Targeting Palestinians Netanyahu’s only road to re-election
Every time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in a precarious election spot — as he has twice this year — he ends up turning toward the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as his solution. He is doing so for all the wrong reasons, of course.
Netanyahu isn’t trying to treat Palestinians as equals. Israel hasn’t treated its non-Jewish citizens equally since the day it was founded by force. No, Netanyahu — like other right-wing political leaders — uses the Palestinians as cannon fodder, ordering military strikes, assaults, targeted assassinations and violence against them in order to stoke up the fervor of likeminded racists in Israel so that he can muster enough votes to get re-elected.
Israel has twice failed to form new governments following the parliamentary elections in April and September this year. The country is split but not, unfortunately, over the issues they ought to be divided over. Instead, Israel’s majority Jewish voters are divided over who will be tougher on the Arabs.
First, you need to understand Israel’s parliamentary system of government. Israel uses this style of government to give the power to party coalitions and prime ministers, rather than a president. Israel does have a president, Reuven Rivlin, but he is a figurehead. The real leader is the PM, whose coalition controls a majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
This system was chosen by Israel when it was founded in 1948 to avoid a very specific scenario, in which Palestinians might one day dominate Israel through population growth. With about 75 percent of the population being Jewish and 20 percent Palestinian, Jewish coalitions have the edge over non-Jewish parties when it comes to controlling the Knesset.
In nearly every election, Netanyahu has used anti-Palestinian fearmongering to rally his supporters. It worked so well in the past that Netanyahu became overconfident. His power collapsed when just one member of his coalition, then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, proposed that conservative religious Jews should be forced to serve in the Israeli military. Netanyahu dissolved the government over the issue on Dec. 4, 2018, and ordered new elections in April, hoping for a fresh mandate.
Netanyahu also had other more personal reasons to force the country into early elections: He was under investigation by Israel’s Ministry of Justice on corruption charges. This is why Lieberman may have proposed the military conscription change — to undermine the long-serving prime minister.
Netanyahu was shocked with the April election results. His right-wing party, the Likud, tied with the more centrist party led by Benny Gantz. A second round of elections was subsequently scheduled, this time for Sept. 17. Gantz did even better in that vote, winning control of 33 seats compared to Netanyahu’s 32. But again both failed to put together a coalition government with control of at least 61 seats.
In nearly every election, Netanyahu has used anti-Palestinian fearmongering to rally his supporters
Last month, Netanyahu was formally indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Now more than ever, Netanyahu needs to win. He is hoping that, if he is re-elected prime minister, his ruling coalition can pass a law that exempts him from prosecution.
One of the problems is that Netanyahu’s rivals cannot put a coalition together without including the Arab parties, who control a small but important sliver of seats. Gantz discussed forming a coalition with the Arabs, leading Netanyahu and his allies to call him a traitor. Netanyahu has several times tried to suppress the Arab vote by putting cameras inside voting stations in Arab towns while warning that they would take over the country with their votes. This has been enough to keep Gantz from formalizing a coalition with the Arabs.
The focus is now back on the Palestinians. If they voted to their full strength of 20 percent of the population, they should be able to take 24 seats, giving them a powerful role in forming the next government. Unfortunately, many activists in the diaspora have urged Palestinians to boycott Israeli elections, even though such rejectionism is a failed strategy that continues to undermine Palestinian rights.
Netanyahu knows that, along with the dysfunction of the Palestinian community, he can use the fear of their rising to power to consolidate his base. And he has done that without hesitation. Since failing to win in the September elections, Netanyahu has stepped up attacks against Palestinian targets. He ordered the assassination of a Palestinian militant in Gaza that provoked a back-and-forth battle, which Israel used to launch missile strikes against civilian centers, killing dozens and wounding hundreds.
The PM is even more desperate today than he has ever been, failing twice to win elections and facing possible conviction and imprisonment. Why wouldn’t Netanyahu drag the country down the road of even worse conflict in a bid to stay in power? More violence targeting Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, along with increasing the number of illegal and racist Jewish-only settlements, is Netanyahu’s only road to re-election. This time, there won’t be any limits to how far he takes the violence against Palestinians. So far, his actions show that he is solidly on that road.
The only hope is for Gantz to find the courage to do what’s right, while the Palestinians must reject the calls for boycotts and flood the next elections with votes. The closer the Arab parties get to that magic number of 24 Knesset seats, the more likely that peace and a Palestinian state will become a reality.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania