Despite the predictions, the Israeli left has been soundly beaten in Tuesday’s elections by its more honest ‘right wing’, whose commitment to the total eradication of the Palestinians as any kind of political entity is openly stated.
The defeat of the Zionist Union, ostensibly committed to negotiations and a two-state solution, should not, therefore, be read as the defeat of any genuine desire for peace, but as an increasing desire amongst Israelis to abandon the pretence that they seek anything other than permanent violent colonial domination of the indigenous Arabs.
The traditional means of justifying the ongoing “incremental genocide”’ of the Palestinians, to use Ilan Pappe’s apt phrase, has been to sporadically initiate fraudulent “peace talks”, the inevitable collapse of which serves to justify the next round of bloodletting. These talks, such as those culminating in Barak’s so-called “generous offer” in 2000 – of which more below – are thus embarked on not to resolve the conflict but to justify its escalation, and in a way that simultaneously brings Israel’s international partners on board and salves the consciences of Israeli ‘liberals’. The rejection, then, of the Zionist Union and its commitment to “peace talks”’ represents an end to any perceived necessity to do either.
The differences between the two parties were always, then, more a matter of presentation than of policies or goals. Indeed, the list of policies which were not up for negotiation was predictably long.
On Iran, there is little difference between the two main parties, with Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union declaring that “No Israeli leader will accept a nuclear Iran”- followed, naturally, by that classic war-cry, “All options are on the table.”
On Gaza, both sides supported last summer’s aerial bombardment, with Herzog giving his full support to Netanyahu’s slaughter. Of the seven week ‘campaign’ – which killed or maimed over 12,000 men, women and children and left over 100,000 homeless – Herzog said that he backed “the decisions of the political and military leadership, which were reasonable and sensible throughout the operation” Al Monitor even commented that: “Given all the critical barbs that Netanyahu faced throughout the war not only from his coalition partners, but even from senior members of his own party, he could not have hoped for a more supportive and statesmanlike opposition leader.”
And on Syria, both have consistently (and unsurprisingly) supported the armed insurgency against the Assad government. Most recently both Herzog and his ZU partner Tzipi Livni declared their support for the January 18th airstrike on Syria which wiped out six leading Hezbollah commanders – that is to say, six of the most effective military leaders in Syria’s war against ISIS – but this comes on the back of years of support for the Syrian ‘rebels’ who, Herzog (correctly) noted in 2012, “want peace with Israel after Assad falls” and “wish to ‘be friends’ with the Jewish state.” Elsewhere Herzog is reported as having “built close ties with figures in the Syrian opposition” and called for a US war against Syria – a move which would very likely have led to a full ISIS takeover of the country.
Support for the crippling, if not total destruction, of Syria, Iran and Palestine – this is all a given in Israeli politics. On these issues, there is nothing to discuss. As Meron Rappoport has noted, “the Palestinian issue was almost totally absent from this campaign.”
Veteran Israeli commentator Gideon Levy elaborated: “The horrible war that took place just a few months ago – which cost Israel 10 billion shekels and dozens of lives, as well as the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including hundreds of women and children, and which did not achieve anything or bring about change – hasn’t been discussed at all.”
Yet, we are led to believe that there are differences – significant ones – even on these so-called ‘foreign policy’ issues (yes, for European inhabitants of historic Palestine, it seems, even Palestine itself is considered ‘foreign policy’). As Avi Shlaim has written, “the Israeli voter is invited to choose between two starkly contrasting visions. For the Zionist Union, ending the occupation is a long-term strategic goal. It advocates negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, leading to a two-state solution to the conflict… [whereas] Netanyahu is doing everything in his power to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. His long-standing and unswerving policy is to oppose Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and statehood. He is the unilateralist par excellence. Land confiscation, economic strangulation, and brutal repression are his chief policy instruments for consolidating Israel’s control over the West Bank.”
It seems, then, that there are fundamental differences on the conflict after all: Herzog’s desire for negotiations, leading to a Palestinian state, appears to contrast strongly with Netanyahu’s policy of sabotaging peace talks and making a Palestinian state impossible. Yet the reality is, these seemingly contradictory policies in fact work in tandem.
Is Herzog’s vision really that of the “Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and statehood” so vehemently opposed by Netanyahu? It is revealing that Ehud Barak gave wholehearted public backing to Herzog. Barak, lest we forget, was in 2000 the architect of the so-called “generous offer” of a ‘state’ divided into a series of discontiguous cantons, the abandonment of the right to return, and the forfeiting of much of East Jerusalem – in other words, a state pretty much shorn of all the meaningful attributes of statehood. That Barak now argues that Herzog “can be trusted to deal with the Palestinians,” suggests that he “can be trusted” to make just such an offer in any future negotiations – an offer that is virtually guaranteed to be rejected, but which allows the Israelis to embark on another round of war – and for US and Britain to support it – safe in the delusion that they ‘tried’ to resolve things, but those bloody-minded Palestinians rejected their magnanimity once again.
In other words, even this apparent difference on Palestinian statehood disguises another basic shared commitment to preventing a functioning, stable and genuinely independent Palestinian state. The difference is between offering the Palestinians a state bereft of the key attributes of statehood, or offering them nothing at all. But the relation between these apparently opposing policies has always been cyclical and symbiotic, with Israel alternating between punishing the Palestinians, and offering them a chance to sell out. Once the sell-out is rejected, the next round of bloodletting could then be undertaken with a ‘clean conscience’. The victory of Likud represents the desire for an end to this cycle of fraudulent negotiations followed by sporadic massacres, in favor of a policy which simply gets on with the massacring.
But before those of us in the West get on our high horse of condemnation, we should remember that, just as Israel and Palestine is a microcosm of relations between the West and the Global South as a whole, so is Israeli politics the mirror image of politics in Britain, the US, France and all the other countries who ape their political systems. Just as Israel is divided between those who like their wars openly racist and those who prefer to delude themselves that they only come about after “everything else has been tried,” so the rest of the Western world is divided between those who want to fight their wars openly using high tech weapons fired from battleships proudly waving their own flags, and those who would prefer to lurk in the background, sending over their ‘trainers’ and‘non-lethal’ weaponry whilst waging economic warfare against all those powers who refuse to submit to Western dictate. It is divided between the increasingly overt racism of UKIP, the Front National or the Tea Party, or the respectable racism of those whose immigration quotas, detention centers and police murders come couched in terms of regrettable necessities. What is not being contested in any of these elections is the commitment to a continuation of the war against the third world in some form – not in Israel, not in the US, and certainly not in Britain. And, just as in Israel, the trend is towards doing away with the pretence altogether – and openly embracing fascism.
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