Targeting Gaza: Israeli elections promise more of the same

Targeting Gaza: Israeli elections promise more of the same
7 min read
10 Aug, 2022
Israeli politicians have long used military attacks on Gaza as a tool to whip up support, with elections approaching this clearly continues to be the case, especially as voters and campaigners move further to the right, writes Ahmed Alnaouq.
Netanyahu is preparing to fight unabashedly to reassume the mantle of prime minister, writes Ahmed Alnaouq. [GETTY]

In November, Israel will undertake its fifth election in five years. After all this leadership turmoil, the concern is less about whether the right or the left will win the election, but rather, how far to the right the new government will shift. And, how this will affect the Palestinians.

So far the election appears to be similar to previous ones: right-wing Israeli incumbents direct the bombing of Gaza to prove to their electorate that they are strong enough to lead. The killing of 44 Palestinians during Israel’s latest bombardment on Gaza, is an all too painful example of this continued practice.

The rise of the Israeli right

The Israeli left, which laid the foundation for the Israeli government back in 1948, is barely on the political scene anymore. It started to lose ground when the first right-wing prime minister was elected in 1977. Menachem Begin, a radical Israeli right-wing fanatic and the first leader of the Likud party, transformed himself from an internationally classified terrorist to a “revolutionary” leader of Israel. Appallingly, this leader’s political and ideological dogma is now dominant in Israel.

''Israel’s leaders will compete to win votes by promising more robust plans for West Bank annexation, settlements expansion, collective punishment in Gaza, and destruction of Hamas. In many ways it matters little who the winner of the next election will be, because we know that the Palestinians will suffer regardless.''

Likud won the most seats in the recent elections, held in March 2021. However, its leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was serving as prime minister, couldn’t form a government in Israel’s parliamentary system because he was unable to build a coalition with enough support among the elected legislators. This led Naftali Bennett, head of the New Rights party, and Yair Lapid, leader of the liberal Yesh Atid party, to forge an agreement to each lead the government for two years, starting with Bennet as prime minister.

In this last election, right-wing religious parties won 72 out of 120 parliamentary seats—a clear majority, leaving the left and Arab Islamist parties with minimal control of the political scene. But this is nothing new; the left has shrunken consistently since Begin’s era, and the Arab parties have never had any real power.

Right-wing parties and leaders, demagogic by nature, gained their popularity by rallying people against Arabs, both in historic Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza. From the 1990s to 2000s, they had a clear agenda: thwart the Oslo peace process, prevent a further land “concession” to the Palestinians, and be tough on security. They called for expanding the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and resisted the disengagement from Gaza that occurred in 2005. 

Right-wing parties in Israel have always had a clearly hostile agenda against the Palestinians. But now, with the surrounding Arab countries once considered a threat to its existence beset by internal conflicts, political unrest, and entrenched autocrats, Israel’s right has grown stronger.

Already in 2018, the Israeli Democracy Index found that around 64% of Israeli Jews between the ages of 18-34 considered themselves as right-wing.

The growing gulf between the left and the right in Israel occurred partly over so-called security issues. The left was amenable to the peace process and willing to negotiate for a two-state solution that would give the Palestinians autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The right, however, has advocated for forcefully depriving the non-Jewish people between the river and the sea, i.e., preventing Palestinians from obtaining any kind of real state, removing the possibility of refugee return, and keeping Palestinian citizens of Israel in second-class status.

The stronger the right grows, the more it seeks to weaken the high court, and to shape legislation that further increases its power. For more than a decade, Netanyahu’s government targeted civil society by passing legislation against minorities, as well as the media and judiciary - institutions used to protest injustice.

Does the left exist in Israel?

In the Israeli context, ‘left’ is distinguished from right only in regard to socioeconomic policy. During Begin’s Likud leadership, the nation shifted from a controlled, more socialist economy, to a more capitalistic market. But there is no such clear divide between left and right in terms of Israel’s relations with Palestinians.

David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister and renowned Labour Party leader, led  vicious attacks on Palestinians culminating in the 1948 Nakba. One of his successors, Levi Eshkol, led Israel during the Naksa, the Six-Day War of 1967. Yitzhak Rabin, the later symbol and martyr of the Israeli peace movement, started his career with a militant group, the Palmach, and served through both the 1948 and 1967 wars, rising to chief of staff of the Israeli military. Early in his career, Shimon Peres, another icon of the peace movement, sponsored the first settlements in the West Bank.

In Israeli politics, the radical left — those who believe in genuine equality between Jews and Palestinians – has always been a tiny minority.

The politicians Rabin, Peres, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert, who represent a liberal left, were never genuinely committed to addressing the huge imbalances between Palestinians and Jews. From the mid-1990s until the mid-2000s they all professed their willingness to establish a Palestinian state. However, the state they envisioned would not be genuinely autonomous; it would be demilitarised, with Israel retaining control of its borders.

When the second Intifada started, the voices for a peaceful solution dwindled more than ever before, especially among the left-wing parties.

Moreover, Rabin and Peres did not sign the Oslo Accords because they desired to offer Palestinians equality, but because they wanted to separate Palestinians from Israelis. Their solution was to try to rid Israel of Palestinians in every way possible.

What the future holds

The current government, which was supposed to be one of change, made up of leftist parties - has been even harsher on Palestinians compared to the Netanyahu government. For example, it classified six Palestinian human rights organisations as terrorist entities; has endorsed and expedited the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and land in Masafer Yatta, and more Palestinian citizens in the West Bank were murdered. Most recently, they assassinated a leader of the Islamic Jihad and escalated yet another military operation in Gaza.

Now, Netanyahu is preparing to fight unabashedly to reassume the mantle of PM. In his attempt to regain power, he voted against extending the law that applies Israeli civilian status to Israelis in the occupied West Bank. This was counter to his own wishes, but the vote served his purpose because it drove a wedge in the ruling coalition and thus directly led to the need for new elections that give him an opportunity to return.

Israel’s leaders will compete to win votes by promising more robust plans for West Bank annexation, settlements expansion, collective punishment in Gaza, and destruction of Hamas.

In many ways it matters little who the winner of the next election will be, because we know that the Palestinians will suffer regardless. Like most elections held since the first right-wing government in 1977, a far right party will emerge victorious – even if it’s not certain they will be able to form a government. Left-wing parties and Islamists will likely gain the least seats in the Knesset. And eventually, more unjust and ruthless resolutions will be issued against the Palestinians.

Ahmed Alnaouq is the founder of We Are Not Numbers. He has a Master’s degree in international journalism from Leeds University. He is also cofounder of Across the Wall, a media project that tells stories from Gaza in Hebrew, and serves as advocacy and outreach officer for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.

Follow him on Twitter: @AlnaouqA

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