Voters in Israel delivered an overwhelming endorsement of the status quo by re-electing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has promised to simply ignore waning international pressure to end Israeli military rule over a captive population of millions of Palestinians living, without civil rights, in the territories it seized in 1967.
With more than 97 percent of the vote counted for Tuesday’s election, Netanyahu was in a commanding position to assemble a coalition of ethnic nationalist parties in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, including openly racist extremists who want to strip non-Jews of their citizenship and expel Palestinians from the occupied territories.
As soon as exit polls suggested that the prime minister’s Likud party was on course to be one of the two largest parties in the Knesset, allowing Netanyahu to stay in office, he led a crowd of supporters waving Likud posters and Donald Trump signs in jeering the “biased media.”
Signs of how own fans among the supporters of his ally Netanyahu did not escape Trump’s notice.
On the eve of the election, Netanyahu had appealed to ultranationalist voters by promising to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, where more than 400,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements that are illegal under international law, and maintain Israel’s military control over even those Palestinian population centers with limited self-government.
The prime minister’s pledge seemed to make formal what has been clear for the past decade of his rule: that Israel has no intention of ever honoring its commitments under the Oslo Peace Accords to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state, and plans instead to continue ruling over a de facto single state in which nearly half of the population is denied citizenship or the right to vote based on ethnicity.
The scale of his victory can be judged by the fact that the party that posed the largest threat to his leadership was led by former generals who boasted of their role in pummeling Gaza and offered no plan to end the occupation.
As the Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf explained last week on the +972 Magazine podcast, both Netanyahu’s Likud party, and its main rival, the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz, the former army chief of staff, offered Jewish Israelis the choice to vote for the status quo, in which they could continue to enjoy the benefits of security ensured by a powerful military, in return for none of the sacrifices required to end the occupation and make peace.
“If you look at the occupation, and the sort of solutions that are being offered to Israelis, the most obvious one is the two-state solution and the least popular one is the one-state solution,” Sheizaf said. “Usually we treat them as a binary choice: if you don’t do the two-state solution, you’ll end up with the one-state solution.”
Since the population of Arabs and Jews is nearly equal in the entire territory now under Israel’s control, achieving peace through a single, binational state in which Arabs and Jews would enjoy equal civil and political rights would ensure democracy but end the century-old Zionist project of creating a Jewish state which would be, as Netanyahu has said recently, primarily for Jewish citizens and no one else.
“But I think that in the real framing, and this is where political decisions are made, both by the voters and by the leaders, there’s a third choice, of maintaining things as they are,” Sheizaf said, “let’s call it the status quo.”
“Israelis, when they look at the two-state solution in the style that was being promoted in the 90s,” Sheizaf continued, “it meant for Israelis withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, obviously, the dismantling of all the settlements that are now in the West Bank — a huge internal battle, significant financial costs and, we must also admit, significant military risk because nobody can predict what will happen 5, 10, 15 years from the day that peace is agreed, or the day that Israel leaves the West Bank.”
“The one-state solution, from an Israeli perspective, is even worse because you’re talking about annexation of the West Bank and Gaza and, in theory, full voting rights to all the population between the Jordan River and the sea,” Sheizaf said. “Then, at best, you will look at a different political system which will be in a sort of a draw; at worst, from an Israeli perspective, it will be dominated by Palestinians.”
“Netanyahu and the right have been saying to Israelis,” he added, “not only that the status quo is significantly better than the one-state or two-state solution, but some of the things that people said you can only achieve through a peace deal, can be achieved within the status quo.”
Among the benefits Israel has managed to accrue through sheer power politics, are close and increasingly less secret relations with Saudi Arabia and joint military operations with Egypt in the Sinai peninsula.
Despite some notable successes, and hysteria stoked by Israel’s government, the Palestinian-led effort to isolate Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has so far failed to make it a pariah state equivalent to apartheid-era South Africa. On the eve of Israel’s election, the organizers of the government-backed Eurovision song contest, scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv in May, announced that their headline act would be Madonna.
“So, you take all this together,” Sheizaf concluded, “an Israeli would say, ‘There is an option where I don’t pay anything and I’m getting some of the benefits of the peace process. And if you understand that, you realize why the status quo, from an Israeli perspective, is far superior to the two other options.”
Responding to Netanyahu’s latest victory, and the threat of annexation, Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, said that it was clear that Israelis had chosen a path away from the two-state solution.
The increasingly naked disregard for the rights of non-Jews ruled by Israel was made plain on election day by Netanyahu’s Likud party, which dispatched volunteers to smuggle hidden cameras in to 1,200 polling places used by Arab citizens.
The morning after the election, Palestinians in the West Bank village of Ein Yabroud, who are deprived on the right to vote, unlike their neighbors in the Israeli settlement of Ofra, awoke to find triumphalist Israeli graffiti sprayed on their property. Car tires were slashed and doors and walls were covered in Star of David symbols and the word Hebrew word for “revenge.”
The extent to which the disparity between the rights of Palestinians living under military occupation in Ein Yabroud and those enjoyed by their Jewish neighbors in Ofra is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that homes in that settlement, built on stolen Palestinian land and in contravention to international law, are currently listed for rent on Airbnb.
In another sign of how little the ongoing occupation costs Israelis, the company announced on Tuesday that it had decided to reverse a decision announced in November to remove about 200 listings in West Bank settlements following pressure from BDS activists. “Airbnb will not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank from the platform,” the company wrote. “Any profits generated for Airbnb by any Airbnb host activity in the entire West Bank will be donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world.”
Airbnb’s reversal, which was denounced as “reprehensible and cowardly” by Amnesty International, came after a court settlement with dual Israeli-U.S. citizen settlers whose listings were to be removed and potential renters who filed suit in an American court.
The Center for Constitutional Rights recently filed a counterclaim in federal court accusing the settlers of violating the Fair Housing Act. One of the Palestinian-American plaintiffs in that suit, Ziad Alwan, was born in Ein Yabroud after it was occupied and now lives in Chicago.
As Mairav Zonszein reported in The Nation last month, Alwan “cannot rent the Ofra property because he is Palestinian; he cannot set foot in it, even though his family is the rightful owner of the farmland that settlers and Airbnb are now profiting from. He holds the title deed for the land, which is listed under his father’s name and registered by the Israel Land Registry.
Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, observed in a New York Times Op-Ed this week that election days in the West Bank offer the clearest illustration of Israel’s undemocratic rule, as Israelis “cast their votes for a Parliament that rules both Israeli citizens and millions of Palestinian subjects denied that same right.”
“Israeli settlers in the West Bank don’t even need to drive to a polling station inside Israel to vote on their Palestinian neighbors’ fate,” El-Ad wrote. “Even settlers in the heart of Hebron can vote right there, with 285 registered voters (out of a total population of about 1,000 settlers), surrounded by some 200,000 Palestinian nonvoters. Or as Israel calls it, ‘democracy.’”