Could Netanyahu Win Actually Spell Progress for Palestinians?
With the "two-state solution" and the so-called "peace process" assumed dead in the wake of Likud's reelection, is the opportunity ripe for a paradigm shift?
Is the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week a possibly good thing for Palestinians and other who seek a just and peaceful end to Israeli apartheid, the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the overall conflict between Israel and a stateless Palestine?
Though he acknowledged it may seem "counterintuitive," the answer from Palestinian rights activist Yousef Munayyer, is—even if regrettably—'Yes.'
As Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, confessed in a prominently featured op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday, "Mr. Netanyahu’s victory is actually the best plausible outcome for those seeking to end Israel’s occupation. Indeed, I, as a Palestinian, breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that his Likud Party had won the largest number of seats in the Knesset."
According to Munayyer's assessment, "The biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel. It can’t and it won’t." In turn, those looking for a viable solution to the Israeli/Palestinian divide will have to look elsewhere, either to international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court, or to grassroots efforts and popular nonviolent tactics like the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS).
"The re-election of Mr. Netanyahu provides clarity," continued Munayyer. "[It]has convincingly proved that trusting Israeli voters with the fate of Palestinian rights is disastrous and immoral. His government will oppose any constructive change, placing Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary."
On a political level in the United States, that collision has been most acutely evidenced in the crumbled relationship between Netanyahu and the Obama administration which is now a well-documented byproduct of the recent Israeli election. As Reuters reported late Wednesday, even as the Obama administration "congratulated Netanyahu for his party's decisive win, the White House signaled its deep disagreements – and thorny relationship - with Netanyahu will persist on issues ranging from Middle East peacemaking to Iran nuclear diplomacy."
In a statement, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest, said the president was "deeply concerned" about remarks made by Netanyahu that sought "to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens" during his re-election bid. Though Netanyahu has now rejected it outright, the Obama administration on Wednesday re-affirmed its commitment to the two-state solution.
On Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Netanyahu for what he described as "racist and worrisome" comments made by the Prime Minister in the lead-up to Tuesday's election. "We followed the Israeli elections and did not interfere in it," Abbas told reporters in Ramallah. "But we heard Netanyahu's remarks – that there would be no two-state solution and Jerusalem would be Israel's unified capital – which are worrisome."
Though the victory of Netanyahu and his Likud Party came as a blow to more moderate political forces in both Israel and the U.S., Munayyer is not nearly alone in his assessment that there may be a specific kind of silver-lining for those who want to see a much larger paradigm shift about how Israel/Palestine peace is both discussed and pursued.
As veteran independent journalist Robert Parry explains the dynamic, Netanyahu's latest maneuvers have done the important job of "unmasking" the deceit of Israel's position on the so-called "Peace Process"—birthed by the Oslo Accords in 1993—which has held the two-state solution as its perpetual and unattainable prize. According to Parry:
The truth is that the two-state solution has been a fiction for at least the past two decades, dying in 1995 with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But the two-state illusion still served important political purposes both for Israelis, who would pay it lip service while continuing their steady encroachment on Palestinian lands, and for U.S. politicians who could point to the mirage as an excuse not to pressure Israel too hard on its human rights violations.
Yet, whenever any U.S. official actually tried to reach that shimmering oasis of a two-state solution, it would recede into the distance. Then, the Israelis would rely on their friends and allies in the news media and politics to blame the Palestinians. Now, however, the illusion of Israel seeking such an outcome in good faith has been lost in Netanyahu’s anything-goes determination to keep his office – a case of political expediency trumping strategic expediency.
And Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, writing at the World Post, put it this way:
The vote for the Israeli Knesset and the shift to the right by Israel's presumptive re-elected prime minister has relieved Palestinians of any worry about moving seriously in the direction of internationalizing the conflict. Attempts to say that the conflict can be resolved if both parties just sit down and talk was based on the assumption that Israel is a democratic state for all its citizens and thus can't accept to politically disenfranchise another people and that the state of Israel accepts to replace the occupation with an independent Palestinian state. Both these assumptions have been wiped by Netanyahu and therefore Palestinians are no longer bound by the need to continue to pretend that the conflict can be solved simply through direct Palestinian-Israeli engagement.
The role and the responsibilities of the international community to resolve a conflict that all agree has poisoned the air in the Middle East region is now paramount. It is no longer acceptable that international instruments such as the Security Council and the International Criminal Court be disabled in favor of Israel. No one country should be allowed to be above international law. And Israel has now lost any chance of world powers protecting it from international justice.
Writing at Mondoweiss, Avigail Abarbanel, an Israeli-born activist and author living abroad, expressed a response similar to Munayyer's regarding Netanyahu's reelection. "So he won and I have to say I am relieved," Abarbanel explained. "There wll be no more endless cycles of pointless ‘negotiations’ with Israel pretending that some day it will agree to a two-state solution while continually escalating both settlement (colony) building and the maltreament of the Palestinians. Now everyone will see that the Palestinians were right all along and that Israel has never been a partner for negotiations."
With all this in mind, former CIA analyst and foreign policy expert Paul Pillar, writing for The Lobe Log, says the Obama administration now has a serious set of questions before it:
What are you going to say, and more importantly do, about all this? How will you square the realities of the continued damaging effects of the unresolved conflict, the determination of the Israeli government not to resolve it, and the extraordinary relationship that government enjoys with the United States, with the many billions in aid and all those vetoes at the United Nations? (And remember, Mr. President, that you are in the final two years of your administration and will never have to run in another election.)
A more specific question the administration is going to face in the near term is how it will react to the Palestinians’ effort to press their case for statehood. Netanyahu’s admission strips away any remaining rationale for criticizing Palestinians for advancing that case at international organizations. The rationale wasn’t valid in the first place; Palestinian endeavors in multilateral organizations to work toward self-determination never were “unilateral” moves that jeopardized bilateral negotiations in any way. Now it is clearer than ever that the Palestinians do not have a serious negotiating partner.
According to Ali Abunimah—editor of the Electronic Intifada and an outspoken proponent of replacing the two-state solution with a one-state, bi-national approach—negotiating with a Netanyahu-led government "is pointless when its power over its victims remains vast and unchecked." The message people should take away from Likud's reelection, he argues, is simple one that should aim to "isolate" Israel politically and economically through active pressure until it decides to change course. "Palestinians have asked the world to do that through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)," writes Abunimah. "Netanyahu makes the case a little easier, so it’s time to step it up."
For his part, Munayyer predicts this is exactly what will happen because the election results and ensuing fallout over Likud's far-right positioning "will further galvanize the movement seeking to isolate Israel internationally. B.D.S. campaigns will grow, and more countries will move toward imposing sanctions to change Israeli behavior."
And finally, not naive to the damage and destruction that may come in the meanwhile, Aberbanel made sure to point out that for millions of Palestinians—and for all parties concerned about a lasting peace—the situation is "about to get a lot worse before it gets better."