GULF DIVIDED: The anatomy of a crisis (Palgrave and Mac Millan, London, 2019), dir. Andreas Krieg
This book discusses the various critical dimensions of the Qatar Crisis as a development that has fundamentally reshaped the nature of regional integration for the near future. It represents the first academic attempt to challenge the commonly propagated binary view of this conflict. Further, the book explains the Gulf Crisis in the context of the transformation of the Gulf in the early 21st century, with new alliances and balances of power emerging. At the heart of the book lies the question of how the changing global and regional order facilitated or even fuelled the 2017 Crisis, which it argues was only the most recent climax in an ongoing crisis in the Gulf, on that had been simmering since 2011 and is rooted in historical feuds that date back to the 1800s. While contextualizing the crisis historically, the book also seeks to look beyond historical events to identify underlying patterns of identity security in connection with state and nation building in the Gulf.
Israeli Elections Dominated by Defence and Security
The Israeli elections next March are filled with uncertainty, regarding both the turnout and the outcome. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can take nothing for granted as he runs against Yitzhak Herzog, the son of former President Chaim Herzog and candidate for the Zionist Union party, the main force of centre-left opposition.
However, games are already in play in the halls of governmental and party power, proceeding as if the make-up of the future coalition and identity of the next Prime Minister are irrelevant details. And in many ways, they are. Across the board, defence and security dominate the elections. This not only pushes pressing social and economic issues far down the agenda, but may have unforeseen long-term negative consequences for Israel’s international standing.
Defence: priority number 1
Under the Netanyahu-Lieberman double-act, Israel has become isolated and widely detested internationally. The Prime Minister has brought relations with the United States to a historic low, appearing constantly at odds with President Obama. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lieberman has been globally condemned for his arrogant and suicidal policies, most notably his incendiary language and brutal actions against Arabs in Palestine and beyond.
Nonetheless, Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) is already manoeuvring for the much coveted post of Minister of Defence, limbering up for a head-to-head with Naftali Bennet (Jewish Home). With the incumbent, Moshe Yaalon, seemingly already out of the race, it seems that the field is open for the two most extreme members of the current government to duke it out between themselves. Whoever ends up controlling the ministry will control the defence budget and thus wield enormous power within the country.
This jostling, begun well in advance of the election, extends to senior positions within the military. On 16th February, the high-profile General Gadi Eizenkot replaced Benny Gatz as Commander in Chief of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Israel’s new top officer is known for his ruthless application of the “Dahiya doctrine”. Authorising the use of overwhelmingly disproportionate force and discarding possible civilian casualties, this military tactic has been used extensively by the general in both Lebanon and Palestine. Its most recent application was in the 2014 Gaza war, as Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” left nearly 2,500 civilians dead, with Hamas combatants making up at most 20% of total casualties. Israel, of course, accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
The degree to which such events have overshadowed the election illustrates the growing importance of the Ministry of Defence in recent years – a consequence, largely, of the current government’s rhetoric. Playing on the historic trope of the “Amalek” (the Biblical enemy of the Jews who attacked them during their flight from Egypt), Netanyahu has used the regional turmoil over the last four years to justify huge military and political overreactions to the slightest concerns in neighbouring Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. This has distracted from his failure to solve serious economic and social crises, against which Israelis demonstrated in record numbers in 2011, as 400,000 people came out onto the streets.
While Netanyahu’s continued emphasis on security and war may placate people for a while, it comes at an economic – a perhaps, eventually, a political – cost. For now, however, the current administration has succeeded in defining the ground over which the election will be fought. As such, the centre-left – meaning the Zionist Union party of Livni and Herzog – will struggle to win power on any other programme.
In the current atmosphere, even a minor incident from inside or outside Israel before the March 17th election would result in any emphasis on social justice and economic reform being swept away. In the face of cuts elsewhere, the defence budget – 20% of state expenditure – remains immune, making it almost impossible to address socio-economic issues. Bellicose rhetoric may be able to justify the state’s lopsided spending priorities, but only so far and for so long.
Security or self-imprisonment?
While Israel’s physical separation from bordering countries is a long historical process, it has been accelerated over the last ten years by the right and extreme-right governments that have come to power under Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Starting with the infamous “Security Wall” in the West Bank, this policy has since continued with three other reinforced walls at Israel’s external borders. Indeed, from North to South, East to West, in addition to “preventative wars”, Israel has long developed its defensive fortifications.
The cost of this to Israel itself is increasing isolation from its neighbours. Denis Bauchard, a lecturer at Sciences Po University in Paris, described the Israeli state as undergoing self-imposed “bunkerisation” . Netanyahu’s own language mirrors this, with the Prime Minister claiming that “the country must be surrounded by a fence” . To justify such policies, the government relies on two claims: first, the need for security; and secondly, the need to preserve the Jewish character of the state. Israel is thereby presented as a “villa in the jungle”, an isolated shtetl or Yiddish neighbourhood of a central European city, like the Prague ghetto.
First conceived as a “security fence” protecting Israel from terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, the Wall swiftly became a separation barrier. Between 2002 and 2005, its route was altered many times, evidently with the aim of eating up more Palestinian territory. For such reasons, while it has been effective in reducing suicide bombings, the Wall remains highly problematic under international law and was in fact declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. The Court’s request that the Wall be dismantled has, of course, been ignored.
Indeed, while further construction had been temporarily suspended due to economic reasons following the demonstrations of 2011 (only 400 of the planned 760km have thus far been built), the government has recently announced its resumption. However, beyond the illegal nature of the construction, Palestine’s acceptance to UNESCO in October 2011 has disturbed the plans of major Israeli strategists. For instance, in June 2014, the village of Battir, which lies south of Jerusalem and dates from the Roman period, was included in the « World Heritage in Danger » list following tough negotiations and exchanges within the assembly. The UNESCO vote aims to protect the architecture, hills and olive groves of Palestine and work towards political recognition of the country, while preventing the completion of the Wall.
This intervention is merely the most high-profile of an ever increasing number of complaints, which each year delay construction. Most, in fact, are heard in the Israeli Supreme Court, which is responsible for considering appeals seeking to alter the route of the Wall. A current dispute centres on the Christian Cremisan Valley, which would be permanently split in two in the Wall is built as planned.
However, it is not only in the West Bank that such “security” measures are underway. In addition to the blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007, other preventative measures against terrorists include a triple-barrier, seven-metre-high fence encircling the Strip, meant to deter those tempted to cross the border into Israel. Created after the 1993 Oslo Accords to delineate sovereign Palestinian territory, the barrier was severely damaged during the Second Intifada and rebuilt in 2001. Today, it runs for 60km, with the two main entry and exit points in Rafah (controlled by Egypt) and Erez (controlled by Israel).
The construction of a wall of almost 250 km along the border with Egypt is also officially underway to stop the trafficking of all drugs, weapons, goods and illegal immigrants. The Sinai side of border control has become less effective in recent times, resulting in increases in criminal and terrorist activity (including armed infiltrations and attacks) in this sensitive area. Moreover, Netanyahu declared in 2010 that illegal immigration was a mortal threat to the country, seemingly on a par with terrorism. At a press conference in August 2012, the Prime Minister stressed: « The phenomenon of illegal infiltration from Africa is extremely serious and threatens the foundations of Israeli society, national security and national identity”.
A much shorter wall, on the Lebanese border, is proposed to run along the Blue Line for 1 km. Political developments in Lebanon could indeed pose a threat to Israeli security as a result of the Syrian crisis and the possible strengthening of Hezbollah’s arsenal. The new wall will be supervised by UNIFIL and will run between the Israeli town of Metula and its neighbour, Killeh, on the Lebanese side. Of course, it will not prevent rockets falling into northern Israel.
Finally, the 120km-long metal fence on the Golan side was strengthened in the second half of 2013 in order to prevent further infiltration of people and cargo. Yigal Palmor, former spokesman of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, laid out the tactical purpose of the fence in the summer of 2014 while he was still in office, saying that there was not much else to do except observe the evolution of the Syrian conflict: « In the Golan, there is no need to look beyond the status quo until the situation in Syria is permanently stabilized”.
Yet, however justifiable these walls may or may not be in security terms, each metre constructed contributes further to Israel’s physical and diplomatic isolation.
Short-term gains for long-term pain?
While the excessive focus on defence and security makes sense in immediate terms, it could bring serious consequences for Israel further down the line. By employing sensationalist rhetoric, Netanyahu and future Prime Ministers may distract from socio-economic issues for a while, but in ploughing precious resources into the military, successive governments hamstring their own ability to tackle these problems. As last summer’s demonstrations show, such an approach is only likely to work for so long.
The “security walls” – as well as the settlements – similarly make a certain sense from an Israeli point of view in the short-term. However, the duplicitous and cynical manner in which such fortifications have been constructed, appropriating yet more Palestinian land, has been disastrous for Israel’s international image and have all but cut it off from the wider region.
For now, whatever quarrels exist between Israel and the United States, no actual reduction in American support has occurred. As Obama emphasised in a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
“As I have said repeatedly, neither my commitment – nor that of the US – to the security of Israel and the Israeli people, will ever falter and supporting peace will always be the cornerstone of this commitment…budgets are tight in Washington, but our commitment to Israel’s security remains undimmed. The United States pledges to provide more than $3 billion each year to help fund the security of Israel until 2018”
Whether such unyielding support will continue indefinitely, however, remains to be seen. Israel’s tactical emphasis on defence and security lacks strategic vision. While this raises serious problems for the country’s long-term future, it appears that nobody in the upcoming election is willing or capable of addressing them.
 Denis Bauchard, Le Nouveau monde arabe, enjeux et instabilités (The New Arab World: Issues and Instabilities) Bruxelles, André Versaille éditeur, 2012.
 « Israël va relancer la construction du mur de séparation en Cisjordanie » (Israel will revive the construction of the separation wall in the West Bank), rfi.fr, 5 juillet 2012.
 « Palestine : Un paysage de Cisjordanie menacé par le mur israélien, déclaré « patrimoine mondial en péril » » (Palestine: A West Bank landscape threatened by the Israeli wall, declared » World Heritage in Danger), HuffPost Maghreb/AFP, 21 juin 2006.
 « Israël : où en est la construction du mur de séparation ? » (Israel, which is the construction of the separation wall?), rfi.fr, 29 janvier 2014.
 « Netanyahou: Illegal immigration threat to Israel », jta.org, 21 janvier 2010.
 Line drawn in June 2000 by the UN after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon on May 25 ending the occupation that began in June 1982.
 United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
 « La décision d’une attaque d’Israël contre l’Iran n’a pas encore été prise » (The decision of an Israeli attack against Iran has not yet been taken), interview d’Yigal Palmor, la.vie.fr, 29 août 2012.
Israel’s Uncertain Election
The Israeli elections are fast approaching. The provocative speeches and shocking actions of major candidates reveal and further stoke the flames of the battle for control of a country riven by internal discord and beset by external pressures. With final polls leaving the outcome uncertain, the best commentators can hope to do is survey the trench lines over which the election will be won or lost.
Zionism of the Left and Right
Whatever fears of existential threats Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed to the United States Congress, he returned to an Israel assured of its status as an established nation-state. The primary purpose of Zionism – to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine – was achieved in 1948. For many, including several prominent historians and politicians, this raises a fundamental question: what is the role, if any, of Zionism today?
For some, the most important function of Zionism today is to preserve the state at all costs. This is the position, for example, of previously left-leaning historian Benny Morris, who swung decisively to the right with the wider radicalisation of Israeli society post-2000. For Morris and others like him, the emergence of a Zionist left list – represented most prominently by Herzog’s Zionist Union Party – is a cause for concern.
What then, has become of the socialist ideals which characterised previous incarnations of Zionism? For many early migrants, it was these principles which gave Zionism ideology much of its beauty and appeal. But today, all the Kibbutzhave been privatised. What better symbol is there of Zionism’s transformation?
Indeed, Zionism’s right-wing, nationalist aspects – which have only grown since the conquests of land in 1948 and 1967 – have all but erased these socialist and humanist ideals. Beyond this hardline ideology, Israel has become just like all other contemporary modern societies embedded in globalisation, nothing more and nothing less. Earlier leftist collectivism has given way to ultra-liberalism (economically speaking) and individualism.
The “new historian” Tom Segev, known for his work on the Six-Day War, has written on such matters. “At the time [of the War],” he recently commented, “I thought and I wrote that Israel was moving towards post-Zionist society. I was wrong. It has evolved into a more Zionist society”.
To revive itself, the Israeli left has to engage with the severe socio-economic issues affecting Israelis. By rediscovering alternative understandings of Zionism, they may be able to make Israel a state for all its citizens. Indeed, as I wrote in a previous article, the outcome of the election may depend on whether socio-economic problems can replace defence and security as the pre-eminent topics of party debate.
The security imperative
For decades, the priority of Israeli governments has been – often legitimately – the security of Israelis, who often feel assaulted or even under existential threat. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress can be seen as an attempt to maintain this focus at the expense of domestic socio-economic problems. As I have argued elsewhere, this may be counter-productive for Israel in the long-term.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu has made consistent efforts to present Iran as Israeli’s number one enemy, above historical threats and new actors such as Da’esh (the Arabic acronym for the “Islamic State”). Iran is said to be at the centre of a “Shia axis”, whose tentacles extend along the Lebanese border into the Golan Heights and now penetrate Gaza.
This is not a new tactic: the Israeli Prime Minister emphasises the threat from the Islamic Republic at every election, including the American in 2012 and now ahead of Israel’s on 17th March. For Netanyahu, Iran is the heart of the hydra, financing Shia militias and pursuing a military nuclear programme which, the Prime Minister claims, would undoubtedly be directed against Israel at the earliest opportunity.
With the election looming, much will depend on whether the public shares the Prime Minister’s concern of Iran and his prioritisation of external threats over domestic issues.
Right against centre-left: the power of the extremes
According to the polls, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud (23 seats projected in the Knesset) and Livni and Herzog’s, centre-left Zionist Union are neck and neck. Established parties, such as Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu appear marginal (5 seats projects).
But in this highly political landscape, shifting from one election to another, alliances are made and broken as key figures create, join or defect from different factions. Livni is a case in point, having tried everything from right to centre-left. Having started out as a member of Netanyahu’s Likud, Livni switched to Kadima, the party of Netanyahu’s great rival, Ariel Sharon, before running for Zionist Union with Herzog. She has also served as Netanyahu’s Minister of Justice and representative for the peace process.
As for the current Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, whose inflammatory anti-Arab speeches have caused multiple scandals in Israel and beyond, he knows what he must do: if he wants to hold a prominent position in the next government, such as Minister of Defence, he must join an anti-Likud alliance.
The smaller parties which can make or break the election outcome are Yesh Atid Yair Lapid, who have cold relations with both Netanyahu and Lieberman, and of course Naftali Bennet’s far-right Jewish Home, on course for around twelve seats. Although the left-wing, secular party Meretz has pledged “unconditional” allegiance to Herzog’s centre-left block, it carries little weight, with just five seats projected.
At least as much as appeal to the electorate, the next government will be formed by whoever can best navigate the shifting sands of Israeli party politics to form a majority in the Knesset. Worryingly for the centre-left, it appears that the far-right are best placed to act as king-makers.
The Israeli-Arab vote
The greatest hope for Zionist Union may therefore be to seek an alliance with Arab parties. Centred on the Hadash communist party, the united Arab list is projected to win thirteen seats.
While the Israeli electorate are extremely volatile and one can never be sure of election results prior to the event, it is clear that the radicalisation and rightward drift of Israeli politics over the last fifteen years and under Netanyahu is not unopposed. Against the nationalist and religious Zionist supporters of colonisation and opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, there is something of a resurgence of the left and centre-left.
Notwithstanding Herzog’s confidence that his alliance with Livni will be enough to oust Netanyahu, it seems certain that the Arab vote will weigh more than ever. However, since the failure of the Camp David talks in 1999, the Arab-Israeli population have turned their backs on Israeli centre-left parties, for whom they traditionally voted before this perceived betrayal.
Much therefore hinges on whether the rise of the extreme right will push the Arab list into a coalition with the Israeli centre-left. Such an alliance is essential for the return of Israeli Arabs – 20% of the country’s total population – to political affairs. It is this potential alliance which of which Netanyahu is most afraid.
Neglect of economic and social issues
The Netanyahu government has failed to solve the serious economic and social crisis in the country. The few measures taken in 2011, after the biggest demonstrations in Israel’s history, have been ineffectual.
The outgoing Prime Minister has no real economic and social program; neither do his opponents on the centre-left. This neglect is caused – or perhaps merely legitimated – by the unstable regional situation following the Arab uprisings of 2011, which has been used to justify a disproportionate focus on security.
Under such conditions, the defence budget consumes 20% of state spending. Yet, in the face of heavy cuts elsewhere, it has remained immune and any questioning of such expenditure has become a taboo.
As long as such a large proportion of state revenue is spent on defence, it is difficult to imagine any solution to economic and social problems or a rebuilding of Israel’s welfare state. The elections, unfortunately, will not change anything in this regard.
The Palestinian question: a deafening silence
Despite the two main rival camps being neck-and-neck, it is almost certain that neither will promise to resume peace negotiations. Labour’s list is primarily Zionist. It is also worth remembering that the Israeli left blames its own demise in the 2000s on having trusted the Palestinians. At the same time, Labour Zionism was responsible for the original expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948, the Six-Day War and in 1967. Indeed, leftist parties conducted the colonisation of Palestine from the outset, until the last Labour Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, joined Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition in 2003.
The prospects of an alliance between Arab parties and the Israeli left, which it may seem to make political sense, are thus uncertain, to say the least. As the election approaches, tensions are rising. Palestine’s application to the International Criminal Court, Israel’s suspension of tax revenue payments to the Palestinian Authority, the arrest of Hamas officials in the West Bank – all point to the swift deterioration of relations since 2014’s “Operation Protective Edge”.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the Palestinian issue has been covered by a spell of silence. Netayahu’s experience in non-negotiations; the rise of Herzog’s block over the old centre-left led by Yair Lapid; the emergence of throwaway parties which rarely last from one election to another; the attempts of civil society actors to disrupt the dominance of the politic-military establishment; whatever attention has been paid to socio-economic issues: Palestinians remain the primary victims of the Israeli electorate’s decision to vote on the basis of security concerns again and again.
Netanyahu mark-IV: a predictable victory
The Israeli elections on March 17 should not have had a surprise result. Surveys and experts had been predicting the downfall of Netanyahu for several days. The outcome of the vote was, in fact, according to the latest polls and after a particularly aggressive and angry campaign, supposed to consolidate the position of the center-left Zionist camp, with the Herzog-Livni double act succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu. Intellectuals, politicians of all stripes abroad, even researchers: all were convinced of a coming political renewal at the head of the Jewish state. They believed in a return of the « left. » However, a number of specialists resisted the media bandwagon. We were proven correct. And the biggest surprise of the elections? The unusually high turnout of around 72%.
Predictions of the return of the “left” in Israel indicated a lack of understanding of Israel’s political landscape, recent history and electorate – and, crucially, of Netanyahu’s character. For fifteen years, the right and the extreme right have been in the ascendency, signaled by the increasing colonisation of territory and obsession with security in an uncertain regional context. Both developments are caused by and further stimulate the rise of the right, nationalism and religious Zionism.
The latter concern is arguably legitimate, since the region is undoubtedly worryingly unstable. However, although Sharon evolved towards the end of his political career from the hawkish posture he had held since the War of Independence, can we expect the same from Bibi? Do such expectations entail accepting the old adage that, if you want peace, you must prepare for war? It is of course unlikely that he will start to make concessions. The only time he did so, in 1999, he lost his job.
Moreover, those wishing for a return of the “left” should remember that, historically, the Israeli left is responsible for end of the Palestinian state on November 29, 1947, and the expulsion of Palestinians between 1947 and 1949 – with, of course, a helping hand from right-wing militias such as the Irgun and Stern Gang. Leftist parties also conducted the Six Day War and laid the ideological roots for the colonization of Palestinian territories in the name of security, long before the arrival and subsequent ascendency of the right in 1977. People should also not need reminding that the occupation of Palestinian territory has been uninterrupted for forty-seven year and, indeed, intensified under the 1999-2001 tenure of the Labour Party’s Ehud Barak.
Netanyahu’s headstrong and hardline approach to politics may be isolating Israel and destroying whatever possibility remained of an independent Palestinian state, but his departure from previous leaders – including those of the Israeli left – is one of style more than substance. And as long as he continues to offer a firmer and – at least rhetorically – more convincing position on Israel’s security, it is hard to see him being swept aside.
Netanyahu’s Likud: a symbol of national unity against the new Amalekites
There are degrees of radicalism in the various political parties of the right, nationalist, religious Zionist and Messianic Israeli movement. But Netanyahu’sLikud remains the largest party in government. Unlike others, such as Kadima, the right-wing party which eventually joined the left in 2006, Likud is the party most able to deliver unity among the right-wing sections of the electorate. Except in the elections of 1999 (19 seats) and 2006 (12 seats), Likud has rarely dropped below the twenty or thirty seats in the Knesset since 1973: 39 seats in 1973, 48 in 1981, 32 in 1996 (when Netanyahu became leader of the party and Prime Minister), 38 in 2003, 27 in 2009, 20 in 2013 and 30 in 2015.
Due to this relative consistency, Likud in its policy and rhetoric is a fundamental reference for Israeli voters. And their line never changes: security, security and security. In reality, this involves the colonization of Palestinian territories, the refusal of a Palestinian state, the waging of numerous preemptive wars which are devastating not only for Israel’s enemies, but for the country’s economy and, in turn, society. Likud constantly presents itself as defending Israel against a host of enemies, the star cast of which does not change, regardless of the situation: Iran, which nevertheless looks set to return to the international community of nations; Hezbollah; Hamas; and new kids on the block, Daesh (the Islamic State), labelled ‘the number one threat to the entire international community’. The enemies are presented as a modern incarnation of the Amalekites, the Biblical enemy of the Jewish tribes.
Since taking office, Netanyahu has rarely changed his true position on any key issues affecting Israelis. Nor, indeed, has he made any progress in solving the country’s economic and social crises, on defense issues, on the ‘existential’ struggle against enemies, or with regards to the Palestinian state. His consistency in this regard should not be clouded by his sometimes divergent statements. In his speech at Bar Ilan in 2009, Netanyahu supported the two-state solution. Today, he no longer even pays it lip service and argues strongly against Palestine’s unilateral campaigns the United Nations. Deep down, one suspects that this has always been his position. And this consistency wins Netanyahu and his party elections. As the prominent blogger Charles Enderlin argued, if elected, Netanyahu will simply continue to implement his long-standing project: to transform the essential spirit of Israel and end any possibility of a two-state solution.
The inconsistent and disorganised opposition
The list of the centre-left Zionist Union camp, headed by Isaac Herzog, son of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, and Tzipi Livni, regular defector from right to left, nevertheless made more than respectable gains. But not enough to win victory. With 24 seats, the Zionist Union may be a newly established party, but the manner of its emergence will be familiar to Israelis: a coalition scrambled together purely in order to win an election.
This leads to great inconsistency among centrist and centre-left parties, exemplified by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. In the 2013 elections, the party emerged from nowhere to gain 19 seats, making it the second largest force in the Knesset, and joined the ruling coalition under Netanyahu. In the most recent elections, after refusing to repeat the partnership and signing up to the centre-left opposition, Yesh Atid fell to only 11 seats. Beyond the surprising gains of theUnited Arab List, to which we shall return, this to-ing and fro-ing means that the centre-left lacks credibility as a long-term alternative for the Israeli electorate.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the Israeli right blames the centre-left for believing in Oslo and the possibility of peace with the Palestinians after the failure of the Camp David II negotiations. When surveying the history of the Labour Partyover the last ten years, it is clear that the once-mighty force is now fragmented and dormant. Its former leaders, such as Barak, have shifted radically to the right and even founded their own party, Haatzmaut (Independence), which has since disappeared.
While short-lived, this move demonstrated that the ideology dominant at the time of Israel’s founding, that of the Labour Party, is no longer in vogue. The left has disappeared into a black hole. In 2013, the Labour Party won only 15 seats. While the center-left Yesh Atid clinched 19 seats, it scrambled to form an alliance with Naftali Bennet’s far-right Jewish Home, before joining the Netanyahu government.Labour won 13 seats in 2009, with Kadima shifting to the left-center and gaining 29 seats. In 2006, Labour won 19 seats, with Kadima (at this point, still on the right) clinching 29 seats. Likud, with 12 seats, appeared to have suffered a major blow. Of all the traditional left parties, it is Meretz which has remained most true to its ideals and consistent, still calling for a shared Jerusalem, two-state solution and dismantling of the settlements. As for the Unified Arabic List, it has – largely thanks to its leader, Ayman Odeh – won 14 seats, making it the third largest political party in the country. As already made clear during the elections, the Arab List will not ally with either Herzog or Netanyahou, but will rather taking a leading role in the Israeli opposition. It will be a strong symbol.
The only consistent policy comes from the right
The Israeli left has lost its identity, wears a black rose for the Palestinian’s simply to cover the indelible stain of its original sin, and has directly or indirectly contributed to the erosion of some of the great humanist principles of early Zionism: the New Man, the new country’s dreams, kibbutzim, an egalitarian society. They are not trusted to solve Israel’s most intractable problem, nor its present crises.
For all these reasons, the left tried to reconcile with its past and present itself in the recent elections as a « Zionist » union. However, Zionism has evolved since the left’s heyday. Supposedly « secular », it has seen its nationalist and religious elements come into the ascendency. There is an unmistakable « theocratization » of Israel, whether in politics, in the army or in the population at large. This rise of religious discourse, of course, plays into the hands of Netanyahu and other right-wingers, especially its ultra-orthodox, “traditionalist” components: United Torah Judaism,Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home.
The emergence of this “Bloc of Faith”, together with the ascendency of the right since 1977, has gradually merged the discourses of defense and security with religious messianism in the Palestinian territories. For increasing numbers of Israeli radicals who support these “fringe” parties of the extreme right, “Palestine” is simply understood as Judea and Samaria – and thus as Israel’s rightful territory. This discursive merger is extremely potent and dangerous.
However, the inconsistency of the Israeli « left » in its 2015 election program made it unlikely that it would be seen as a credible alternative. They have been pulled into the orbit of the right, making continued attempts to invoke their founding principles appear contradictory and unconvincing. They view Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel, making ostensible commitment to a two-state solution appear hollow; they support the dismantling of the settlements – apart from the largest and most controversial, such as Ma’ale Adumim. They recognise Palestinians’ right to a state, but not on the basis of the 1967 borders of Green Line. These contradictions perhaps explain why even left-leaning Israelis end up consistently voting for the right: the left is dead and its attempts to deny this merely make it appear schizophrenic.
Any recovery of the left depends on whether it can offer the electorate a credible solution to Israel’s social and economic crises and, in so doing, push defense and security down the agenda. Indeed, since 2011 Israelis have repeatedly denounced Netanyahu’s record in the former area. Despite appointing a special commission in the aftermath of record-breaking public protests, the Prime Minister has been unable to resolve any economic problems. Indeed, his relentless focus on defense and security means that the state simply lacks the money to do so. The center-left has attempted to campaign on this issue, but ultimately, Israelis prefer invest hope in candidates who prioritise security.
Even on economic matters, the right still has the advantage. The rise of kingmakers like Moshe Kahlon, a Likud defector whose Kulanu (All of Us) party campaigned on socio-economic issues, allows Netanyahu to at least rhetorically reconcile the defense of the country with the defense of the standard of living for its citizens. By incorporating elements pushing a few traditionally centre-leftist policies, the ruling right-wing block is able to attract a broad enough voter base to remain secure. And, of course, any serious external attack or threat will see debate on socio-economic issues further suppressed in the name of “national unity”.
Netanyahu has a free hand to build a strong coalition of nearly 67 seats, sending Arab parties and Labour into opposition, and allying again with the most radical right-wing parties in the country: those who want Lieberman to initiate new wars against Gaza and Hezbollah; those who want to “save” Israel, such as Naftali Bennett, who takes an ultra-aggressive stance against all enemies of the country and shows zero remorse while pursuing the “natural” recolonization of Judea and Samaria; those who, like United Torah Judaism, want to reconquer the Dome of the Rock from the Muslims and repeal the law which will subject ultra-Orthodox Jews to mandatory conscription from 2017.
Meanwhile Israel will continue to “over-secure” itself, against Iran and other enemies, interfere with the fallout from the Arab Spring, risk further inflaming and already volatile situation in Syria and elsewhere and to support the status quo in less urgent questions for the Israeli electorate, in particular with regards to Palestine. Internationally, the Israeli government will continue to present threats to its own interests as threat to the entire world. Netanyahu recently stated once against that he has not changed his policies, but rather the political reality has changed. And indeed, Netanyahu mark-IV looks very much like the previous models. Is this a good this for Israel, or simply for the personal ambitions of the Prime Minister? Israel is more and more cut off from the international community, from European union, and, most importantly, from Barack Obama. It has not yet been abandoned by the United States. But for how long will it remain in favour?