The results from last week’s Knesset election show a country that is virtually evenly split between center-right and center-left (the center-right has a very slight margin,) with the balance of power held by two religious parties. The latter are politically and socially conservative but primarily focused on their own communal interests. If they join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s next coalition, as they are likely to do, the governing center-right-religious bloc will have a majority of some 56%. It will have even more if Yesh Atid, a vaguely left-leaning center party, also joins the coalition.
The reality beneath the numbers is less clear-cut. While it is probably correct to say that the bulk of the center-right is united on the issue of a Palestinian state (they’re opposed to it,) there is no pro-Palestine state consensus on the center-left. Both Zionist Union and Yesh Atid have been nebulous when it comes to the Palestinians, preferring hackneyed and imprecise statements (e.g. “Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital”) to taking a clear stand. It’s probably fair to assume that close to half of the center-left voters do not accept the internationally-defined basis of an agreement with the Palestinians (’67 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both states etc.,) meaning that only a quarter of Israeli voters actually support the establishment of a Palestinian state.
It’s worth noting that the concepts of left and right in Israel refer only to positions vis a vis the occupied territories. On economic issues, the blocs are mash-ups. Many Likud supporters are confirmed trade unionists, while much of the so-called left is neo-capitalist. Were Israeli voters motivated by bread & butter issues, rather than by existential fears, not only the results of the election would have been different, but the party structure as well.
Similarly, the center-left bloc is a misnomer when it comes to everything except the issue of equality and civil rights. The new Arab party, the Joint List, includes in its ranks radical Islamists and Arab nationalists, not to mention two polygamists. In any other context, attaching to it the label “left” would be ludicrous. But such is the nature of politics in Israel.
As far as security (or the way it is regarded) and the Palestinian issue are concerned, the coalition that is likely to be formed will indeed represent the majority of Israeli voters. While Israelis who want to hold onto the occupied territories for ideological reasons are still a minority, those who are opposed to making concessions to the Palestinians out of fear or inertia constitute a majority of the population. They will be fittingly represented by Netanyahu’s next government.
Therefore, the election result is not only fair – it is also transparent. There can be no doubt, both within Israel and outside it, as to what the next government will stand for. Netanyahu made the ideological direction he has in mind perfectly clear in statements during the last week of the election campaign. The next Netanyahu government will oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, undertake wide-scale settlement in the occupied territories, continue its campaign to “Judaize” Israel’s democracy and hobble the Supreme Court and treat Israeli Arabs and left-wing opponents as subversives.
It may well be that not all those goals are shared by the 60% or so of the electorate that will be represented by the new government, but neither are they egregiously unacceptable to them. By and large, Israelis don’t really care about the occupation and the settlements. Most were born or came of age after 1967 and they have never known anything else. Within Israel proper, there is freedom of speech, freedom of movement, a reasonably robust economy, a thriving cultural scene and a society that is sufficiently progressive for them to live comfortably within the stranglehold of religion on various facets of their lives (e.g. the lack of civil marriage and the price margins necessitated by the kashrut regime.)
While cost awareness has increased dramatically in recent years, few make the connection between their unacceptably high cost of living and the massive amounts spent on the army and settlement in the territories. The same goes for the deteriorating level of education, the rising cost of health care and the hopelessly inadequate welfare system. By deliberately obfuscating the inverse ratio between spending on the military and social spending, the so-called social protest movement of 2011 did untold damage to both itself and the people it was meant to serve.
Most Israelis live within a 30-minute drive of the occupied territories, but they are willfully – and blissfully – ignorant of what goes on under Israeli military rule, as well as of the affect the occupation has on their own lives, from high prices to inadequate social services and the slow degradation of the rule of law. The accepted “truths” of the Zionist enterprise – that the Holocaust could happen again at any time, the Palestinians will never accept the existence of Israel, there is never a partner on the other side and opposition to the occupation is synonymous with anti-Semitism – are by now deeply entrenched. They comprise the core of the national belief system and, as such, are impervious to argument or logic.
Israel will get the government that the majority wants, even though it is clear from the start that it will be expansionist, intolerant, racist, anti-democratic – and probably inept, to boot. It will be a government which, like all the governments before it with the exception of Rabin’s in the early Nineties, will play for time, hoping for a miracle that will make the Palestinians disappear – or at least accept Israel’s dictates. It’s not much of a policy, but Israelis are used to it.
What it comes down to is that the messiah won’t come from elections. Israelis are incapable of saving themselves, primarily because most of them don’t see the need. Unseen injustices committed against invisible Palestinians are not the stuff to get the typical Israeli hot and bothered. If the country’s descent into – dare I say it? – apartheid is going to be halted it will have to be done by others. And the only way to do it is to bring home to Israelis the price of continued occupation and settlement.
The Palestinians will continue their campaign for recognition and acceptance by international institutions, probably with more support from the EU countries following Netanyahu’s uncharacteristic bout of truth-telling during the final week of the election campaign. But it will take a lot more than a higher international profile for the Palestinians to change the thinking of the majority of Israelis.
The price of the occupation needs to be made tangible. When Israelis can no longer travel abroad, when doing international business is a thing of the past, when sports teams and cultural acts take Israel off their schedules, when academic conferences are closed to Israelis, when imported goods are no longer available, when computer systems collapse because they lack spare parts – only then will Israelis begin to understand the true cost of their colonial adventure.
It will take time and there’s no knowing how a wounded and shamed Israeli government might react. But there is no other option. Those who voted Netanyahu back into power need to be made aware of the consequences of their vote.