Israelis are set to choose a new Knesset today and if polls prove credible, the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu coalition is some 32 seats ahead of competition. This translates into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding on to his post subsequent to horse-trading with coalition partners that may include a centrist party as a sop to White House. However, it is more likely that Netanyahu will gravitate towards far-right nationalist and religious parties, ideologically in tune with his hard line approach to Palestinian ambitions and expansionist plans to isolate occupied Jerusalem from the West Bank with new Jewish colonies. If the tealeaves prove correct, Palestinians will be obliged to say R.I.P. to a two-state solution. Despite condemnation from the US, Britain and the European Union (EU) that have hinted at punitive measures, Netanyahu remains defiant about retaining more than 100 West Bank colonies and is committed to building thousands of new homes on the “E1 area”, linking occupied East Jerusalem with the largest Jewish colony, Maale Adumim. That alone represents a fatal blow to a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Last Saturday, Netanyahu talked about falling out with the US on Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “When they tell me to return to 1967 lines, I stand against it. When they tell me not to build in [occupied] Jerusalem, I stand against it,” he said. “It would be terribly easy to capitulate. I could return to indefensible borders and divide [occupied] Jerusalem and let Hamas get 400 metres from my home. But I have to stand firm on our vital interests …”
Netanyahu’s nationalist rhetoric, coupled with his fear-mongering over Iran’s nuclear programme and endless evocation of the Holocaust, resonate with conservative sectors of the Israeli public while liberals have become de-energised and apathetic. The prime minister’s supporters perceive him to be a pair of safe hands, someone who will not compromise the Jewish state’s security to win friends on Pennsylvania Avenue. And why should he when AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and, by extension, the Congress are in his pocket? He forgets, though, that nothing stays the same forever.
His relationship with US President Barack Obama is rocky. American columnist and White House insider, Jeffrey Goldberg, recently quoted Obama as saying: “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are,” adding that the US president views Netanyahu as a “political coward”. Goldberg warns that Israel is in danger of becoming an international pariah that could risk losing unconditional US backing.
Obama was not amused by Netanyahu’s red-carpet treatment of his former presidential rival, Mitt Romney, and is now being accused of seeking to influence Israeli elections via his friends in the media. His nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, hardly a reflexive kowtower to Israel, as Secretary of Defence is not going down well in Tel Aviv. Israel’s President Shimon Peres is clearly concerned. “We must not lose the support of the United States,” he told the New York Times. “Without US support, it would be very difficult for us. We would be like a lone tree in the desert.” He is right as evidenced by the Palestinian’s successful bid for non-member observer status in the UN General Assembly.
If Netanyahu continues to arrogantly bite the hand that feeds Israel there will be repercussions. American Jews are increasingly embarrassed by Israel’s brutality, according to Yehuda Kurzer, the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, who told Ynet that he “and his friends must deal with the same — the prevalent feeling among average American Jews when the word ‘Israel’ or ‘Israelis’ is raised along with ‘occupation’”. Add to that the fact that more than 50 per cent of American Jews marry outside the religion and the majority historically leans to the left, the pro-Israel lobby’s sway over US foreign policy is likely to erode over time.
Netanyahu is a dinosaur who obstinately holds on to short-sighted opinions. Unfortunately for Israel and the region, generations of Israelis are similarly myopic, preferring military aggression to a peace process based on the 1967 borders.
Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President, Mahmoud Abbas, has warned that Israel is on route to becoming “an apartheid-style state”. His spokesman says there are Palestinians calling for a one-state solution because two states may no longer be viable. “We Palestinians will be in the majority and will struggle for equality,” he added.
Almost a quarter of Israel’s population numbering 7.5 million is non-Jewish, a percentage that includes 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. That figure added to the 2.6 million Palestinians on the West Bank translates to Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians fast catching-up to Israel’s Jewish majority of 6.5 million. And that is without taking into account the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza. It is worth remembering, too, that the birth rates of Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel and Bedouins are three times as high as that of Jewish-Israelis. The question is will an Arab majority quash Israel’s status as a Jewish state? Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni gets it. “Netanyahu is leading us towards the end of the Jewish state ... Israel is in great danger and everyone must wake up now,” she says. As the results of the ballot will surely show, Israeli sleepwalkers vastly outnumber the wise.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org