Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election is a blow for the Palestinians, and for workers and the internationalist left inside Israel.
That he was apparently able to galvanise votes by appeals to racist, anti-Arab nationalism indicates how much work there is to do to build an internationalist class consciousness within the Israeli working class.
In the run-up to the election, Netanyahu made a clear statement of opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state. In a radio interview, he said: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.” Although he later pulled back slightly, it is clear that his perspective, and that of any government he leads, will be one of “Greater Israel” nationalism, support for settlement building, and an authoritarian, racist attitude to the large Arab minority inside Israel itself.
The stakes are now extremely high. If continued unchecked, Netanyahu’s activities could preclude, for generations, any possibility of a genuinely democratic settlement based on the mutual recognition of rights for the two peoples which inhabit historic Palestine. His neo-liberal, Thatcherite economic policies will mean misery for Israeli workers and the poor, and it will surely not be long before the might of the Israeli military is “provoked” into another “self-defensive” slaughter.
In an article on the pro-Palestinian “Electronic Intifada” website, Ali Abunimah expressed his “relief” at Netanyahu’s victory. He claimed the differences between Netanyahu and his Labor Party rival Yitzhak Herzog were superficial, and that with Netanyahu in charge, at least the Palestinians would not be dragged into a dead-end “peace process”.
Whether a Herzog victory would have led to immediate significant concessions for the Palestinians is debatable; in all likelihood it would not.
But to be “relieved” at the victory of a far-right nationalist (who Eric Lee rightly identified in Solidarity 358 as a proto-Putin figure) whose election represents a huge obstacle to the most immediate reform most needed to break the deadlock (the establishment of a viable Palestinian state) seems both nihilistic and cavalier.
Practical solidarity with the Palestinians is urgent. Democratic and working-class organisation inside Palestinian society faces not only colonial oppression, but are also the reactionary policies of the clerical-fascists of Hamas and the corrupt bourgeois-nationalists of Fatah. Supporting labour-movement organisations in Palestine, and workers’ organisations that organise both Israeli-Jewish and Arab workers, such as the Workers’ Advice Centre, is vital.
There have already been renewed calls on the international left for a ramping up of “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) agitation as the only viable political-strategic framework for responding to a worsening situation. But while divestment and certain sanctions (such as arms embargoes) may represent effective forms of pressure, BDS as a political package is based on a conception of Israel as an illegitimate national entity, equivalent to the white-supremacist apartheid South African state. Unlike South Africa, where a tiny white settler caste ruled by exploiting the black majority, the Israeli-Jewish population is class-differentiated and has has no colonial “centre” to “go back” to. Root-and-branch boycotts could end up alienating and hurting Israel’s beleaguered peace movement, the left, and the labour movement, at a time when they most need international support.
“External” pressures may create domestic space that Palestinian, Israeli, and international leftists can exploit. US President Barack Obama’s ongoing attempts at entente with Iran, and America’s growing impatience with Netanyahu’s pursuit of a colonial policy of which it evidently disapproves, may give some traction to demands for America to end its bankrolling of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Any such opportunities should be exploited.
But the worsening political landscape has not changed the basic facts, which are that two distinct nations – a Hebrew-speaking Jewish nation and a Palestinian-Arab nation – currently live in historic Palestine. Currently, the nation-state of one of those national groups (Israel) subjugates and colonises the other (the Palestinians). The only rational, democratic settlement is one based on two democratic, secular states – an Israeli state (with a constitutional framework that acknowledges and guarantees full civil rights to the large Arab minority), and a viable Palestnian state – as the first step towards federation and unity.
Consistent democrats must act before Netanyahu wipes any realistic possibility of that settlement off the page of history.