Voters in Israel have gone to the polls for the third time in less than twelve months to elect the 23rd Knesset (parliament) in the country’s history. They have suffered from political stalemate for the past year and more. Caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government in the April and September elections, with neither his right-wing Likud party nor his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White bloc winning a majority; both struggled to form a coalition with smaller parties. Former General Gantz favours a national unity government with Likud, but only if it rids itself of Netanyahu because of the indictments for corruption that he faces.
Exit polls suggest that Likud will win the most seats, but still one short of the 61 needed to form a majority government. At the time of writing, and with 90 per cent of the votes counted, Likud is actually two seats short of a majority.
A Palestinian Authority official has slammed the outcome already, stating that it’s obvious that illegal settlements, occupation and apartheid have won. “Netanyahu’s campaign was about the continuation of the occupation and conflict, which will force the people of the region to live by the sword: the continuation of violence, extremism and chaos,” tweeted chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
As far as Hamas is concerned, all Israeli officials and parties are part of a Zionist colonial project that was established at the expense of the Palestinians. “Whoever leads the new government will not change our stance,” said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, “and we will continue the path of resistance and struggle for the liberation of our occupied land.”
A spokesman for Palestinian Islamic Jihad said that the election results will not change the fact that resistance is a legitimate right long as the occupation persists. “The Palestinian people have paid a heavy price due to ongoing terrorism practised by all Israeli governments,” said Daud Shehab. “We do not count on any change in Israeli policy whether before or after the election results.”
If Netanyahu does not win a majority, it could mean the end of his political career. In January, he filed for immunity from being prosecuted on charges of corruption and bribery, but four weeks later withdrew the request. He goes on trial 17 March charged with fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
On Sunday, a day before the election, the embattled Prime Minister pledged to annex key parts of the occupied West Bank within weeks if re-elected. It was a desperate last-minute bid for votes. He added that he is not concerned with the threats and rejectionist stance taken by the PA and Jordan against the US peace deal.
Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, with 13 years in office. He has been leading the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history and relies heavily on the support of the extremist settlers and Jewish movements; people like far-right Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, for example, who declared, “We will not give an inch of the land of Israel to the Arabs — Palestinians — but, for that, we must build [settlements] there.” All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
“Greedy to cling to power,” is how Netanyahu’s detractors describe him as he vies for a fifth term in office. He has been trying to impress his supporters by creating and promising to overcome fears at one and the same time. The Palestinians are, of course, the bogeyman in this game, along with Iran’s nuclear programme.
The Joint Arab List, an alliance of Arab parties representing the significant Palestinian minority in Israel, urged voters to go to the polls in the hope of securing at least 16 seats in the 120-seat parliament; it won 13 seats in September. About one million Palestinian citizens of Israel are eligible to vote, out of 6.5 million Israelis. They believe that they are subjected to “racist polices” by the government, most notably the Jewish Nation State Law introduced in 2018. There are also concerns about land and population transfers if Trump’s “peace plan” goes ahead. Serious political representation is important if their voice is to be heard on this and other matters of importance.
The Palestinians whose fate is tied to developments in the country that is colonising their land show little interest in the Israeli election, not least because none of the candidates have said anything about ending the decades of military occupation. Nevertheless, according to Husam Al-Dajani, a political science lecturer at Al-Ummah University in Gaza, the Palestinians still monitor what’s happening in the occupation state.
“In light of the unofficial truce between Hamas and Israel,” he explained to me, “Netanyahu could be better off by improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, whereas Gantz threatens to wage a large military operation if he wins. Even if such threats are more psychological than anything else, it is clear that the fate of the Palestinians will be determined by whoever wins the election.”
Other experts do not rule out the possibility of Israel needing yet another election to break the deadlock. That would probably mean that Netanyahu could stay on as caretaker Prime Minister and use the Palestinians yet again to increase his chances of winning.
Netanyahu, explained the director general of the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, enjoys big support despite the corruption charges simply because of the colonial nature of the state of Israel. “We do not think we are going to see real positive changes in favour of Palestinians,” added Hani Al-Masri. “On the contrary, more extreme policies might be adopted.”
The coming hours will reveal if a political breakthrough has been made in Israel. Netanyahu’s future will almost certainly depend on this, but the Palestinians will observe just out of curiosity. Their future might be linked to the Israeli leadership, but the likely winners and losers are simply two sides of the same coin. The occupation will continue, no matter who forms the next government in Israel.
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