Israeli elections: Palestinians caught between hard-right terrorists and violent 'centrists'

Israeli elections: Palestinians caught between hard-right terrorists and violent 'centrists'
Analysis: Perceptions that the Gantz-Lapid alliance could form a 'softer' government are not based on the political and military history of the two politicians, but on Israel's normalisation of violence.
4 min read
22 February, 2019
All of the main contenders are pro-settlement [AFP]
With elections in Israel nearing, the main contenders for power in Tel Aviv have each formed alliances, believing their mergers will help them boost their chances of winning.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister famous for his anti-Palestinian rhetoric, managed to shock many even on the reight wing of Israeli politics by partnering up with far-right Jewish supremacist political parties who follow the teachings of convicted terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Despite Kahane's assassination 30 years ago, Netanyahu is pushing the rabbi's ideology by partnering with extremist parties Otzama Yehudit ["Jewish Power"] and Habayit Hayehudi ["Jewish Home"], who believe in inducing another Nakba to get rid of the remaining Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The day after Netanyahu's announcement, Israel's "centrists" united against the prime minister and his terrorist alliance in what was by many in Israel viewed as a move to save the country from a fringe coalition of racists, for a potential government that at the very least might not have genocidal sentiments.

Read more: Israel's 'centrists' unite against Netanyahu's 'terrorist alliance'

On Thursday, Benny Gantz, a former Israeli military chief of staff, and politican Yair Lapid who is described as a centrist, announced they would form a joint list for the April 9 election. If they won, they would each take turns in serving as prime minister.

Palestinians and the revival of a peace process are the last things on the minds of Israeli politicians. This is a battle for power

Gantz, Netanyahu's strongest rival despite only entering politics a month ago, is being portrayed as an anti-corruption moderate with a proudly violent military history - which includes his role in the brutal 2006 invasion of Lebanon and leading Operation Cast Lead, which left at least 1,400 children dead among the more than 2,000 Palestinians killed.

In January, his party - Israel Resilience - released a video bragging of the more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths caused by 2014's Operation Protective Edge. It was painted as a success for Gantz as chief of staff. "1,364 Hamas terrorists were dissolved," the official campaign said.

The UN's Human Rights Committee disputes those figures, saying that, of the 2,251 death toll, 1,462 were civilians killed by Israel.

Gantz was tied with Netanyahu, who is facing multiple and wide-ranging corruption investigations, in opinion polls that were held days after he gave a speech promising to oust the prime minister while keeping a strong military presence on occupied Palestinian land.

His now partner, Yair Lapid, also described as a centrist, believes in order for the two-state-solution to stay alive, Palestinians must recognise the illegal settlement blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim, which would be officially annexed by Israel, as opposed to the de facto annexation the settlement blocs currently enjoy.

Lapid's standpoint on the nonviolent Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement is similar to Netanyahu's: he believes the BDS movement is an anti-Semitic conspiracy by the "haters of Israel" and, he believes, can be traced back to the creation of the UN's UNRWA agency, which was created to help the survivors of the 1948 Nakba.

While Netanyahu has taken his extremism out in the open and has undoubtedly crossed all lines by forming an alliance with a terrorist-sympathising group, to think the Gantz-Lapid alliance would be any less brutal on Palestinians is ultimately false.

"Palestinians and the revival of a peace process are the last things on the minds of Israeli politicians. This is a battle for power," Professor Kamel Hawwash, a British/Palestinian writer and academic told The New Arab

"On the one hand, [there is] an even more extremist coalition around Netanyahu that includes the joint Jewish Home-Jewish Power list, that lists among its members Benzi Gopstein, the leader of the extremist anti-assimilation group, Lehava. On the other hand, you have a new joint list headed by former military Chief Bennie Gantz and former finance minister and leader of Yish Atid, Yair Lapid."

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, the situation still looks grim regardless of who wins. "While the Gantz-Lapid joint list may be a little more tolerant of Israeli Arabs than Netanyahu's cesspit of extremism, the situation for the 20 percent of Israel citizens is hardly going to improve."

Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe also said the picture for Palestinians remains bleak in both scenarios, with rhetoric being the only true difference between the two governments when it comes to their treatment of Palestinians.

"It seems that for the first time since 2009, Netanyahu is faced with a serious challenge and his past easy victories would not be repeated this time. Still, he can still make, because what matters in Israel are the blocs and he still heads a larger bloc than that of his challengers", he told The New Arab.

"Should they win, not much is going to change on the Palestine question. The rhetoric would be a bit softer but the actions on the ground would be the same and because of it the great danger is more international immunity to the Jewish state to continue its policy of destroying Palestine and its people", he added.