Early returns for the Israeli elections suggest that turnout was high in secular areas like Tel Aviv and in some Palestinian-Israeli districts, whereas it was low in conservative strongholds. As a result the combined Likud coalition with Yisrael Beitenu only got about 31 seats (the Israeli parliament has 120). Likud is a far rightwing party based on the Fascist political philosophy of Vladimir Jabotinsky in the 1930s, while Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) is a far right nationalist party based on Russian, Ukrainian and other former Soviet Bloc populations, many of them only nominally Jewish or not actually Jewish at all, who were economic emigrants to Israel. There is likely no government in Europe as far right wing as Israel’s, and if there were it would be a scandal that attracted boycotts.
Netanyahu is convinced that he will still be able to cobble together the 61 seats needed, at a bare minimum, for a majority in the Knesset. This outcome, however, is by no means a sure thing. Even if he can win a third term, his government will be fragile and deeply divided. One of his likely coalition partners, a centrist newcomer, wants to end the exemption from conscription into the military granted Haredim or ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have grown to 8% of the population and may well, because of large families, become an even larger percentage of Israelis in the coming two decades. The Haredim, most of them backers of Netanyahu, really, really don’t want to serve in the army. So Netanyahu’s cabinet could be quite fractious this time.
The Israeli Left was given a boost in the summer of 2011, when youth demonstrated against the Neoliberal economic policies of the Likud government, which is market-oriented even if that means young people cannot afford to rent an apartment anywhere near their work in e.g. Tel Aviv. Many of the youth mobilized for those demonstrations appear to have come out to vote for centrist parties on Tuesday. It should be noted that the Israeli right wing plays dirty tricks on the Israeli left and liberals, smearing them as traitors and harassing them (many of the nearly 1 million Israelis living outside Israel were leftists unwilling to live under Likud harassment. Such treatment of these Israelis acts as a form of voter suppression.
The 20% of Israelis of Palestinian heritage do not usually vote in larger numbers. They face so much discrimination that it is hard to convince them that anything good can come from an Israeli election. Moreover, the Israeli Right keeps trying to throw elected Arab parliament members out of parliament, sending a signal that even when Palestinian-Israelis do join in the process, attempts will be made to blunt their influence.
But the scandal, and one that Freedom House just ignored (detracting from its credibility) is that 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli control could not vote in these elections. They could not vote because they are stateless. They are not citizens of any state. And Netanyahu is committed, despite occasional whitewashing of his position in public, to keeping the Palestinians without a state. But Israel controls the air, water and land of Palestine, and dictates Palestinian lives.
It is time to stop using the language of “military occupation” for what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. A military occupation occurs during and immediately after a war and is temporary. Israel has had the Palestinians since 1967, and it isn’t letting them go. (No, the Israelis haven’t withdrawn from Gaza; they won’t let Palestinians there so much as export most of what they produce, won’t let them have a seaport or airport, and even interfere in their fishing; and occasionally they bomb them and invade or threaten to invade; what kind of a ‘withdrawal’ is that? And what exactly is there here that Palestinians should have been ‘grateful’ for, as Netanyahu keeps asserting?)
Israel has annexed the Palestinians but is keeping them stateless. There is no other country in the world engaged in so cruel an enterprise. Some countries do subject neighboring territories and annex them, but they give citizenship, or the rights typically enjoyed by citizens, to the people there. The locals may not want that particular political identity, but at least they have a passport and they have the rights of citizens under the law. Moreover, such unincorporated territories are typically tiny compared to the metropole. The 4 million Palestinians are almost as numerous as the 5.5 million Jewish Palestinians (and that is not counting the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, etc., who would go to the West Bank if they could).. The Palestinians are stateless and without basic rights. Their territory has been annexed and they have been kept in legal limbo. When Netanyahu announced that he would build housing on the E-1 tract of Palestinian territory east of Jerusalem, Palestinians put up a tent city on Palestinian-owned private land. Netanyahu had it torn down. Stateless people don’t have real property rights, or any rights at all, and Netanyahu could do as he pleased to them.
Within Israel, the turnout in Tuesday’s election could be as high as 70%, out of over 5 million eligible voters. But in fact turnout was less than half of the people of Israel and its annexed territories. If all the people living under the control of the Israeli government could vote, we would be discussing how many seats in the Knesset went to Hamas, Fatah and the PFLP, and whether Fatah would join a centrist coalition against Netanyahu.
What we hear from Ramallah, Bethlehem and Khan Younis is instead the silence of the stateless, the helplessness of the colonized, the groans of Apartheid.