Why the Election in Israel Will Change Nothing

There is only one thing that will galvanize Israel to end the occupation and it's not a new more centrist government.

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (R) and former justice minister and Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni, January 14, 2015.
Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (R) and former justice minister and Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni, January 14, 2015.Credit: AFP
zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

Even if the results of the upcoming election leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weakened, a revolution in the overall distribution of forces will most likely not take place. Immediately on the day after the election it will be revealed that Moshe Kahlon is nothing but a completely regular Likudnik: Already now he is promising to preserve a “unified” Jerusalem, a term that is a well-known code word for denoting the continuation of the occupation. In addition, as can be remembered from his days in the government, his economic ideas are no different than Netanyahu’s.

The other person wearing a mask, Yair Lapid, is a first-rate performer, but as a politician he is an overblown demagogue, lacking any ideology, a natural candidate for any deal. After two years in power everyone should have already understood this. He can certainly stand alongside Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, or continue with Netanyahu, or with the two of them together. Herzog’s political views are vague enough that he can get along with just about anyone. Even his PR people are no longer talking about a new message. As far as is known, his peace plan promises a deep freeze for years to come, and that is why he is convenient for everyone.

In addition, at decision time, Herzog and Lapid will prefer a coalition with Likud rather than linking up with the united Arab party. In other words: Israeli society is stuck deep in the mud, and it does not have the power to extricate itself on its own.

It is reasonable to assume that these facts were, in part, behind Netanyahu’s decision to call for early elections, since for him a coalition with the Labor Party, Lapid and Kahlon — with or without the Haredim — is far more preferable to a government with Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beitenu chief Avigdor Lieberman. A center-right government will allow him to start over again from the beginning of the never-ending, foot-dragging ritual of the “peace process.” With Herzog in the Foreign Ministry, Israel will receive renewed credit in the international community; he and Tzipi Livni will conquer the television screens on five continents, an election campaign will start in the United States and in the meantime in the territories things will continue as usual, at a slower pace and maybe with less violence. Contrary to the hopes being cultivated in the center, Netanyahu has not had the last word yet and his party has not lost its traditional base of support.

In this light, the demand that Meretz commit suicide in order to improve the chances of the Bougie-Tzipi couple is absurd. Indeed, the practical significance of the flow of voters from the left to the center — if it does take place — means the elimination of the only clear Jewish left-wing voice in the Knesset. Meretz serves the main human rights organizations, without which there will be very little left of Israeli democracy. The lost Knesset seats of Meretz will not turn Herzog into a daring prime minister, in the best case, but into a minister in another conservative government that will have one fancy name or another, but will be incapable of fundamentally altering the existing situation. Is it worth eliminating the left from the Knesset for this?

A radical change will not happen here as long as the present regime does not bring about a major national crisis. A failure such as Operation Protective Edge is not enough, since the heavy price of that conflict was paid primarily by the Palestinians.

Therefore, the realistic alternative lies in external intervention that will be massive enough to shake Israelis out of the placidity of their comfortable lives.

Only when everyone among us can feel the price of the occupation in their flesh, will the end to blue-and-white colonialism and apartheid come. Only when the economy is hit in a way that affects the overall standard of living, or when security is undermined as a result of a serious threat to American interests in the region, will the real treatment for eliminating the occupation and guaranteeing our future begin.

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