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Ben-Gurion University
[Ben Gurion University, Geography] Oren Yiftachel's "Voting for Apartheid: The 2009 Israeli Elections"

 

http://www.geog.bgu.ac.il/members/yiftachel/new_papers_2009/JPS%20Yiftachel%202009.pdf

 

 

 

VOTING FOR APARTHEID: THE 2009 ISRAELI ELECTIONS

OREN YIFTACHEL

Focusing primarily on Israeli voter attitudes with respect to the Zionist-

Palestinian conflict, this paper argues that the results of the 2009 elections

highlight the structural entanglement of Israeli politics within a

colonialist process of “creeping apartheid” not only in the West Bank

but in Israel proper. The elections also demonstrated the continuing relevance

of identity and class politics among Israeli voters and the trend

among culturally and economically marginalized groups to support

the colonialist agendas set mainly by the settlers, the military, and parts

of the globalizing economic elites. In parallel, election results among

Palestinians in Israel reflect their growing alienation from a political

system that structurally excludes them from political influence.

THREE DAYS AFTER Israel’s Knesset elections on 10 February 2009, Avigdor Lieberman,

leader of Yisrael Beitainu (the “Israel Is Our Home” party), articulated a

short list of demands for joining a future coalition government. His hard-line

rightist party emerged as one of the big winners of the elections, increasing its

representation in the Knesset from 11 to 15 (out of 120), and was now poised

to play a determining role in Israeli politics. Lieberman, aWest Bank settler and

Russian immigrant, declared that his party would join a future coalition

Only if practical steps are taken for Israel to ”finish the job”

of annihilating Hamas. . . . I mean putting a total end to the

Hamas regime in Gaza. . . . In addition, we demand a new

citizenship law which will ensure what we repeatedly said

throughout the campaign: “No loyalty, no citizenship.”1

These demands point to the main trend of these elections: the return of openly

declared Jewish colonialist goals and the intensification of apartheid-like measures

as popular political agendas. In posing his conditions, Lieberman uses

internal political negotiations to advocate political change outside the state’s

borders even while deepening the exclusion of the national Palestinian minority

inside. It is a measure of the shift in Israel’s public mood that these

colonialist, racist, and probably illegal demands were accepted as part of fair

 

OREN YIFTACHEL is professor of political geography, urban planning, and public policy

at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba, and the author of a number of books, including

Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (Penn Press, 2006).

Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. XXXVIII, No. 3 (Spring 2009), pp. 1–15 ISSN: 0377-919X; electronic ISSN: 1533-8614.

C _

2009 by the Institute for Palestine Studies. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission

to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s

Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp. DOI: jps.2009.XXXVIII.3.1.

2 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

negotiations for the formation of a future government, and were met with only

scant public outcry. Indeed, immediately following the near electoral deadlock

between Israel’s two major parties—center-rightist Kadima, which received

twenty-eight Knesset seats, and the rightist Likud, which won twenty-seven

seats—the wooing of Yisrael Beitainu by both parties to join their potential

coalition began. Even the Labor party (traditionally considered “center-left”)

turned back on its campaign pledges “never to sit with Yisrael Beitainu in the

same government.”2 This weakening party, which sunk to an all-time low of

thirteen Knesset seats, ended up joining the governing coalition formed by

Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist Likud and Lieberman’s protofascist Yisrael

Beitainu as a minor partner following six weeks of post-election negotiations.3

Thus, despite the controversy generated by Lieberman and his party, their

rhetoric was but the tip of the iceberg of a general trend: Yisrael Beitainu’s

acceptance by all major parties amounts to an indirect yet loud endorsement

of its dual colonialist agenda.

DEMOCRATIC DISTORTIONS

Looking at the results of the 2009 Israeli elections within their broad historical,

geographical, and political settings, it is difficult not to see them as

highlighting the structural entrapment of Israeli politics within a colonial process

of “creeping apartheid” taking place in the entire area under Israeli control

between the (Jordan) River and the (Mediterranean) Sea. To be sure, colonialist

agendas have been advanced “on the ground” by all Israeli governments,

including those of the so-called Left. But in 2009 such goals have become more

explicit, with the escalation of anti-Arab discourses relating both to the ongoing

violence between Israel and Hamas and to the intensifying demands among the

Palestinian minority for equality and autonomy inside Israel. As the colonialist

agendas are being increasingly legitimized, institutionalized, semi-legalized, and

constructed “on the ground,” and as Palestinian resistance continues in various

violent and nonviolent guises, the Israeli/Palestinian space increasingly resembles

the South African apartheid state—one group, identified by its ethnic/

racial origins, controls multi-group territories. Under such regimes, civil status

is stratified, with security and geography forming the main tools to prevent the

resisting “races” from achieving equal access to resources and power.

Within this system, all Jews living within the areas under Israeli control,

whether Israel itself or the occupied territories, enjoy the same juridical status

with an undifferentiated right to vote. Palestinians living in these same areas,

by contrast, are divided into two main groups: (a) those residing within the

Green Line (Israel’s internationally recognized border), who, as Israeli citizens,

have the right to vote; and (b) residents of the colonized (occupied) Palestinian

territories who are denied that right. Palestinian citizenship/residency status is

further stratified into six different subcategories4 that determine “from above”

their mobility, rights, and material status in a setting resembling apartheid South

Africa.5

VOTING FOR APARTHEID: THE 2009 ISRAELI ELECTIONS 3

The dominance of an open colonialist agenda is not surprising given the

colonial geography that has developed since 1967. Nearly half a million

Jewish settlers now form a “seamless” extension of the Israeli state into

 

The disconnect between

sovereign and voting

powers is typical in a

colonial setting, where

political parties, immune to

electoral backlash from the

(mainly disenfranchised)

subject populations, can

escalate their racist

rhetoric with impunity.

all parts of the West Bank, while the Palestinians living

there are denied access to political powers from

the state that controls them and indeed access to the

material resources of the territory where they reside.

In addition, the 1.2 million Palestinians in Israel who

can vote are extremely limited in their political power

due to a range of legal and informal constraints. Hence,

despite the differing legal status of “Israel proper” and

the occupied territories, Jewish Israel effectively controls

the lives not only of its Palestinian citizens but also

of the Palestinians in the territories who have negligible

political influence on the policies directly affecting

them.6

These conditions notwithstanding, most analysts treat Israel as a “normal”

state wherein political parties simply jostle for popular support among the voters.

This view is misleading, as it misses the fundamental flaw outlined above—

the disconnect between sovereign and voting powers. Sovereign power, as

noted, is vested in the Jewish public, which continuously debates the future of

the Palestinian territories, while Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line

have virtually no influence on this political process.7 This is a typical colonial

setting, in which political parties, immune to any electoral backlash from the

(mainly disenfranchised) subject populations, can escalate their racist rhetoric

with impunity.

In addition to this glaring democratic distortion, the very presence of Jewish

settlers has concrete electoral implications. For example, as in 1988 and 1996,

the colonialist bloc in these last elections won a majority only due to the vote

of West Bank settlers. In the new Knesset, ten seats will be held by settlers,

tipping the balance of power and ensuring the prevalence of their agendas for

the next few years.8 While this situation is clearly undemocratic, it enjoys full

legitimacy in Israel and around the world.

In the recent past, particularly since the Oslo years, Israeli leaders were

more careful to couch their agendas in terms of “continuing the peace process,”

supporting at least nominal equality of all state citizens. Admittedly,

these statements mainly functioned as lip service, and were rarely backed by

actual policies, but they allowed political leaders to maintain a certain fa¸cade of

respectability. This fa¸cade is no longer.

THE CAMPAIGN

Yisrael Beitainu’s aggressive anti-Palestinian campaign triggered a race of

ethnic out-bidding that dragged all Jewish parties, anxious to capture the

nationalist vote, toward more hard-line positions.

4 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

The short campaign began immediately after Israel’s massive attack on Gaza,

during which the Jewish public and media closed ranks behind the military.

The massive destruction and death inflicted on Gaza were considered by most

a “proper response” to Hamas’s continuous rocket attacks on Israeli civilians

following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Strip, as well as to the anti-Israeli

and anti-Jewish Islamic discourses that accompanied the shelling. The subsequent

siege imposed on the Strip and the ongoing Israeli violence against Gaza

(where hundreds had been killed even before Operation Cast Lead began)were

excluded from public debate, where the main sentiment was revenge against

a demonized Hamas.

Driven by widespread militarism, most parties emphasized their nationalist

resolve and toughness at the expense of debating burning issues concerning

Israeli society, such as the widespread corruption that had toppled outgoing

Prime Minster Ehud Olmert; the rapid neoliberalization of the economy and

the resultant growing socioeconomic gaps; a pending economic recession; an

acute water crisis; and persistent structural problems within the state’s land

and education systems.

“Security,” then, became a euphemism for the most anti-Arab (phrased

as “anti-enemy”) measures, which—as is typical in ethnocratic societies—

trumped all other issues. “Security” could now justify nearly any measure

impinging on the Arab populations—road blocks, marriage laws, budget allocations,

land policies, even military intervention in civil policy-making. It

exposed the working of the “creeping apartheid” system on both sides of the

Green Line, where such measureswere tailored to fit the differing legal status of

the Palestinians, while serving the same purpose of ethnic control. Apartheid

has not been declared or legislated by Israel; rather, it constitutes a series of

thickening practices, regulations, laws, and acts of violence used for separating

Jews from Arabs and for preserving Jewish superiority. The (mainly liberal)

Jewish opposition to these processes appears unable to change substantially

this course of events.

Under such circumstances, security became the only substantive issue to be

“debated” in a particularly unidimensional campaign. This played right into the

hands of colonialists and nationalists, at the expense of liberals and socialists.

Here are a few telling examples from the campaign:

_ Ehud Barak, leading the centrist Labor party (putatively a leading force

for continuing the peace process), repeatedly flagged his militaristic

background as a major electoral asset. At one point, Barak, who since

his failure at the Camp David talks of 2000 has led an aggressively

hard-line position vis-'a-vis the Palestinians, accused Lieberman of “never

having shot an Arab” and promised his voters to “annihilate terrorists

on their toilet seats.”9

_ Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israel’s prime minister, and his Likud party

repeatedly delegitimized their main rival—Kadima’s leader Tzipi

VOTING FOR APARTHEID: THE 2009 ISRAELI ELECTIONS 5

Livni—by bombarding the public with messages that “she is weak on

security” and “the job is too big for her,” alluding also to the “natural”

weakness of women in facing security challenges.10

_ One of Netanyahu’s main campaign calling cards was “reminding” the

public of his accurate warning about the missile launching capabilities

of Hamas following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Only Likud can

prevent the repetition of such an outcome, he promised, neglecting to

mention that he voted for the Gaza “disengagement” while serving as a

senior minister in Ariel Sharon’s government.

_ Even small leftist parties adopted nationalistic advertising: the liberal

Meretz party took the slogan “we shall not compromise,” while the

Green Movement claimed “Only we can guard the homeland.”

_ The four main religious parties competed in their claims to best serve

the Judaization agenda in its religious, settlement, and military guises.

Particularly aggressive was Eli Yishai, leader of the Mizrahi (Eastern

Jewish) party, who declared during the Gaza invasion: ”We had a great

opportunity in Gaza to smash and flatten them . . . to destroy thousand of

houses, tunnels and industries, and kill as many terrorists as possible.”11

_ All the main religious parties during the campaign supported further

measures of control over the Arabs in Israel, regarding them (routinely)

as part of Israel’s “enemies within.”12 Much attention was focused on

Umm al-Fahm, a large Arab town whose mayors have long come from

the ranks of the Islamic movements, which became a target for religious

anti-Arab campaigning, nationalist marching, and ongoing provocation.13

Ironically, the militaristic mood caused by the Gaza invasion backfired

against its architects—the ruling Kadima and particularly the Labor party, which

at least in rhetoric supports the peace process. The Jewish public adopted

Barak’s hard line against Hamas, but then (logically) decided to strengthen the

“real” militaristic alternative—the colonialist Right. Another irony was that in

the name of “democracy” the Israeli elections, which were neither general

nor free, put in power a colonialist bloc bent on deepening the “creeping

apartheid” process even while vowing to remove the democratically elected

Hamas government.

THE RESULTS

Thirty-four parties ran in the 2009 elections, but only twelve managed to

clear the 1.5-percent threshold needed to put members in the Knesset. None

of the twenty-four parties that failed to enter parliament crossed the 1-percent

mark. The overall turnout was 3.4 million, or 65.2 percent of eligible voters—

higher by 2 percentage points than the 2006 elections.

6 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

The Jewish Home party split from National Union during the 2009 campaign.

∗∗As became clear in 2005, when the Likud split into two equal parts, Likud voters in the 2003

elections straddled the colonialist-ethnographic divide, with half the Likud MKs elected that year

favoring Sharon’s line officially supporting a two-state solution and the other half sticking to traditional

Likud positions.

Table 1 shows the results of the last four Knesset elections. It was between

the 2003 and 2006 elections that the Kadima partywas formed, following a split

within the Likud. The split had its roots in the 2003 elections, when then prime

minister and Likud party chairman Ariel Sharon ran on a platform supporting

the American “road map,” which officially (if not practically) advocated the establishment

of a Palestinian state. This position, which contradicted the Likud’s

platformand charter, later caused the party’s rupture into two equal parts (nineteen

MKs each).14 Later, in November 2005, the splitting Likud members were

joined by three Labor MKs (including Shimon Peres) and several independent

personalities to form the Kadima party.

Israeli election results can be mapped in manyways, but the most prominent

perspective reflects public attitudes on the Zionist-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli

conflicts. From that perspective, the Israeli body politic can be divided into

three main blocs—colonialist, ethnocratic, and democratic (see below).15

VOTING FOR APARTHEID: THE 2009 ISRAELI ELECTIONS 7

Figure 1. Blocs in Israeli Elections, 1988–2009.

The parties listed in Table 1 are arranged according to these three categories,

while Figure 1 shows graphically how the three blocs have fared since 1988.

A brief description of each bloc follows.

_ The colonialist bloc includes the Likud as well as all the major Jewish

religious and settler parties. These parties oppose the establishment of a

Palestinian state, support the ongoing colonization of the West Bank,

reject any division of Jerusalem or the return to Israel of any Palestinian

refugees, and promote the deepening of Israel’s Jewish character. In the

2009 election this bloc rose dramatically from 50 to 65 seats (of 120

Knesset seats)—a surge of 30 percent. In a dialectical manner, the rise

of the colonialist bloc was propelled by the recent prominence of

Hamas in Palestinian politics and its violent takeover of Gaza. It was also

augmented by the pervasive self-serving argument among Israeli

political and military elites that “there is no Palestinian partner for

peace,” and by the parallel lack of progress in the futile “peace process,”

led by the Bush administration.

_ The ethnocratic bloc includes mainly “centrist” parties, notably Labor

and Kadima, which split from Likud in 2005, officially on grounds of the

need to reach a two-state solution. Ethnocratic parties (nominally)

support a two-state solution but are ambivalent about West Bank

settlements; they recognize “the need” to evacuate settlements, but

attempt to preserve most within future adjusted Israeli borders; parties

in the ethnocratic bloc maintain that Israel remains a Jewish and

Judaizing state; support programs of deepening internal Jewish control;

they wish to maintain the marginalized status of the Arab citizens, while

declaring their commitment to democracy. This bloc declined sharply

8 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

from 52 to 41 seats—a drop of 22 percent—after winning a historic

majority in the 2006 elections, the first where a majority in the Israeli

parliament supported the establishment of a Palestinian state.16

_ The democratic bloc includes mainly the small leftist-liberal Zionist

party Meretz, the mixed Arab-Jewish socialist party al-Jabha

al-Dimuqratiyya lil-Salam wal-Musawa (the Democratic Front for

Peace and Equality; Hadash), and the Arab parties al-Tajammu‘

al-Watani al-Dimuqrati (the National Democratic Assembly; Balad) and

al-Muwahida (Ra’am-Ta’al). These parties support a fully independent

Palestinian state alongside Israel on all the occupied territories,

including East Jerusalem; oppose any Jewish settlements beyond the

state borders; oppose the siege on Gaza; advocate a “state of all

citizens” (instead of a Jewish state); and promote collective rights for

the Palestinian citizens.

The dramatic rise of the colonialist bloc, which has reached its highest level in

two decades, is readily discernible in Figure 1.

The 2009 results highlight two further points—the persisting power of the

politics of identity (or ethnicity) and class, and the nationalization trend within

the Palestinian minority. First, the Israeli public is deeply divided along ethnic

lines, with the politics of identity playing a crucial role in electoral preferences.

This is typical of ethnocratic societies, where ethnicity becomes a major source

of power and resources and is preserved as a major public issue through unceasing

political entrepreneurship. In this election, the “Russian vote” (that is, the

preferences of the 1.2 million Russian speakers nowliving in Israel) has had the

most notable impact with the rise of Yisrael Beitainu, where nine of its fifteen

MKs are Russian immigrants. All religious parties have strong ethnic character,

and while their representation fell by 8 percent, they remain a major power bloc

of twenty-five Knesset members committed to strong, state-centered identity

politics. This bloc includes the explicitly Mizrahi (Eastern Jewish) party (Shas),

and Ashkenazi (European Jewish) parties such as the ultra-Orthodox Yahadut

Hatora (Tora Judaism) and Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), and to a great

extent also HaI’chud Hale’umi (National Unity). Israel’s three “main” parties

(Likud, Kadima, and Labor) refrain from flagging an explicit ethnic identity,

although Likud has traditionally been supported by the massive Mizrahi group,

while Labor and Kadima are associated with the strong Ashkenazi support.

But ethnicity must be coupled with class and geography to explain the voting.

In general, the lower the income of the group and the more peripheral

its geographic location, the more “ethnic” its vote. A good illustration exists in

the twenty-seven peripheral “development” towns and cities, which accommodate

nearly a million residents, the majority of whom are low-income Mizrahim

and Russians. As shown in Figure 2, the two main ethnic parties—Shas and

Yisrael Beitainu—received twice the level of support from the development

towns that they did statewide. Conversely, Labor and Kadima, which represent

VOTING FOR APARTHEID: THE 2009 ISRAELI ELECTIONS 9

Figure 2. Voting in the Development Towns, 2009.

mainly the Ashkenazi middle classes and which generally support a “Western

agenda” of secular liberalization and globalization, did very poorly in the development

towns, receiving about half the level of their statewide support.

The Likud, which traditionally represents lower-to-middle-income Mizrahi,

Ashkenazi, and (to some extent) Russian groups, polled strongly in these towns.

THE ARAB VOTE

The vote among Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens caused considerable

interest, not only because of rightist demands to link “loyalty” and citizenship

rights (Figure 3), but also because of two parallel campaigns: the first

attempted to disqualify Arab parties, while the second (coming from an opposite

political end) lobbied to boycott the elections. Both initiatives appear

to have failed, although they are likely to have some long-term effects. Two of

the three main parties among the Palestinian voters—Balad and al-Muwahida—

were disqualified by the Central Electoral Committee for allegedly breaching

the law prohibiting any electoral campaign against Israel’s “Jewish and democratic”

nature and/or supporting an “armed struggle” against the state. The

parties were reinstated following an appeal to the High Court of Justice.

Attempts to disqualify the Arab parties are not new. These attempts have

become a ritual in the lead-up to recent Israeli elections and have the obvious

intention of weakening Arab parties and possibly forcing them out of the

Knesset. However, the openly racist campaign by Yisrael Beitainu and other

parties such as HaI’chud HaLe’umi and Likud caused a strong reaction from minority

leaders. The main rallying call among all Palestinian citizens was “vote

10 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

Figure 3. Voting Patterns among Palestinian Citizens.

to stop Lieberman!” The following advertisement of the largest Arab party, al-

Muwahida, which incorporates part of the (“southern”) Islamic Movement,was

posted in most Palestinian localities. It illustrates clearly the common message

of jointly fighting against al-fashiyya (fascism).

Hence, the Lieberman campaign, ironically, caused a surge in Arab interest

in the elections. This momentum thwarted the campaign by the more radical

(“northern”) branch of the Islamic Movement to boycott the ballot box. The

main arguments used by the boycotterswere that Arab participation in the vote

gave the Zionist state a measure of legitimacy and that Arab MKs are denied any

real influence. While most Arab voters probably agree with both arguments,

they apparently felt that a minority cannot afford to give up its parliamentary

representation, which gives them a public and even international voice. Most

Palestinians in Israel attempt to use and protect their citizenship, and they see

the Knesset elections as one possible way to advance both goals. Still, Figure 3

shows a steady, if slow, decline in participation, signaling a process of disillusion

and disengagement.17

Figure 3 shows that the main response to the setting described above was

the nationalization of Arab vote, with some 85 percent choosing non-Zionist

(pro-Palestinian) parties. This intensifies the trend evident since the 1970s of

greater electoral polarization between Jews and Arabs, which in turn reflects

a parallel process of growing political assertiveness as well as disappointment

and disengagement from the ethnocratic and discriminatory Jewish state. The

vast majority of Arab voters for Zionist parties came from the Druze community,

which has traditionally been aligned with Zionism, serves in the army, and declares

repeatedly its support for the Israeli state. The last elections showed that

this affiliation continues unabated. Palestinian support for other Jewish parties,

VOTING FOR APARTHEID: THE 2009 ISRAELI ELECTIONS 11

such as Kadima, Labor, and Meretz, which traditionally polled reasonably well

within the community, has virtually disappeared.

These trends were most evident among the Bedouin Arabs of the southern

Beersheba region. This community numbers around 180,000 citizens, half of

whom reside in unrecognized villages and towns (mainly on their ancestral

lands). The Bedouins have staged a long and bitter land struggle against the

Israeli state, which has officially confiscated most of their lands and attempted

to forcibly urbanize them. The Bedouins were once considered relatively close

to the Israeli state and even had relatively high rates of conscription to the

Israeli army. This has radically changed in the last decade, with processes of

Islamization and Palestinianization rapidly advancing, and with a growing sense

of disengagement from the Jewish state. The 2009 elections confirmed these

trends, with only 36 percent of eligible Bedouin casting votes—the lowest rate

in the entire country. Further, the Islamic-affliated Muwahida party received a

massive majority of 73 percent among those who voted, illustrating the weight

of its influence and the growing gap between this dispossessed community and

the Jewish state.18

Competition among Palestinian parties became less important under the

polarizing circumstances of this election but is nonetheless noteworthy. The

general balance of power between traditional/Islamic elements represented by

al-Muwahida (32 percent), the socialist line advocated by the Hadash party (27.3

percent), and the nationalist emphasis of Balad (22.3 percent) was maintained.

Hadash, which is also noted for stressing socialist Arab-Jewish cooperation,

received about 16,000 Jewish votes, its highest record ever. Hence, a small

rise was registered in the support for a socialist orientation, and a similarly

small decline in support for the national agenda of Balad, possibly due to the

absence of its charismatic founder, Dr. ‘Azmi Bishara.19 Geographically, the

voting highlighted once again the strong association between the traditional

Muwahida party and rural and Bedouin areas, mainly in the “Triangle” and

Negev regions. At the same time, socialist and nationalist streams polled better

in urban and traditionally communist and socialist towns and among the middle

classes and intellectual elites.

CONSEQUENCES

What are the likely consequences of these elections on the Zionist-

Palestinian conflict and the broader Middle East? Predictions, difficult in the

best of times, are even more so now with the prospects of a changed tenor

of Middle Eastern politics under an Obama presidency. On the Israeli scene,

Netanyahu’s colonialist government, with the legitimizing addition of the ethnocratic

Labor party, is likely to move cautiously in the near future while maintaining

military and economic pressure on Hamas and possibly reaching for an

agreement with Syria. Palestinian politics will also play a role, particularly the

attempts to bridge the Hamas-Fatah rift and the upcoming elections for a new

PA president.

12 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

Beyond short-termpolitical patterns, the 2009 elections clarified some structural

processes. First and foremost, they revealed that there are no barriers to

the Jewish electorate’s re-adoption of a colonialist strategy. Of course, this

is not new: the Likud, after all, led Israeli politics with an openly colonialist

agenda during the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, the current shift follows

two major attempts to move in the opposite direction: the Labor-led Oslo

process of the 1990s, and the Labor and Kadima vision of unilateral retreats

(first Lebanon, then Gaza and Olmert’s aborted plan to “consolidate” in the

West Bank), as part of the road map and the Annapolis process. These agendas

appear to have failed, and the Israeli voter has returned to the option of violent

control over the Palestinians, with increased Jewish settlement of theWest

Bank and an added emphasis on imposing tighter control over the Palestinians

within the Green Line.

Nonetheless, opinion polls still show continuous support among most

Israelis for peace, and even a two-to-one majority for handing over most territories

to a peaceful Palestinian government. At the same time, however, a majority

continues to believe that Israel has “no partner” for peace, and that under these

conditions, Israeli control over these territories should be maintained.20 But history

does not stand still awaiting the “right” Palestinian leadership, and the momentum

of colonization, with its growing infrastructure of settlements, walls,

ethnic roads, and ghettoization of Palestinians, continues unabated. By the end

of 2008, 467,000 Jews resided in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem);

their municipal areas spread over 44 percent of this area.

Vitally, under these demographic and geographic circumstances, the return

to openly colonialist and apartheid agendas may signal the end of the two-state

solution. This vision, in any case, may no longer be possible to implement,

given the power of the Jewish settlers (not only in terms of transforming the

geography of the West Bank but also in terms of their hold on Israeli politics)

and the growing Israeli polarization with regard to Palestinians, who

would continue to violently and politically resist this order. In addition, the

deepening of anti-Palestinian sentiments within “Israel proper” has further polarized

Arab and Jewish parties inside the Green Line to an extent that no

political cooperation between them appears likely in the near future. Arab parties

have sharpened their messages of resistance and received a record share

of the Arab vote, differentiating themselves sharply from all current Zionist

politics except for the diminutive liberal left. The absence of a joint Arab-

Jewish anticolonialist bloc will further diminish the chances of the two-state

solution.

It is clear, therefore, that, as is expected in colonial situations, a fundamental

change cannot be generated from the internal politics of the ruling state.

Israeli-Jewish politics are trapped in a web of ethnic, materialist, property, militarist,

religious, and class interests that preserve the current distorted “creeping

apartheid” process. Given this paralysis, Israel will probably attempt to shift

the focus of Middle Eastern politics to the Iranian nuclear program or even to

negotiations with Syria.

VOTING FOR APARTHEID: THE 2009 ISRAELI ELECTIONS 13

Given the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians, a serious external effort is

needed to reshape the future of Israel/Palestine. This includes the mobilization

of the international arena, both among governments and civil societies, to take

stronger measures against Israel’s unlawful colonial control over the Palestinians.

In this regard, another and perhaps more fundamental change is needed

within the democratic camp. The rise of Hamas represents a new/old anticolonial

vision, but its call for the imposition Islamic rule over Israel/Palestine,

possibly by violent means, may simply represent a reverse type of colonialism.

This agenda has also caused immense suffering among the Palestinians, as it

has legitimized in the eyes of many Israelis their violent control of the territories.

Other groups and interests have begun to develop different alternatives,

based on nonviolent struggle for democracy in Israel/Palestine. Such efforts

should now constitute the most urgent matter for those working for the genuine

welfare and security of all residents between the Jordan River and the

Mediterranean Sea, in order to seriously challenge the “creeping apartheid”

process made explicit during the 2009 Israeli elections.

See NOTES at original paper

 
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