Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East. Maybe that’s why it’s heading for its third election in 11 months.
Or maybe it’s because that “democracy”—built on racism, war and imperialism—is in profound political crisis.
Twice in the past year Israelis have been to the polls—and twice, neither main party has been able to form a government.
The latest election took place on Monday 2 March. This time round, Israeli pundits worry that the biggest problem is that voters have stopped caring.
Binyamin Netanyahu—Israel’s current and longest-serving prime minister—faces trial over corruption charges that could send him to jail (see column).
So the tone of each election has at times been bitter. But on the occupation of Palestine—the defining issue of Israeli politics, both major parties are almost identical.
Neither Netanyahu’s Likud party or his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party are prepared to give up the occupation.
That rules out allowing Palestinians to have any kind of state worthy of the name, or sharing one state with Palestinians either.
There was a time when parties paid lip-service to the idea of a
two-state solution—particularly the Labor Party—dominated Israeli politics. In reality their promise of a two-state solution was used to deepen the occupation—particularly through building more settlements on Palestinian land.
Now a two-state solution would mean removing the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in settlements, tearing up an intrinsic part of Israeli society.
So Netanyahu has dominated as prime minister for more than ten years thanks to his racism, warmongering against Palestinians and his support for settlements.
There’s very little space in Israeli society for any mainstream party to differ from that.
So Likud and the Blue and White fight each other while basically agreeing on the most fundamental issue in Israeli politics.
Instead Gantz’s challenges Netanyahu over the corruption charges, and looks to the support of the “centre left” to form a coalition.
Netanyahu responds by labelling Gantz a “leftist” in league with Arabs, and relies on the support of Israel’s religious and far right parties to do the same.
Neither of them have been able to get a majority—and all the polls suggest they’re headed for another hung parliament on Monday.
It looks like their only way out is to form a “national unity” government together. But Netanyahu’s corruption scandal, and Gantz’s refusal to govern with him have stood in the way.
That won’t be resolved soon, and Israel’s crisis will rumble on for as long as Palestinians are denied justice.
Trump deal hasn’t delivered success for Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu had hoped that Donald Trump’s Middle East “peace” plan would help him win the election.
The long-awaited plan—finally released at the end of January—proposes handing every West Bank settlement and the entire Jordan Valley to Israel.
For Netanyahu, it was perfect. He appeared alongside Trump at the plan’s unveiling, hoping to present it as a success for their close relationship.
Trump’s support is something Netanyahu relies on heavily, especially among the right wing settler parties that prop him up in coalition.
The deal bolsters his image as an international leader who stands up for Israel’s “security”—uniting it with rulers of Arab countries against their shared enemy Iran.
But there are some stumbling blocks.
For a start, Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz also backs Trump’s plan and was also invited to the White House to discuss the deal with Trump.
What’s more, far from satisfying Netanyahu’s right wing backers in Israel, it has actually angered them.
He promised settlement leaders the plan would allow Israel to annexe all West Bank settlements “immediately”—before the election. So he was embarrassed when Trump’s officials told him he has to wait until it’s over.
Even immediate annexation wouldn’t be enough to satisfy them.
Settler leaders rejected Trump’s plan—because they won’t accept any Palestinian state at all.
Favours, kickbacks and bribes
Just two weeks after the election, Binyamin Netanyahu is set to appear in court to face a number of corruption charges.
He’s accused of accepting lavish gifts and bribes from billionaire friends as well as offering political favours to media bosses in return for positive news coverage.
Three allegations against Netanyahu have made it to court.
The first, known as Case 1,000, accuses him of accepting expensive cigars, champagne and jewellery worth hundreds of thousands of pounds from film producer Arnon Milchan.
In return, Netanyahu is said to have helped Milchan arrange a visa to the US and get tax breaks in Israel.
In the second—case 2,000—Netanyahu is accused of backing legislation that would close one of Israel’s major newspapers Israel Hayom.
Hayom is more sympathetic to the right.
But Netanyahu supposedly agreed to shut Hayom down if the editor of Hayom’s rival Yedioth Ahronoth agreed to give him favourable coverage.
The final case that made it to court—Case 4,000—accuses Netanyahu of helping media boss Shaul Elovitch with business dealings.
In return, Elovitch’s news website Walla! would give Netanyahu favourable coverage.