Israel’s election this Tuesday has again resulted in a deadlock, posing the possibility for the most Ultra-Right wing Israeli government in history, to be led by Benjamin Netanyahu, or perhaps a fifth round of elections in only two years.
Whatever the result of the elections, one thing is for sure, Netanyahu will likely remain Israeli Prime Minister. If current Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is to form a government, it will be done with some of the most far-right wing parties to have ever entered the Knesset, coming at the expense of Israeli minority communities and the Palestinians.
Using his political savvy, Premier Netanyahu had been able to divide the Israeli political opposition blocs opposing him and pave the way to an election result by which his Likud party is projected to secure over 30 seats, whilst his largest competitors remain in teen digits. But in order to form a government and save the trouble of bringing Israel to its fifth round of elections in two years, Netanyahu must utilize the ultra-right to get him there.
The parties with which he has aligned himself are a string of ultra-right wing religious Zionist parties, the most concerning of which is the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party. Jewish Power is led by a man named Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of promoting racism and supporting a terror group. Ben-Gvir has represented Israeli settlers as an attorney, defending them in cases where they had committed attacks against Palestinians; he also has called for the expulsion of all Arab’s from Israel; and he is a hard-line supporter of Israel’s illegal settlements. Jewish Power is so extreme that even the pro-Israel and pro-Netanyahu AIPAC Lobby Group have condemned the group as “racist and reprehensible”.
The leader of the Religious Zionist Party, which ‘Jewish Power’ falls under the banner of, is a man named Bezalel Smotrich, who had once proposed segregated maternity wards so that Jewish women didn’t have to give birth near Arabs. Smotrich has been accused of racism several times before, and since then, also holding strong anti-LGBT beliefs.
The reason why the rise of the Religious Zionist Party is a major issue, which is projected to have outperformed at the polls, is due to their sway with Likud Party leader Netanyahu. Even if we look at Netanyahu’s victory speech early this Wednesday morning, he spoke of a peace deal not including uprooting of Jews from their homelands – referring to illegal settlers in the West Bank. A similar sentiment was offered in response to the ICC decision to investigate potential Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories, as Netanyahu framed the removal of illegal settlers, as a racist act of ethnic cleansing committed against the rightful owners of the West Bank – or as he calls it “Judea and Sumaria”.
Netanyahu’s speech, following the initial election result projections, was filled with threats to never allow Iran to pursue nuclear weapons and called for those who support the values he is standing on to come over to form a government. In the course of his speech he outlined that his values were creating normalisation deals with Arab countries, leading on the COVID-19 issue, confronting Iran and confronting the ICC decision.
It is important to note that despite the fact that Palestinians are almost unavoidable as an issue for Israel, the talk about Palestinians was almost nowhere to be seen. In fact, Netanyahu did not mention the issue of Palestine or the Palestinians once.
What is perhaps more concerning, is that with the likes of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir occupying places in government, it is likely that Palestinians will suffer even worse under the new Likud-led Knesset.
Another largely ignored piece of the puzzle here, demonstrating the level of racism present in Israeli politics, is the fact that the ‘United Arab List’ led by Mansour Abbas could potentially break Israel’s political deadlock. Mansour Abbas outperformed the polls, potentially securing his party 5 seats in the Knesset, and has also stated that he will not rule out working with Netanyahu. If Netanyahu was to include the United Arab List in his government, he would meet the 61 seat requirement to take power and avoid a disastrous fifth round of elections, but refuses to allow an Arab Party to be in government.
Every Israeli government in history has been a coalition of different Parties, yet an Arab Party has never been included nor has there been any push to attempt to convince them to join. Now we have an Arab Party – which is a party of Palestinians with Israeli citizenships – which is actually open to the prospect of joining and we may see Netanyahu risk going to another round of elections rather than work with them. If this does not demonstrate racism, it is unclear what does.
Right now, 2,100 Palestinians are under threat of expulsion from their homes in the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, in East Jerusalem, due to the efforts of illegal settler organisations. If the decision to expel residents in these areas are implemented this year, it will amount to the largest act of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem on record after 1967.
With such staunch supporters of the some 700,000 Israeli settlers in occupied territories being in government, we could also expect a push for a large settlement expansion program. Whilst Palestinians inside Israel could well see further tyrannical policies placed against them, in the Gaza Strip it seems that there will be no solution presented any time soon.
All this whilst the US Biden administration sits by silently, defending Israel at every turn, and attempting to shield them from the coming ICC investigation into Israeli war crimes. It seems that the approach of giving lip service to anti-racism causes does not extend beyond the borders of the United States for Joe Biden, especially with over half of all Democrats in the US now believing that their country should place more pressure on Israel.
It is clear that Israel is heading further away from any possible two-State solution, or indeed any solution with the Palestinian people, yet aid still remains unconditional from the US government. With such weak leadership and the shielding of Israel at every turn, it has now opened the door for countries like Russia and China to begin taking over from the US as the mediator between Palestinian groups and the Israelis.