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Elizabeth Tsurkov

Netanyahu's political troubles could be good news for Palestinians

When Netanyahu failed to form a government, Israel scheduled a new election for September [AFP]

Date of publication: 31 May, 2019

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Comment: The 'Deal of the Century' may be on shaky ground, but Palestinians will still have to contend with Israel's increasingly fanatical right wing, writes Elizabeth Tsurkov.
The session of the 21st Knesset will be Israel's shortest: Seven weeks after its election, a majority of the members of Israel's parliament voted themselves out of office, precipitating new elections set for September 17.

The failure of Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a far-right government will complicate Netanyahu's dogged attempts to guarantee his immunity from prosecution for corruption and to defang Israel's Supreme Court, but also derail the already faltering 'Deal of the Century' of President Trump.

The largely unexpected dissolution of the Knesset, and Netanyahu's failure to form a coalition stemmed from a combination of factors. Chief among them is his insistence on forming a coalition of far-right and ultra-orthodox parties.

This is the only coalition that would commit to passing the 'Immunity Law,' which would undermine the independence of Israel's Supreme Court and shield Netanyahu from prosecution for the corruption charges he would soon face, at least for as long as he is in office.

Netanyahu could have attempted to form a national unity government with the Blue & White Coalition, a centrist bloc by Israeli standards, but instead, he castigated the party, led by three former generals, as "leftist", and failed to even engage in negotiations with it. Blue & White lambasted the immunity law, and would not have remained in the coalition once Netanyahu is indicted for a host of corruption charges, possibly in late 2019.

Netanyahu's conduct in this election season, which included attacks on the media and institutions of law and order, vilification of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a call for annexation of the West Bank, belie his alarming drift further to the right.

The one potentially positive outcome from the additional election cycle in Israel is that is may kill off the Trump administration's 'Deal of the Century'

On top of this, Netanyahu's increasing disregard for democratic norms in an attempt to monopolise power and avoid being removed from office due to corruption, demonstrate his growing authoritarian tendencies. His willingness to trample the independence of the judiciary and equality before the law to save his own skin, further underline this trend.

These developments are largely more bad news for Palestinians, but the one potentially positive outcome from the additional election cycle in Israel is that is may kill off the Trump administration's 'Deal of the Century'.

This 'deal' is intended to reset the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations along parameters even more favourable to Israel, including ending the US commitment to the two-state-solution and possible US support for maintaining all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The leaks about the 'deal' and the personalities involved in drafting it, including Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, who spends much of his free time trolling Palestinian leaders on Twitter, indicate that the 'deal' will be unacceptable even to the most pliant Palestinian officials.

The political section of the plan has been previously delayed, in part due to Israeli elections, since it would require at least some minimal Israeli concessions, which would be unacceptable to Israel's increasingly fanatical right wing.

Now that elections are delayed until September, and a new government will only be formed around October 2019, the Trump administration may wish to avoid publicising the plan in the year prior to the 2020 US general elections for its own domestic political reasons.

The past decade of election cycles in Israel has featured increasingly extreme rhetoric towards Palestinian Arab citizens, pushing Israeli discourse further into the gutters of racism

The possibility that Arab leaders will push back against the plan once they are informed of its content may encourage the Trump administration to delay unveiling it until after the 2020 elections, assuming Trump is re-elected.

But everything else about the trends in Israeli and American politics is highly concerning for Palestinians inside Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza.

The main competition for votes in Israel is within the right-wing bloc, pushing Israeli politicians to adopt increasingly extremist rhetoric.

Read more: Arab hosts of Trump's 'peace summit' are throwing Palestinians under the bus

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, the new elections means they should expect another three and a half months of Israeli airways, social media and televised campaign ads featuring content demonising Palestinian citizens as disloyal, their elected representatives as supporters of terrorism, and more warmongering against Gaza as a way to mobilise votes.

The past decade of election cycles in Israel has featured increasingly extreme rhetoric towards Palestinian Arab citizens, pushing Israeli discourse further into the gutters of racism and undermining Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.

Netanyahu's determination to undermine Israel's Supreme Court would irrevocably harm the rights of all minorities within Israel, including Palestinian citizens, refugees, LGBT folks and non-orthodox Jewish communities.

For Palestinians in the West Bank, the last election season witnessed a watershed moment, when Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to annex parts of the West Bank if re-elected, succumbing to the pressure of right-wing elements within his party and those challenging him from the right.

As Israelis gear up to go to the polls for the second time in 2019, the concerns of Palestinians are largely invisible to them

Expect Netanyahu to repeat such vows and move ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank if re-elected (the likely outcome of the fresh elections according to current polls).

In the past, Netanyahu, who tends to prefer the comforts of the status quo, used the threat of American disapproval to push back against the suggestions of more extremist elements within his governments.

However, the recent decisions by the Trump administration to de-facto recognise the illegal Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem position the Trump administration as an ally of Israel's far-right, which is advocating for the wholesale annexation of the West Bank.

Such Israeli politicians can now argue that eventually, the international community will come to accept the annexation of the West Bank as well.

The timing of the elections also spells trouble for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is in the midst of a financial crisis due to Israel's decision to withhold a share of the taxes it collects on behalf of the PA as a sanction for the PA's decision to pay stipends to families of Palestinians accused by Israel of militant activities.

President Abbas seems to be willing to lead the PA into financial ruin, thus pressuring Israel and the international backers of the PA, as a way to signal that he would not countenance such sanctions. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not abating either, and the summer season will further torment Gazans who are surviving on few hours of electricity per day.

During a new election season, (the pre-election government remains in power) Israeli ministers would be much less willing to entertain politically costly concessions to the Palestinians to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority or improve living standards in Gaza.

As Israelis gear up to go to the polls for the second time in 2019, the concerns of Palestinians are largely invisible to them.

Yet arguably, due to Israel's military rule over the Palestinians and US backing of Israeli policies, it is the political dynamics inside Israel and the US that bear greater influence on the lives of Palestinians, than the internal political dynamics in the occupied territories.

Netanyahu's failure to form a government may spare the Palestinians the perils of the 'Deal of the Century,' but the annexationist, racist and increasingly reckless conduct of Israel's right-wing still spells trouble for the Palestinian people.


Elizabeth Tsurkov is a Research Fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, an Israeli-Palestinian think-tank. She has over a decade of experience working with human rights organisations across the Middle East, including organisations fighting for refugee, migrant and Palestinian rights.

Follow her on Twitter: @Elizrael

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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