On Tuesday, Israelis will cast their ballots for the second time in five months due to the inability of the incumbent, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to form a coalition following elections in April. A high turnout looks unlikely when many voters complain of election-fatigue and the two front-running parties sing from a similar dirge-like song book.
Weighed down by multiple charges of corruption that could see him behind bars, Netanyahu is desperate to win this battle when he intends to push a new law through the Knesset that will give him immunity from prosecution. And so he has once again resorted to running an ugly campaign designed to whip up fears and hatreds.
Hate, oppression, lies and illegal land theft are his tools of the trade, more so when his back is against a wall. As in the past, his prime scapegoats for his country’s ills are Palestinians and Arab Israelis. He positions himself as the only one capable of defending Israel against Iran which in recent days he accuses of clandestine nuclear weapons activity. That may well be true but the timing of his announcement is highly suspect.
There are no depths to which he will not sink to retain his chair. In the run-up to the 2015 ballot he attempted to scare the right-wing saying Arab Israelis are heading to the polls “in droves”. He promised that on his watch there would never be a Palestinian state, later retracted under US pressure. He now calls for cameras in all polling stations, an attempt to intimidate Arabs whose votes could count as a decider.
Oblivious to condemnation from the European Union, the United Nations and Arab states, he has offered the religious right and the colonist movement a big box of candy with a pledge to annex one third of the West Bank, beginning with the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea and all Jewish colonies leaving Palestinian communities isolated in enclaves. His motives are so transparent that former journalist and Finance Minister Yair Lapid was driven to say, “He doesn’t want to annex territories, he wants to annex votes”.
Among his nth minute fright tactics is a warning that a war with the imprisoned people of Gaza could happen at any moment, a decision he appears to have made on the hoof after his bodyguards dragged him off a campaign stage in Ashdod to escape incoming Hamas’ rockets. Naturally, the White House has refrained from commenting on Netanyahu’s off-the-wall pledges but once more rushing to the rescue comes President Trump, who has unilaterally handed Jerusalem and the Golan Heights to his buddy, with a new shiny present set to increase his buddy’s election chances — serious talks on a mutual defence treaty between the US and Israel.
Netanyahu’s number one challenger is former defence chief Benny Gantz whose Resilience Party teamed up with Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s right-of-centre Telem to form the Blue and White alliance. The rivals are neck-and-neck in the polls. It is almost a given that neither is capable of attracting an overall majority of 61 parliamentary seats.
Whoever comes out on top will be forced to seek coalition partners. Netanyahu has right-wing religious parties in the bag but even so he will still find himself short unless his old partner Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beytenu Party, gets on board.
‘Deep in the mud’
Gantz is also courting Lieberman who may end up as the kingmaker. However, Lieberman who famously said “any negotiation on the basis of land for peace is a fatal mistake” has disparaged both wooers. Instead, he calls for a unity government to save a country that he says is “deep in the mud”.
Unfortunately, Gantz whose platform was initially one of moderation to the extent he once said “We need to find a way not have dominion over other people” has sharpened his teeth to match up to Netanyahu’s incisors. Even as a court in the Netherlands considers a civil suit against Gantz alleging he committed war crimes in Gaza during 2014, he promises to invade the world’s biggest open-air prison and assassinate Hamas’ leaders.
He further vows never to relinquish Jewish colony blocs on the West Bank while making the laughable assertion that had Congresswomen Ilham Omar and Rashida Tlaib been permitted to visit in an official capacity, they would have seen “with their own eyes” that “the best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is in Israel and the second best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is the West Bank”.
Whoever gets the prize will work to crush all remnants of Palestinian hopes for an independent state and it’s pretty certain that Trump’s much touted Deal of the Century scheduled to be unveiled in the near future will be the nail in the coffin. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Where have all the Israeli peaceniks gone? That is the question.
— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.