Saturday, February 14, 2009
The State of the (Israeli) State/What Avigdor Lieberman Means for Any Ruling Coalition
Extremists in Israel - Avaaz Lieberman expose from Avaaz on Vimeo.OPINION/EDITORIAL
Israel lurches into fascism
By Ali Abunimah
The Electronic Intifada
12 February 2009
Whenever Israel has an election, pundits begin the usual refrain
that hopes for peace depend on the "peace camp" -- formerly
represented by the Labor party, but now by Tzipi Livni's Kadima --
prevailing over the anti-peace right, led by the Likud.
This has never been true, and makes even less sense as Israeli
parties begin coalition talks after Tuesday's election. Yes, the
"peace camp" helped launch the "peace process," but it did much more
to undermine the chances for a just settlement.
In 1993, Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords.
Ambiguities in the agreement -- which included no mention of
"self-determination" or "independence" for Palestinians, or even
"occupation" -- made it easier to clinch a short-term deal. But
confrontation over irreconcilable expectations was inevitable. While
Palestinians hoped the Palestinian Authority, created by the accord,
would be the nucleus of an independent state, Israel viewed it as
little more than a native police force to suppress resistance to
continued occupation and colonial settlement in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip. Collaboration with Israel has always been the measure by
which any Palestinian leader is judged to be a "peace partner."
Rabin, according to Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign
minister, "never thought this [Oslo] will end in a full-fledged
Palestinian state." He was right.
Throughout the "peace process," Israeli governments, regardless of
who led them, expanded Jewish-only settlements in the heart of the
West Bank, the territory supposed to form the bulk of the
Palestinian state. In the 1990s, Ehud Barak's Labor-led government
actually approved more settlement expansion than the Likud-led
government that preceded it headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Barak, once considered "dovish," promoted a bloodthirsty image in
the campaign, bolstered by the massacres of Gaza civilians he
directed as defense minister. "Who has he ever shot?" Barak quipped
derisively about Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the proto-fascist
Yisrael Beitenu party, in an attempt to paint the latter as a
Today, Lieberman's party, which beat Labor into third place, will
play a decisive role in a government. An immigrant who came to
Israel from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Lieberman was
once a member of the outlawed racist party Kach that calls for
expelling all Palestinians.
Yisrael Beitenu's manifesto was that 1.5 million Arab Palestinian
citizens of Israel (indigenous survivors or descendants of the
Palestinian majority ethnically cleansed in 1948) be subjected to a
loyalty oath. If they don't swear allegiance to the "Jewish state"
they would lose their citizenship and be forced from the land of
their birth, joining millions of already stateless Palestinians in
exile or in Israeli-controlled ghettos. In a move instigated by
Lieberman but supported by Livni's allegedly "centrist" Kadima, the
Knesset recently voted to ban Arab parties from participating in
elections. Although the high court overturned it in time for the
vote, it is an ominous sign of what may follow.
Lieberman, who previously served as deputy prime minister, has a
long history of racist and violent incitement. Prior to Israel's
recent attack, for example, he demanded Israel subject Palestinians
to the brutal and indiscriminate violence Russia used in Chechyna.
He also called for Arab Knesset members who met with officials from
Hamas to be executed.
But it's too easy to make him the bogeyman. Israel's narrow
political spectrum now consists at one end of the former "peace
camp" that never halted the violent expropriation of Palestinian
land for Jewish settlements and boasts with pride of the war crimes
in Gaza, and at the other, a surging far-right whose "solutions"
vary from apartheid to outright ethnic cleansing.
What does not help is brazen western hypocrisy. Already the US State
Department spokesman affirmed that the Obama administration would
work with whatever coalition emerged from Israel's "thriving
democracy" and promised that the US would not interfere in Israel's
"internal politics." Despite US President Barack Obama's sweet talk
about a new relationship with the Arab world, few will fail to
notice the double standard. In 2006, Hamas won a democratic election
in the occupied territories, observed numerous unilateral or agreed
truces that were violated by Israel, offered Israel a
generation-long truce to set the stage for peace, and yet it is
still boycotted by the US and European Union. Worse, the US
sponsored a failed coup against Hamas and continues to arm and train
the anti-Hamas militias of Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as Palestinian
Authority president expired on 9 January. As soon as he took office,
Obama reaffirmed this boycott of Palestinian democracy.
The clearest message from Israel's election is that no Zionist party
can solve Israel's basic conundrum and no negotiations will lead to
a two-state solution. Israel could only be created as a "Jewish
state" by the forced removal of the non-Jewish majority Palestinian
population. As Palestinians once again become the majority in a
country that has defied all attempts at partition, the only way to
maintain Jewish control is through ever more brazen violence and
repression of resistance (see Gaza). Whatever government emerges is
certain to preside over more settlement-building, racial
discrimination and escalating violence.
There are alternatives that have helped end what once seemed like
equally intractable and bloody conflicts: a South African-style
one-person one-vote democracy, or Northern Ireland-style
power-sharing. Only under a democratic system according rights to
all the people of the country will elections have the power to
transform people's futures.
But Israel today is lurching into open fascism. It is utterly
disingenuous to continue to pretend -- as so many do -- that its
failed and criminal leaders hold the key to getting out of the
morass. Instead of waiting for them to form a coalition, we must
escalate the international civil society campaign of boycott,
divestment and sanctions to force Israelis to choose a saner path.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One
Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
(Metropolitan Books, 2006). A version of this article first appeared
on the Guardian's Comment is Free website with the headline "No
peace for Israel."