Netanyahu’s surreal attempt to woo Palestinians
Some political realities in Israel surpass even the most creative and imaginative of satires. We all know that politicians, especially when an election campaign is upon them, tend to develop unique relationships with the truth and the notion of integrity. So why should one be at all surprised to learn that Israeli Deputy Minister Fateen Mulla, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has asked the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah to encourage the Palestinian citizens of Israel to vote Likud, or at least refrain from supporting the Arab Joint List? Yes, you read that correctly, no need to rub your eyes — a senior Likud member apparently spoke to Mohammed Madani, a Fatah official and confidant of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in an attempt to receive the latter’s blessing in the March 23 election.
I can only imagine the likely uproar from the right in Israel, and the vicious response of Netanyahu and his loyalists, had Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, Merav Michaeli of Labor or Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz asked for such a character reference from the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. All hell would have broken loose. They would have been accused of being a fifth column, traitors, and collaborators with an existential enemy that is set on destroying Israel. But, in the twilight of Netanyahu’s political career — a twilight that might last longer than many of us would wish — there are different rules for the prime minister than for the rest of us.
In a rather mundane election campaign, as one might expect from the fourth in the space of just two years, there is little that the electorate does not know about the parties and their leaders or what results to expect, and little sign that it even cares. However, Likud’s surreal request for support from the PA provides us with some insight into the twisted mind of the party and the person who heads it, as it jettisons all remaining inhibitions in its quest to cling to power.
It is not only the shamelessness of the request itself but also its rationale that is a cause for raised eyebrows. The gist of Mulla’s plea to the Palestinian leadership, whose land and people are occupied by a government led by Mulla’s own party, was that, rather than another Netanyahu administration, the Palestinians should fear the prospect of more hawkish leaders such as Gideon Saar or Naftali Bennett forming a government. In other words, the best that Likud could come up with was that, in relative terms, Netanyahu is a more convenient and moderate occupier than some of his right-wing rivals would be. Netanyahu does what Netanyahu does best: Spreading fear and horror stories of the cataclysm that everyone would face without him.
This surreal affair of the oppressor asking the oppressed to support his election bid strikes me as a quintessential example of chutzpah, the Yiddish term for brazen or unabated shamelessness (the classic example of chutzpah is the story of the boy who killed his parents, then pleaded with the courts for leniency because he was an orphan). Others might argue that Mulla’s plea to the Palestinians might be an act of brazenness, but also of realpolitik, threatening a weaker side that, although its present situation is dire, it could get even worse if Netanyahu were to lose power. Are we by now surprised by Netanyahu’s readiness to sink lower and lower with his cynicism, especially when he is fighting not only for his political survival but also to avoid a corruption trial that might well hand him a jail sentence? Probably not, but we are still entitled to be deeply shocked.
If there is anyone who should know that Netanyahu’s promises are hollow at the best of times — and even more so during an election campaign — it is Abbas and the PA. Yes, it could get worse for the Palestinians in terms of settlement expansion, land confiscation and annexation. And equally, if not worse, there could be an increase in the daily humiliations that people living under occupation must suffer and the random killings and arrests of innocent Palestinians that take place with complete impunity. But to lend support to someone who rode to power on vicious campaigns bent on destroying the peace process and the prospect of a two-state solution is inconceivable. No one has contributed more to the wrecking of the Palestinian dream of realizing their right to self-determination than Netanyahu. Does he expect to be rewarded for this? This is chutzpah on steroids.
No one has contributed more to the wrecking of the Palestinian dream of realizing their right to self-determination than Netanyahu.
Likud and Netanyahu have been in power for 12 years, which equates to almost an eternity in politics, and it was within their power to win the hearts and minds of the Palestinian citizens of Israel by respecting them, treating them with dignity and as equal citizens, and improving their daily lives. They have intentionally failed to do any of this. Instead, Netanyahu has incited against this community and its representatives in the Knesset, constantly questioned their loyalty to the country, and strongly backed the racist nation-state law that legalized discrimination against a fifth of Israel’s population.
Instead of asking those people who only a few months ago were faced with his threat to annex nearly a third of what is left of their country to encourage their brethren on the other side of the Green Line to vote for him, the prime minister should have engaged with his fellow citizens who happen to be Palestinians. He could have listened to their urban planning predicaments caused by deliberate government policies to limit their access to land. Or he could have taken measures to restore law and order in their towns and villages, which are suffering from high levels of crime. He could also have shown some respect for their history and culture. Instead, for years, those on the Israeli right, and Netanyahu himself in particular, have cynically driven a wedge between the Jewish and Arab people for their own gain.
All things considered, maybe Madani felt obliged out of courtesy to hear the Likud’s request for electoral support before politely refusing it, but the occasion provides us with yet another example of a prime minister who has lost all sense of shame, along with any connection to reality.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg