerk of their own, there’s no shortage of potential Palestinian Mandelas on the other side if Israelis bother to look in their jails or in the occupied territories.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.