By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The results of the Israeli general election and the formation of the new Israeli cabinet carried a number of significant implications, most notably over the fact that the map made up by political parties in Israel has been reshuffled.
Furthermore, the outcome has revealed that Israeli politics is lacking in charismatic leaders who can achieve consensus or rally a majority. Yet more importantly, Israel—at least in appearance—is in a state of disorientation and strategic confusion.
Indeed, the Israeli public is increasingly lurching to the extreme right, while retreating into further isolation and preoccupation with narrow local concerns. At the same time, the Israeli public has failed to adapt with the momentous transformations taking place in its Arab surroundings.
Israel’s odds for becoming “a normal entity” in the region are receding, along with the chances for holding peace treaties with potential regional partners. Meanwhile, issues that are closely linked to Israel’s existence and future are increasing in both scope and complexity. Israel is also witnessing sharp internal polarization that damages its ability to make historic decisions, and plot a course for itself in a constantly-shifting and explosive environment.
The Israeli election has reshaped the political map, pushing certain parties strongly into the forefront, while other, major parties collapsed. Nevertheless, the arrangement of political camps – according to Israeli classification – remained the same, with the so-called rightwing, centrist and leftwing factions. To be sure, the total number of seats grabbed by rightwing and religious parties was 61, against 59 seats for centrist, leftist and Arab parties.
The most powerful political alliance, Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, was only able to win 31 seats (around 26%); by contrast, this electoral alliance controlled 42 seats in the previous Knesset. The seats lost to the alliance were grabbed by a more extremist party, blatantly representing Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank: The Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, whose share of the seats quadrupled from 3 to 12 seats.
Likud, which historically represents the extremist Zionist right, had been outbid by other, more extreme rightwing parties such as Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Lieberman. Now, both parties are being outcompeted by the Jewish Home, a more radical and racist party that is to the right of their already rightwing policies.
Zionist extremism has been rearranged to become even more extremist, and some believe the Likud is now to the “left of the left” of the Jewish Home party. Meanwhile, traditional religious parties of the Haredi Jews have managed to maintain their previous share of the seats, more or less.
The reshuffling of the Israeli political landscape has done the greatest damage to Kadima, Israel’s erstwhile largest party in the Knesset between 2006 and 2013, and which led the Israeli government in 2006-2009. Kadima collapsed dramatically and won only two seats in the recent election, having held 28 seats in the previous Knesset.
One new party that rose in the ranks at Kadima’s expense in the election was Yesh Atid Party (There is a Future), led by Yair Lapid. Yesh Atid Party started from scratch and ascended to become the second-largest party in Israel with 19 seats, owing to its economic and social platform.
Hatnuah, the party founded by former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, won 6 seats. For its part, the Labor Party declined greatly, especially in the aftermath of the defection of its leader, former Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But the party managed to regroup and improve its position slightly, from 13 to 15 seats.
It is clear that the arrangement of Zionist factions has seen some sharp shifts in their alignment and strengths, yet this did not translate into shifts in the overall political landscape. If anything, this indicates that these factions are facing internal crises related to their policies and programs, or even their prominent figures.
While they countered this reality with a process of change that has – to a large extent – affected the stances of the public, these factions failed to offer a program or produce leaders who can rally the majority of the Israeli people in occupied Palestine. Moreover, they failed to produce decisive answers to major issues.
Such strategic confusion will lead to a loss of direction, pushing Israeli politicians to evade major questions and become more preoccupied with day-to-day narrow concerns.
On a different note, the new Israeli government has given a qualitatively new focus on the settlers and their supporters, ending up even more extremist than the previous Israeli government. The ministries of defense, housing & construction, interior, and finance are now controlled by settlers in the West Bank or their supporters. Even Likud itself has put members of Knesset and ministers who are more rightwing than their predecessors.
Through this government – where settlers are now in decision-making positions, guaranteeing funding and political/military support – it is no longer a matter of great value whether Tzipi Livni joins the government or not, to handle the negotiations with the Palestinians.
Although Livni is seen as a symbol of moderation in the Israeli government, her background in Likud and the security services should be recalled, in addition to the small inconsequential size of her party.
The Israeli scene is rife with confusion and apprehension, especially as concerns the outlook of Israeli political circles towards the changes and uprisings taking place in the Arab world. For one thing, Israel’s existence relies on having a fragmented, weak and backward surrounding; therefore, it would be a nightmare for Israel if the region transforms into a strong, coherent and advanced state. The confusion and apprehension is not – solely – due to the impact of the Arab uprisings, but also the intransigence and zeal of the current Israeli leadership, and its lack of a vision for the future.
Known Jewish American and pro-Israeli columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times on 17/9/2011, “I’ve never been more worried about Israel’s future. The crumbling of key pillars of Israel’s security — the peace with Egypt, the stability of Syria and the friendship of Turkey and Jordan — coupled with the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel’s history have put Israel in a very dangerous situation.”
Israeli commentator Emuna Elon gave a revealing description when she wrote that the Arab world is turning upside down, and so is Israel. The ground shaking beneath neighboring countries is also shaking beneath Israel. Then she added that it suffices to see what is taking place in the Middle East now to understand that we understand nothing!
Are there any clear Israeli answers for what Israel would do if the entire Palestinian people decide to adopt the resistance option, or given the resistance’s possession of rockets that can cover the entire span of Israel, and what Israel would do if its security is compromised, and its economy is crippled?
Are there any clear Israeli answers for what Israel would do if the peace process and the two-state solution collapse, and if the “door to peace” with the Arab nations is shut? What will the Israelis do if the Palestinian Authority collapses forcing them to reassume the costs of occupation, while the Palestinians focus their efforts on resistance in its various forms?
Nor do clear Israeli answers exist for how to deal with the continuation of the occupation, with a growing Palestinian population, or with calls for a one-state solution, which would strip Israel of its Jewish majority and its Zionist character.
The Israelis admit to having big concerns over the possibility of Egypt abolishing the peace treaty and ending the peace settlement with Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for instance, said that the peace treaty with Egypt is a cornerstone of “peace and stability not only between the two countries, but also the entire Middle East.”
Other analysts also agreed with Ehud Barak’s conclusions about the existence of an international trend to recognize the Palestinian state and delegitimize Israel, on par with the former South African apartheid – and argued that the current stalemate posed strategic risks to Israel.
For this reason, many Israelis have emphasized the need to make political initiatives and “concessions.” This was echoed by a number of Israeli leaders such as Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, and Benyamin Ben-Eliezer.
Nevertheless, they themselves had failed to present a peace proposal that can be acceptable to the Arabs, even with the Arabs being in their weakest state. Therefore, the evolving situation may result in the Israelis having lost their “golden opportunity,” after the peace process lost its meaning and its willing “clients.”
Are there any clear Israeli answers if the strategic landscape around Israel turns into a hostile area, supporting resistance morally, materially and logistically? What would the Israelis do if the region sees the emergence of free regimes expressing the wills of their peoples, and leading a unitary and revivalist project that would eventually lead to altering the balance of power and the conflict’s equation?
Are there any clear Israeli answers on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue?
Are there any clear Israeli answers about the Turkish rise and increasing hostility toward Israel?
Are there any clear Israeli answers in case there was a collapse of strategic relationship between Israel and Western powers, and for whether the Western nations will continue to back a racist entity engaged in oppression and occupation, placing itself above the law? To what extent will the Israel continue to represent a strategic asset to the West before turning into a political, economic and moral burden?
During Obama’s recent visit to Israel, he declared that the US-Israel “alliance is eternal.” But US politicians know that their support will diminish over time. The failed US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the enormous economic cost of those conflicts, in tandem with the exhaustion of the US army in futile wars, has taught the United States important lessons.
Furthermore, at a time when the United States and Western nations are reeling from severe economic crises, it will be difficult to even think about military intervention to occupy any of the countries of the “Arab Spring.”
The solutions offered by the Israelis do not provide real, convincing answers, and serve only to placate local audiences. The Israelis are intensifying settlement building in the West Bank, stepping up efforts to strengthen Jewish presence in Jerusalem, and seeking to alter the facts on the ground. Meanwhile, they continue to develop their military power, economic capabilities and tackle unemployment and so forth.
Yet they cannot stop the wheels of change in the region. They know that any upcoming Intifadah would damage their security and reset their economy by many years.
The Israeli proposal of a temporary state has been met with unanimous Palestinian rejection, while the proposal for unilateral withdrawal from vast areas of the West Bank faces wide Israeli opposition with claims the resistance factions would take control of those lands. Even those who speak of the two-state solution have not offered the bare minimum that could be accepted even by “moderate” pro-peace Palestinians – whether over the borders of the Palestinian state and its sovereignty, Jerusalem, or the future of the refugees.
Israel and its allies will attempt to exploit the turmoil and instability arising from the uprisings and clashes between people and regimes, to derail the path of change away from its destination. One of the most sinister aspects of these efforts is the bid to ignite sectarian and ethnic strife, in a manner that would lead to further fragmentation in the Arab region.
But despite the seriousness of such a possibility, the awareness of the people and their aspirations for revival and unity will enable them to overcome this challenge.
The Zionist society will continue following the mentality of “crisis management” but not of “crisis resolution.” This means that Israel is losing or has lost its best historic chance to hold a political settlement that suits it in the region, and that ensures it a comfortable and dominant position. Israel’s aggressive policy will only fuel the climate of hostility against it. Thus, Israel’s crisis will only intensify with time.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 4/4/2013