It is no exaggeration to describe next week’s election in Israel as historic. Not because of the anticipated outcome – according to all the polls, we’re likely to get more of the same and probably worse – but because of what it represents.
Even before a vote has been cast, it is clear that the 2013 poll will be Israel’s first post-occupation election. The first election since 1967 in which the fate of the Palestinian territories occupied in the Six Day War will not be a major issue – either for the politicians or for the bulk of the electorate. For many Israelis on the right and in the center of the political spectrum, the fate of the territories has already been decided – if only by default. It is no longer a key issue.
Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home,) the Cinderalla of the 2013 campaign, is the quintessential post-occupation party and Bennett himself is the modern, post-occupation Israeli – smart, cosmopolitan and amoral. For him, the occupation is history; he’s moved on. Modern Israeli politics is all about getting the status quo to work better, rather than turning it on its head.
Were Bennett’s Bayit Heyehudi the only post-occupation party, it could be regarded as an aberration; but it’s not. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future,) which sits in the center of the political map, has also put the occupation behind it, as has Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor Party on the center-left. For all three –spanning the entire political spectrum, with the exception of the hard-left and the Arab sector – today’s politics is about getting things to work better. Rectifying historical injustices is not on their agenda.
Bennett, significantly, is calling for deep cuts in defense expenditure, normally a staple position of the anti-occupation left. But his logic is impeccable. Massive investment in the military not only plunges the country into debt and throws the entire economy out of kilter, it is also so yesterday … so occupation-centric. For post-occupation politicians, the occupied territories are a law and order problem, not an existential issue. One doesn’t allow them to affect the price of apartments or cottage cheese.
Between them, the parties of Bennett, Yachimovich and Lapid are likely to account for over 40 seats in the next Knesset, or about 35% of the total membership. Add to that the many members of the ruling bloc, Likud Beiteinu, and other Knesset members who are post-occupation in spirit, and it is clear that the new politics accounts for close to a majority in the Knesset, if not an actual majority.
So, how are they defined, these new politics? Primarily by the absence of a diplomatic solution and a disinclination to pursue one. If, in the old days, the objective was decisive action – ranging from territorial compromise and a peace treaty on the left to annexation (and assumedly, an end-of-days war) on the right – post-occupation politics are all about benign neglect and the ravages of time. The young United States never divided territory with the native tribes; it relied on the occasional massacre, white man’s diseases and alcohol to do the job. Israel’s post-occupation politicians have a similar approach. The occupation will take care of itself over time.
Looked at in that sense, there is really very little to choose between the three main post-occupation parties, plus those that are likely to jump on the bandwagon between these elections and the next. To a greater or lesser degree, they all reflect the disinterest and apathy of the Israeli voter when it comes to taking decisive action to determine the future of the occupied territories and the fate of the Palestinians. No-one wants to be bothered.
Whatever the final disposition of the parties, the 2013 election marks a watershed in Israel and a historic break with the past. The next Netanyahu government, and the one after that, may well make a pretense of pursuing negotiations with the Palestinians, but the purpose will be to placate the US and Europe. In their hearts, Israeli politicians have moved beyond that, and, in doing so, they are only carrying out the nation’s will.
In the future, Israeli politics will all take place against the background of the occupation as an established fact. The current nuances between the post-occupation parties will move into the foreground. Bennett will push for greater Judaization of the state; others, if not him, will set their sights on a theocracy. Yachimovich will campaign for social justice for Jews and Lapid will … well, he’ll probably be enjoying the fruits of office and not doing much else.
2013 will be immortalized as the elections that finally took the occupation off the national agenda. Welcome to the future.