By Ramzy Baroud
Experience has taught Palestinians not to pay heed to Israeli elections. But every rule has its exception.
Although it is still true that no Israeli Zionist leader has ever been kind to the Palestinian people, the dynamics of last week’s Israeli elections are likely to affect the Occupied Territories in a profound way.
Indeed, the outcome of the elections seems to have ushered in a new age in Israel, ideologically and politically. But the same claim can also be made regarding its potential influence on Palestinians, who should now brace themselves for war in Gaza and annexation in the West Bank.
Former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Force Benny Gantz, who orchestrated the destructive war on the besieged Gaza Strip in 2014, is likely to be tasked with the job of forming Israel’s new government. Gantz in January boasted about sending “parts of Gaza back to the Stone Age.”
There is little discussion in the Israeli and, by extension, Western media of Gantz’s numerous alleged war crimes during the Gaza conflict. The focus is mainly placed on the fact that he seems to have finally dislodged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the position he has held for a total of nearly 13 years — a scenario that was, until recently, deemed inconceivable.
The leader of the Blue and White alliance had plotted the ouster of Netanyahu back in January 2018, when he formed the Israel Resilience Party. Following several political mergers and a strong showing in the previous elections in April, the centrist politician has finally edged past Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.
With 33 seats in the Israeli Knesset compared to Likud’s 31, Gantz now needs a broad coalition to rule Israel. The vehemently anti-Palestinian politician has made it clear that he will not enter into a coalition with the Joint List, the alliance of various Palestinian political parties. The latter managed to achieve an outstanding 13 seats, making it the third-largest political force in Israel.
But, according to Gantz’s previous statements, including Arab parties in any coalition he leads is out of the question, despite the fact that Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, on Sunday recommended him for prime minister.
Odeh said the Joint List’s endorsement was “a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab-Palestinian citizens.” But, even with the Arab parties’ backing, Gantz would still fall short of a majority, as he would only be guaranteed a maximum of 57 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Gantz’s Blue and White subsequently “downplayed the endorsement” because, according to the Jerusalem Post, not all Joint List members agreed with Odeh’s decision.
It is now likely that Gantz will seek a coalition government that includes Likud, along with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. Lieberman, the country’s ultranationalist former defense minister, has restored his previous “kingmaker” status by winning eight seats. He, too, is keen on such a coalition. Gantz is open to such a scenario, with one condition: Netanyahu should stay out.
While the “king of Israel” has finally been dethroned, Palestinians have little to rejoice over. True, Netanyahu has destroyed any chance of a just peace in Palestine through the entrenching of the illegal military occupation and inhumane siege of Gaza. However, future possibilities are equally grim, if not more so.
Once upon a time, the outright discussion of annexing large parts of the Occupied Territories was restricted to the margins of Israel’s political discourse. This is no longer the case. The call for annexing major illegal settlement blocs, along with the Jordan Valley, is now a common demand made by all of Israel’s main political parties, including the Blue and White.
Gantz has repeatedly made it clear that he would be strengthening, rather than dismantling, the illegal settlements in the West Bank, and has even attempted to take ownership of Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley. “We are happy that the prime minister has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognize the Jordan Valley,” Gantz’s party said in a statement shortly before election day.
The annexation of these areas would amount to illegally seizing more than 60 percent of the West Bank. Given that Israel has successfully normalized the concept of annexation in its own political discourse — and that it has already received an American nod on the matter — it is just a matter of time before such a step takes place.
The likelihood of it taking place sooner rather than later is suggested by the fact that a broad center-right, ultranationalist coalition would serve as an insurance to Israel’s leadership in case of a political or security fallout once the decision is taken and enforced. That political insurance simply means that no single party or official would bear the blame or shoulder the consequences alone, should Palestinians rebel or the international community push back against the flagrant Israeli violation of international law.
The same logic is applicable to the case of a future war on Gaza. Israel has been itching for a major military campaign in Gaza since its last onslaught in 2014. Since then, Gaza has been bombed numerous times, and hundreds of innocent lives have been lost. But Netanyahu steered clear of an all-out war, fearing a high death toll among his soldiers and the blame game that often follows such military misadventures.
Mandated by a large coalition, bringing together Israeli army generals, right-wing politicians and ideologues, Gantz would feel far more empowered to go to war, especially since the former military chief has repeatedly accused Netanyahu of being “weak” on Gaza, “terrorism” and security.
If a future war goes as planned, Gantz would be happy to claim the accolades of victory; if it does not due to Gaza’s stiff resistance, the political damage is likely to remain minimal.
When it comes to war, Gantz is Netanyahu on steroids. He has participated in, orchestrated or led many military campaigns, including ones aimed at suppressing any resistance in Gaza, in Lebanon and during the previous popular uprisings. For Gantz, war is the answer, as indicated by one of his campaign slogans: “Only the strong survive.”
While it is typical, and understandable, to dismiss all Israeli governments as one and the same, a Gantz-led coalition would possess the needed political legitimacy, popular mandate and strategic tools to achieve what Netanyahu himself couldn’t: A new war on Gaza and annexation of the West Bank.