Israel’s Election Will Have Sharp Consequences

BEIRUT - For the past generation and a half, since the late 1970s, Israeli society has been moving steadily to the right in three main trajectories: greater reliance on military force as a primary foreign policy tool, more social and policy-making influence by religious Jews, and a growing super-nationalist commitment to a greater Israel concept that includes building new settlements and preventing the birth of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Repeated attempts to negotiate a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement have always failed, and attention in Israel, Palestine and much of the region has recently been more focused on the Arab uprisings and Iran.
The expected victory of a coalition led by the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tuesday’s general elections is likely to continue the militant and predatory Zionist trends of the past 45 years, but this will only refocus many people’s attention on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict that it has spawned since 1948. This is because the right-wing militant coalition that Netanyahu is likely to lead will push militant Zionist policies toward the Palestinians to such a degree of extreme and criminal colonialism that the passive reactions in recent years of most Palestinians and Arabs will not be able to persist.
The expected rightist Netanyahu coalition’s policies on three fronts -- towards Palestinian Israelis, in the West Bank-Gaza-East Jerusalem, and with the neighboring Arab countries -- will usher in a period of heightened tensions between Israel and every one of its regional and global interlocutors, especially Palestinians, other Arabs, Turks, Iranians, Europeans and the American government. The only exception will be that small band of right wing zealots and pro-Israel lobbyists in the United States who often put rightist Israeli views above American interests, and will find themselves increasingly isolated and criticized.
A new Netanyahu-led rightwing government will confirm what many people have been saying for decades: There is no serious chance of achieving a negotiated two-state resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Palestine and Arab-Israeli conflicts were hardly mentioned in the electoral campaigns, which focused more heavily on the right’s super-nationalist determination to continue colonizing all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, or the left’s weak attempt to sharpen the focus on domestic social-economic issues. Perpetual stalemate and Arab quiescence in the context of continued Zionist colonialism and militarism are not a realistic option, especially when some among the Israeli right are trying to limit the voting and civil rights of those million or so Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. We should expect several consequences from this scenario. Tensions will rise with democratizing Arab neighbors whose governments will more faithfully reflect Arab public opinion that dislikes Netanyahu's policies. We have some indications already from Tunisia and Egypt that more legitimate and representative Arab governments will take harder lines on Israel, short of resuming war. The Israeli response is likely to be to continue building walls to isolate Israel from its neighbors, but the lessons from Lebanon and Gaza over the past several decades are that determined resistance groups find a way to go above or below the walls to engage Israel in battle if need be.
Foreign governments also are likely to publicly criticize and pressure Israel more, as they become exacerbated by Netanyahu's extremism in his settlements policy and rejection of equal Palestinian-Israeli national rights as the basis of a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Symbolic and rhetorical moves are most likely on this front, but they will add to the isolation that Israel will feel.
Palestinians themselves in Israel, the occupied territories and neighboring Arab countries will take the right wing’s re-election as a cue to explore much more dynamic resistance policies, probably using non-violent civil disobedience and legal challenges as main options. The recent tent camps that Palestinian have erected at spots that Israelis claim for new colonies are a harbinger of what we may witness in coming months and years, as Palestinians explore the option of non-violent resistance and mass civil disobedience more seriously.
Many people and organizations among Israel's principal political partners -- Palestinians, other Arabs, Europeans and Americans -- will also likely react to Netanyahu's continued extremism and criminal expansion of settlements by increasing the intensity of the expanding "boycott, divestment and sanctions" initiative that seeks to equate Israeli policies with the legacy of the former apartheid regime in South Africa.
Except for some Christian Zionist messianic fanatics, pro-Israeli lobby extremists, and politically terrorized politicians in Washington and Ottawa, most of the world will react negatively to Netanyahu's victory -- unless he proves to be a Mikhail Gorbachev or an F.W. de Klerk figure, and acknowledges that his aggressive policies are doomed, and need a historic reversal and coming to terms with the twin facts of reality and justice. That seems unlikely, so Israel and its interlocutors are in for a rough ride. Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri. Copyright © 2013 Rami G. Khouri - distributed by Agence Global