Ha’aretz, an Israeli news outlet known for its “liberal” disposition (read by about 7% of Israelis according to Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber), has long presented an image of Israel as a mostly secular, mostly liberal nation that is somehow plagued by continual right-wing victories in influential elections. The most recent Israeli elections, which reaffirmed Netanyahu’s Likud party as the premier slate in Israeli politics, has put that illusion to rest. Likud won 30 seats according to most counts, which is six more than the center-left Zionist Camp put together by Isaac Hertzog that ended up in second place and was originally favored by most entrance polls.
Netanyahu’s victory itself ought to be enough to convince the world that the Israeli electorate is more right wing, more racist, and more anti-peace than we’ve thought for some time. Even more convincing, however, is the manner by which Netanyahu went about securing his victory.
Days before the election, Netanyahu made the political decision to go full Keyser Söze and run a full scorched-earth policy on the peace process and general decency. Speaking at a settlement in the Occupied West Bank, Netanyahu promised Israeli colonizers that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch. Then in order to prove that his racism didn’t stop at the green line, Netanyahu produced a campaign video warning Israelis that “Arabs” would be “advancing on the polls in droves,” alleging that they were being “bused in” by the left, and that the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel apparently serves as its own call to political arms.
Such blatant racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel makes evident two things: suffrage for Palestinian citizens of Israel is simply a by-product of colonization, and the Israeli electorate can be mobilized by racist fearmongering.
That “Arab” participation in democracy is disturbing to such a large portion of Israeli is and very well ought to concern the rest of the world, as it makes clear the fact that the Palestinian citizen of Israel is not a full “citizen” in the eyes of the nation; at best, they are nuisances, at worst they are obstructions, or “traitors,” as Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu and Israeli’s minister of foreign affairs, called them when he called for the heads of “disloyal Israeli Arabs” to be chopped off with axes. The responsiveness of the Israeli public to such divisive rhetoric is necessarily concerning for anyone with a stake in the region, perhaps most of all American Jewish organizations like AIPAC and JStreet.
The next few months will perhaps be telling of these organizations, as both AIPAC and JStreet nominally support two-state solutions alongside a deep-seated love for Israel and, in the last few years, respect for Netanyahu. Now, however, with Netanyahu having turned his back on the United States and the world in exchange for the far-right vote, those organizations will have to choose: do they support Netanyahu, or do they support peace? The syrupy-sweet “two-state solution” idea that has been the mainstay of liberal Zionist organizations for years now faces issues independent of Netanyahu’s abandonment, namely the fact that most Israelis only support the idea of a two-state solution as an abstraction—as soon as borders, costs, or the realities of disengagement are mentioned, support plummets. When compounded by Netanyahu’s promises, the existence of such discourse is threatened, much like the chance of its implementation has been threatened for quite some time by settlements and imbalanced benefit projects aimed at minimizing Palestinian resources in the West Bank.
The two-state solution and promises of such have allowed Israel to keep the international community at bay for years; now, its future looks more and more precarious. The two-state solution is facing an existential death at the hands of Israel despite the fact that Israel is the sole beneficiary of the continuation of the discourse (how many benefits have Palestinians received from the continual promises of two states?). Now, liberal Zionists must either recognize the danger that is Netanyahu and the right in Israel or become even more complicit in the suffering of Palestinians than they already, which may come at the cost of the momentous US support they’ve received for years. With Netanyahu’s win, the only thing certain is that the two-state solution has emerged from Israel’s election a battered and beaten loser.