Today, Israelis go to the polls for the second time in two years, in what many are terming as a “referendum” against current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now the longest-serving Israeli premier since David Ben Gurion. Netanyahu is facing staunch opposition, with many Israelis finally turning away from him to vote for his political rivals. The political party known as the Zionist Union will likely garner more votes, leading many to believe that change is afoot in Israel. But even if we see the Zionist Union emerge as the new Israeli leadership, for Palestinians, it will be business as usual.
To be clear, Netanyahu has presided over some of the worst Israeli policies, including the 50-day bombing Unionaign against the besieged Gaza Strip, in which Israel killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children, and destroyed thousands of homes. He has pressed for the expansion of Israel’s colonies in the West Bank and has pushed for the passage of racist legislation against Palestinians in Israel. Netanyahu has also taken US-Israel relations to an all-time low by publicly attempting to humiliate Obama. Some Democrats are now openly speaking out against him. But Israelis, largely because they have never been held to account for Israel’s brutal policies towards Palestinians, simply want to see a new leader and seem to care little about his policies.
Polls in Israel indicate high support for all of the racist political parties that support the same Netanyahu policies. And, while a new opposition, one that demands “anyone but Bibi” has marked this election, the “anyone but Bibi” supporters are simply demanding new faces, not new policies.
Indeed, virtually all of Israel’s political parties have advocated, sanctioned or accepted Israel’s ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and its nine-year-long blockade of the Gaza Strip. Their vision of Palestinians is the same as Netanyahu’s. Isaac Herzog, the head of the Zionist Union, recently said: “We need to make confidence-building measures such as freezing the [colonies] outside of the [colony] blocs. I want (Israeli) sovereignty in the large blocs and we need to invest in them. It’s possible to contain 80 per cent of the [colonists] there.”
A war crime
While this may, to some, sound less problematic than Netanyahu, the Israeli formula remains the same: Israelis, including those who proclaim themselves to be “Leftists”, do not believe that Israel’s war crimes (building colonies is a war crime) should stop. Instead, as has been the feature of each and every Israeli government in place since 1967, this new government — whether led by Netanyahu, Herzog or anyone else — will continue to colonise the West Bank. Herzog has not indicated that he will lift the brutal blockade on the Gaza Strip, that he will dismantle the checkpoints that choke off Palestinian life or that he believes that Palestinians are entitled to freedom and equality. The best that may be expected from a Zionist Union government will be a smoother more polished presentation of the same brutal and unacceptable Israeli policies and practices.
And it does not stop there. These parties continue to support Israeli racism as evidenced by their support for laws that discriminate against Palestinians in Israel. Only last week, when Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the beheading of Palestinians in Israel whom he deemed disloyal to the state, none of the major political parties — Herzog and Livni’s included — spoke out against him and his racism, brazenly directed against some 20 per cent of the country’s citizenry.
There is a reason that the support for the Right wing in Israel, which some would characterise as fascism, is so high: It is because for more than six decades, Israel has been given a blank cheque to operate as it chooses towards Palestinians. Israel has never faced sanctions for its brutal acts, has never faced a court for its war crimes and even Lieberman, a colonist who openly advocates ethnic cleansing and now beheading of Palestinians in Israel, will continue to be treated as a “statesman”.
No, for Palestinians, suffering under Israel’s regime — whether as citizens of the state or those living under Israel’s military rule or those living in refugee camps — this election will simply be the replacement of one face of Zionism with another. It is only when Israel’s political parties begin to realise that their political choices come with a price tag that we will see different policies. Until then, it is business as usual.
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.