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Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during clashes with following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip on September 20, 2019 Image Credit: AFP

The harsh reality of the occupation is likely to remain unchanged for Palestinians, regardless of the Israeli leader who will succeed in forming a government coalition.

While experience has taught Palestinians not to place hopes on Israeli elections, the complex nature of current Israeli politics, and the serious possibility of an Israeli attempt at illegally annexing parts of the West Bank, require vigilance.

The outcome of the September 17 elections seems to have ushered in a new age in Israel, ideologically and politically. But the same can also be said regarding its potential influence on Palestinians, who should now brace themselves for war in Gaza and annexation in the West Bank.

On September 25, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government. According to the latest count, Netanyahu’s Likud party has gained another seat in the Knesset. The pro-Netanyahu bloc now has 55 seats vs the centre-led camp of Benny Gantz, with 54.

Gantz, a former chief of general staff of the Israeli army who had orchestrated the destructive war on the besieged Gaza Strip in 2014, has a serious chance at becoming the new prime minister. Despite Netanyahu’s best efforts, his mission seems impossible, due to his unlikely ability to obtain the 61-seat majority required at the Knesset.

But those who are eager to see Netanyahu ousted should be careful. His absence will hardly turn Israel into a peace-loving, democratic country.

Illegal colony blocs

There is little discussion in Israeli, and, by extension, western media of Gantz’s numerous war crimes during the Gaza war. The focus is mainly on the fact that he seems to have a chance at dislodging Netanyahu from a position he had held for nearly 13 years.

The leader of the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) party had plotted the ouster of Netanyahu back in January 2018, when he formed the Israeli Resilience Party. Following several political mergers and a strong showing in the previous elections in April, the centrist politician has finally edged past Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party in the most recent elections.

If Netanyahu fails to form a government, Gantz, with 33 seats — compared to Likud’s 32 seats — would need a broad coalition to rule Israel. The vehemently anti-Palestinian politician has made it clear that he will not enter into a coalition with the Joint List, the alliance of various Palestinian Arab political parties. The latter has managed to achieve 13 seats, making it the third largest political force in Israel.

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It is now likely that Gantz will seek a coalition government that includes the Likud, along with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. The country’s former ultra-nationalist defence minister, Lieberman, with eight seats, has restored his previous “kingmaker” status. He, too, is keen on such a coalition. Gantz is open to such a scenario, with one condition: Netanyahu should stay out.

While the “king of Israel” might finally be dethroned, Palestinians have little to rejoice over. True, Netanyahu has destroyed any chance of a just peace in Palestine through the entrenching of the illegal military occupation and inhumane siege of the West Bank and Gaza. However, future possibilities are equally, if not even more, grim.

Once upon a time, outright discussion of annexing large parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories were relegated to the margins of Israel’s political discourse. This is no longer the case. The call for annexing major, illegal colony blocs, along with the Jordan Valley, is now a common demand made by all of Israel’s main political parties, including Gantz’s own.

For Gantz, war is the answer, as indicated by one of his campaign slogans, “Only the strong survive.”

- Ramzy Baroud

‘Only the strong survive’

“We are happy that the prime minister has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognise the Jordan Valley,” Gantz’s party said in a statement shortly before election day.

The likelihood of it taking place sooner than later is that a broad, centre-right-ultranationalist coalition would serve as an insurance to Israel’s leadership, in case of a political or security fallout once the decision is taken and enforced.

That political insurance simply means that no single party or official would bear the blame or shoulder the consequences alone, should Palestinians rebel or the international community push back against the latest, flagrant Israeli violation of international law.

The fact that Gantz, for example, only recently boasted about sending “parts of Gaza back to the Stone Age” means that a Gantz-led government would be as eager to “pacify” Gaza as a Netanyahu-led government.

Indeed, Israel has been itching for a major military campaign in Gaza since its last onslaught of 2014. Netanyahu has steered clear of an all-out war, fearing a high death toll among his soldiers and the blame game that often follows such military misadventures.

A coalition government would change all of that.

Mandated by a large coalition, bringing together Israeli army generals, right-wing politicians and ideologues, Gantz would feel far more empowered to go to war, especially since the former military chief has repeatedly accused Netanyahu of being “weak” on Gaza, “terrorism” and security.

For Gantz, war is the answer, as indicated by one of his campaign slogans, “Only the strong survive.”

While it is typical, and understandable, to dismiss all Israeli governments as one and the same, a Gantz-led government would possess the needed political legitimacy, popular mandate and strategic tools to achieve a job that Netanyahu himself couldn’t finish: a war on Gaza, and the annexation of parts of the West Bank.

— Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. His last book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London) and his forthcoming book is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’ (Clarity Press, Atlanta).