Is the country’s rightward shift part of a race to the bottom in terms of religious ‘purity’ across the region?
One of the most memorable developments of the Israeli elections was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-ditch scramble for votes by explicitly ruling out a Palestinian state under his watch. The make-up of his new coalition government highlights the hollowness of his post-election backtracking from that statement amid international uproar – not that anyone was fooled by it.
Arguably the most right-wing, extremist government in Israel’s history – and that is saying something – consists of five parties: Likud, Jewish Home, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Kulanu. Between them, they either explicitly rule out a Palestinian state, or accept one with conditions that make the likelihood of its establishment, let alone its viability, impossible.
These conditions include Israel keeping East Jerusalem, being recognised as a Jewish state, and keeping the largest settlement blocs, which are built on the West Bank’s water aquifers and most fertile land, and hinder the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state.
That state, meanwhile, would have to be demilitarised and renounce the rights of Palestinian refugees.
No time was wasted after the announcement of the coalition government on Thursday, with the approved construction of 900 settler homes in East Jerusalem. Indeed, none of the coalition partners accept a freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, which is illegal under international law.
Netanyahu made major concessions to Jewish Home – the most right-wing coalition member, which rejects a Palestinian state outright – as the latter’s last-minute support was vital to the formation of a parliamentary majority. Without its backing, Israel’s president would have tasked another MP – likely Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union, the second-largest party in parliament – with forming a government.
Jewish Home will “take several key portfolios, including justice and education, as well as control of the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division, which transfers money to settlements,” AFP newswire reported.
Had the new Israeli government been more centrist or left-leaning, the international community would be giving it the benefit of the doubt, forgetting that every Israeli government … has enthusiastically entrenched the occupation and colonisation of Palestine.
“The party will have two seats in the security cabinet,” which makes critical decisions regarding war and peace, “and the position of deputy defence minister, with responsibility for the Civil Administration that runs civilian affairs in most of the occupied West Bank”.
According to media reports, Netanyahu is likely for now to become foreign minister as well as prime minister, and Likud’s Moshe Yaalon – also opposed to a Palestinian state – will likely remain defence minister and have a place in the security cabinet. Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon is expected to become finance minister and serve in the security cabinet.
Kahlon, who favours continued settlement construction, has said talk of a Palestinian state is pointless because “at the moment we have no partner and there’s nobody to talk to on the other side”. If he and his colleagues do not deem the pliant Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas as worthy of talking to, then no one on the Palestinian side will ever be – in other words, forget indefinitely about a Palestinian state.
Amid such gloomy prospects lies an opportunity for the Palestinians. Had the new Israeli government been more centrist or left-leaning, the international community would be giving it the benefit of the doubt, forgetting that every Israeli government, regardless of ideology, has enthusiastically entrenched the occupation and colonisation of Palestine.
The silver lining with Netanyahu’s new coalition is that there will be no pretence or expectation about the prospect of Palestinian self-determination. As such, the Palestinians and their supporters should capitalise on what will likely be Israel’s growing international isolation, even among its allies.
This will give further impetus to the increasingly effective Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement, it may help the Palestinian case at the International Criminal Court, and it should encourage the PA to join more international bodies and treaties. The Authority may feel that the time is right to renew its bid for a UN Security Council resolution setting a deadline for the end of Israel’s occupation.
The first attempt failed because of US lobbying and the threat of its veto. However, since Netanyahu’s election pledge to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state, the US has said it may reconsider the use of its veto at the Security Council in support of its staunchest ally.
If another attempt was successful, Israel would ignore it – as it has done with countless other UN resolutions – but this would only add to its pariah status.
The PA must also finally stop its shameful subservience and security coordination with the occupying power, for which the Authority has nothing to show its people. This will result in punitive Israeli measures, but an unashamedly extremist government will have less diplomatic backing.
Israel’s flagrant rejection of an independent Palestine may also galvanise the movement for a single binational state. This movement’s ranks have been bolstered in recent years by the realisation among more and more people that a two-state solution is no longer possible given the extent of Israel’s colonisation and fragmentation of Palestine.
Ironically, those Israeli politicians most vehemently against a Palestinian state may be bringing about their worst nightmare: A binational state with equality of citizenry, rather than the Jewish ethnocracy/theocracy that currently exists and which they want to entrench.
Prospects for a negotiated resolution to the conflict seem more distant than ever, but that does not mean that the situation is devoid of hope. The contrary may be true if the Palestinians and their supporters can turn Israel’s intransigence and obstructionism – personified by its new government – into an opportunity.
Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.