Unanswered questions after Netanyahu’s re-election

The election should serve as notice that Israel will remain dominated by the political right for the foreseeable future and that the election will help define US politics for years.
Sunday 28/04/2019
A man walks past a Likud election campaign billboard depicting US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, last February.(Reuters)
Hand in hand. A man walks past a Likud election campaign billboard depicting US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, last February.(Reuters)

Washington - Just after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was re-elected, experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict met to determine what the vote means.

“The Israeli elections really did ask more questions than they answered,” said Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Centre Washington DC, which sponsored the panel. “The question now is: ‘Now what?’”

While some questions remained unanswered, including “Will Netanyahu be indicted?” and “Will the United States release its peace plan?” panellists said the election should serve as notice that Israel will remain dominated by the political right for the foreseeable future and that the election will help define US politics for years.

That change comes, in part, because US President Donald Trump’s administration, in supporting Netanyahu, has forced politicians to say where they stand on the idea of a one-state solution as well as because US Jews have become more secular and more willing to talk about supporting Israel while not necessarily supporting its policies, especially its treatment of Arab-Israelis and Palestinians.

It also comes as Israel itself moves further to the right.

“It was clear along the way that the religious right-wing bloc would have more votes than the centre-left bloc but I think it has served as a bit of a wake-up call,” said Amir Tibon, a Washington correspondent for Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.

The Trump administration announced that its peace plan proposal would be delayed until after Ramadan, which ends June 4, but US State Department officials said they would support Israel’s plans, whether they entail a one-state or two-state solution.

Many in Israel and the United States say Netanyahu and the United States will seek a one-state solution to the conflict and the election led many in the international community, including high-ranking officials writing a letter to the Guardian, to plead for a two-state solution.

“I just want to say that any hope for change, which I think there is, is here in the United States,” said Nadia Hijab, co-founder of the Palestinian Policy Network. Netanyahu has pinned his hopes on the orthodox Jews in the United States, she said, adding: “That, I think, is a mistake.”

She said US Jews tend to be more liberal in their politics while not supporting Trump, and the Palestinian movement in the United States is growing and has been galvanised by the Trump administration.

Peter Beinart, a journalism and political science professor at the City University of New York, said Netanyahu’s re-election will change the political landscape in the United States.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “is the big loser in Netanyahu’s re-election,” he said. “It has to be bipartisan.”

AIPAC’s membership is bipartisan based on the idea of a two-state solution, he said, and US Jews, who tend to be secular and not terribly religious, have the option to join groups that don’t support a one-state solution.

Beinart said the Israeli elections will force US Democrats to the left and that US Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, will use the election to call for an end of “sending $3.8 billion in military support unequivocally to Israel or anywhere.”

Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, agreed that the election would force US politicians to take a stand in one direction or the other on the conflict, rather than depending on the “possibility of a two-state solution.”

“Those of us in Jewish Voices for Peace have been waiting for this for a long time,” she said.

She said eight potential candidates for the US presidency did not show up for AIPAC this year. “Candidates always show up,” she said. “That was huge.”

In the meantime, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has gained traction with mainstream Christian denominations, such as Methodists and Quakers, to protest the treatment of Palestinians, she said.

“Few or none of them have endorsed BDS per se but they have taken up the actions of needing human rights screens for their retirement accounts,” she said. “I think this is huge.”

Because of the Trump administration’s far-right stance, future candidates will have to say what they believe: Is Iran’s military a terrorist group? Is Israel’s claim of sovereignty and Trump’s support of that claim over the Golan Heights a violation of international law? Should Jerusalem belong only to the Jews?

“It’s going to be much harder,” she said.

Still, “a negative view of Israel doesn’t always translate to support of the Palestinians,” Tibon said. Between Hamas firing rockets, corruption and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as not a “very charismatic leader you want to associate with,” it’s hard to gain support.

“But I think the Trump-Netanyahu bromance has had more of an effect on American Jews than 50 years of settlements,” he said.

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