Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday brought the humbug that has characterized all the candidates in this election to a climax. All of them are ignoring the real existential threat to Israel and its ability to survive as a “Jewish and democratic state”: the unending occupation of the territories. Israel’s insistence on ruling over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank who lack civil rights, expanding the settlements and keeping residents of the Gaza Strip under siege is the danger that threatens its future.
Israel is mortgaging its national resources to maintain a dual regime of democracy for Jews and apartheid for Palestinians. But the illusion that the occupation is comfortable and quiet, and that most Israelis are isolated from it, is fated to explode.
In recent years, during which relative security quiet prevailed in the West Bank, Israel embarked on three wars in Gaza that killed thousands of Palestinian civilians – solely in order to maintain the status quo. These periodic “operations,” along with the cessation of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, have left a moral stain on the Israel Defense Forces, and on the statesmen who sent them into Gaza and on policing missions in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron.
Calls for boycotting Israel and recognizing Palestine even without an agreement have moved from the political fringes to center stage in the West. Instead of the Palestinians giving up their national aspirations, Israel is being forced to contend with claims that Zionism and democracy are mutually exclusive.
During the six years of Netanyahu’s tenure, the occupation’s seepage into the heart of Israel has intensified. Internal tensions between Jews and Arabs have risen, and right-wing parties have vied among themselves in pushing anti-democratic laws designed to institutionalize discrimination against the minority and deprive it of the right of political expression. While Netanyahu was planning his speech in Washington, right-wing thugs attacked MK Haneen Zoabi at a political conference in Ramat Gan. This was the natural continuation of the nation-state bill and the attempts to oust Zoabi and her colleagues from the Knesset, and more proof that democracy has trouble flourishing or even functioning alongside apartheid and military occupation.
But the current election campaign is being conducted like a Purim carnival. The political parties are ignoring the occupation and its dangers and choosing instead to don masks: Iran, housing prices, personal rivalries. Nobody dares to talk about the conflict with the Palestinians, its heavy price and the necessity of ending it. But topping them all is the prime minister, who wasted the great opportunity and the enormous attention he received on Capitol Hill and didn’t even mention the real danger Israel faces.
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