It wasn’t just Netanyahu who didn’t mention ‘a two-state solution’ in his election campaign; none of his main rivals did either. So why do Western politicians and pundits keep mouthing platitudes about it, as if it’s still 1993?
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud Party, appears to have secured a record fifth term in office, following this week’s general election in Israel.
No doubt his success – if confirmed – will be portrayed by liberals as “a setback to the peace process.” To which the honest response must be: “what peace process?”
Bad cop Bibi gets all the stick, admittedly some of it much deserved, but on the issue of Palestine, the truth is that there was not even the width of a cigarette paper’s difference between the leading candidates. The main opposition to Likud at this election came not from the left, but from Benny Gantz’s newly formed Blue and White alliance.
Gantz, a relative rookie in frontline politics, is a military man. He was Chief of General Staff of the IDF from 2011 to 2015 and in charge during the military operations in Gaza in 2014. His election campaign – like Netanyahu’s – stressed a very tough line against Israel’s perceived enemies. And I mean ‘very.’ One of his party’s advertisements showed the scenes of destruction in Gaza caused by the IDF’s campaign, with captions declaring that “1364 terrorists were killed” and that there has subsequently been 3.5 years of quiet. The video finishes with the words “Only the strong win.”
While Netanyahu said on television “A Palestinian state will endanger our existence” and pledged to start annexing the West Bank (a move supported by 42% of Israelis according to one poll), if he was re-elected, Gantz said Israel had to maintain “the blocs of settlements” and defended “the IDF’s freedom to act everywhere.”
For the New Right party, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked unveiled a five-point plan which included “pounding Hamas from the air” and keeping Gaza “permanently demilitarized.”
Bennett, a former settler leader and someone who you can’t really fault for candour, is an implacable opponent of Palestinian statehood. He said in 2013: “I will do everything in my power to make sure they (the Palestinians) never get a state. No more illusions.”
Even the Israeli Labour Party has gone right-wing. Leader Avi Gabbay has opposed evacuating Jewish settlements in the West Bank and only supports a Palestinian state if it is demilitarised. In 2017, he declared “I don’t deal with the rights of Palestinians.”
British Labour Friends of Israel must not have heard that.
The nationalist domination of the Israeli political landscape is such that pro-Palestinian writer Ben White, argues that Israel doesn’t need a change of government but actually a change of regime.
How did we get here?
The lurch to the right in Israeli politics can be traced to the mid-1990s and the assassination of Labour Party PM Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the first of the Oslo Peace Accords with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in 1993.
While we shouldn’t make Rabin into something he wasn’t, (this article in Haaretz claims that he didn’t really have a long-term vision) it is quite clear that his assassination by a right-wing extremist in November 1995, who believed the Israeli PM was a traitor, was a turning point.
On a flight back from Russia last year, I got into a friendly and very interesting conversation with a former Israeli soldier (and fellow football fan), who had served in the war in Lebanon in the early 1980s and was now based in Britain. The ex-IDF man told me how he had left Israel shortly after the killing of Rabin as he feared where his country was heading.
Of course, many in Israel wouldn’t just blame their own politicians for the derailment of the ‘peace process,’ but also Hamas and the stance they have taken. The militant group did not back the Oslo Accords and carried out a number of suicide bombing attacks in Israel from 1993-1996. They included attacks on buses in February/March 1996 which killed over 30 civilians.
It was in June 1996, lest we forget, that Netanyahu, who argued that Labour’s peace plans had endangered the security of Israeli citizens, first came to power.
Whatever we put Israel’s lurch to the right down to (and of course the changing demographics of the electorate has had a big impact too), we are where we are today. Yet many in the West are still in denial about the way things have changed. They continue to mouth virtue-signaling platitudes about being in favor of ‘a solution, ok yah,’ even though there’s no real prospect of that happening.
It would be far more honest to accept the new reality. Which is that the Israel of 2019 will not allow a Palestinian state, or, will only allow the formation of one if it is totally demilitarized and over which the IDF has the right to patrol its skies. Just 32 percent of Israelis support a two-state solution, so is it any surprise that only three political parties there openly advocate it?
Where all this leaves supporters of a genuinely independent and sovereign Palestine is up for debate, but it’s best not to kid ourselves that the clock is still set at 1993 and that solutions promoted then, in a great spirit of optimism, remain feasible. They aren’t.
By Neil Clark