Israel takes a right turn, out in the open

As the polls closed at 10pm Tuesday night in Israel, supporters of the centrist party Kadima celebrated the unexpected victory over rival Likud party, edging out Likud by one seat in the Israeli Knesset. MENASSAT takes a look at what a new Israeli coalition government will mean for the peace process.
Lieberman's far-right anti-Arab campaign gains popularity among youth © Electronic Intifada

BEIRUT, February 11, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima party celebrated election results Tuesday night, taking 28 seats of the Knesset's 120 seats, edging out its closest rival, the right-wing Likud party that took 27 seats.

Security issues dominated the three-week Israeli election campaign process, which was put on pause and then resumed after the end (January 17) of Israel’s 23-day military assault against the Gaza Strip. 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,000 were wounded in the campaign.

However, the biggest winner in Tuesday's elections was Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yissrael Beiteinu “Israel, Our Home” Party, which is now attracting more Israelis than ever, winning 15 seats, two more than defense minister Ehud Barak’s Labor Party, which represents the left in Israel.

Labor won only 13 seats, representing the worst defeat in the Labor Party's history.

Now that Israeli public opinion has officially moved to the right, the questions that remain are whether Livni will be able to form a coalition government, and how will the election results affect the so-called peace process?

Who will form the government?

Before Livni can take her seat in the Prime Minister’s chair, it is still unclear whether she will be able to form the 61-seat coalition needed to form a government.

According to Israeli legislation, Israeli president Shimon Peres has to consult with all the parties before deciding who will form the ruling coalition.

Livni has already reached out to her arch rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Likud leader, who refused her initial offer a few months ago, has already begun negotiations with the ultra-religious party Shas, which won 11 seats in Tuesday's elections.

And while Livni might have a more difficult time finding allies in a new coalition government, Likud leader Netanyahu is able to turn to the right for his support.

Whether the government coalition is formed by Livni or Netanyahu, the clear shift of the Israeli electorate to the right has many in the West worried about what is clearly a derailed peace process.

“No loyalty, no citizenship”

Throughout the election campaign the familiar call for "Jewish" expansionism through settlement building in the West Bank was accompanied by blatant anti-Palestinian rhetoric, particularly on the right.

Of course such statements set up red flags for western diplomats looking to restart a peace process that requires a willing Palestinian negotiating partner.

This effort has not been helped by Yisrael Beiteinu's Lieberman, who repeatedly called for Israelis to “test the loyalty” of  Israeli-Palestinians as a common solution to “the Arab problem within.”

It's no secret that Lieberman's idea of peace includes the right to revoke the citizenship of Israel's 20 percent of indigenous Palestinians, or 1.5 million people, in order to transfer them to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

During a conference for the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, youth stood at an intersection in Upper Nazareth, waving Israeli flags and shouting "Death to the Arabs" and "No loyalty, no citizenship" at passing cars.

While the media is quick to label Lieberman a fascist, racist, or extremist, the next Israeli Prime Minister (whoever it will be) will have to share Lieberman's discourse.

For his part, Netanyahu, during Operation Cast Lead said that the biggest threat to Israel was the Arabs living in the state. “"If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens," Haaretz reported

Two weeks days before the war on Gaza, Livni said that the only solution for the Palestinians in Israel was the future state of the West Bank and Gaza.

Different leader, same apartheid

Inside Israel, as part of its attempt to squash political dissent during the war on Gaza, the state attempted to ban the only two Arabic parties represented in the Knesset from participating in the upcoming elections—the Democratic National Assembly (Balad) established by Azmi Bishara, and the United Arab List (UAL).

Despite the attempted ban, both parties still ran with UAL winning four seats and Balad, three.

“The right and the left wing in Israel are both Zionists …all of them are against full rights for the Palestinians inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza. None of them has a real program for peace,”  Balad candidate Yasmeen Daher told the Real News.

Other Palestinians in Israel refused to vote in the elections, such as the movement Abna’ al Balad (Sons of the Country) who are calling for a boycott of “the Zionist Institution.”

In the West Bank, de facto President Mahmoud Abbas, whose popularity today sits at 13%, has said that he will negotiate with Israel’s new leadership but only if the state halts settlement construction.

  Read Ola Madhoun's article:

Gaza reacts to Israeli elections
Posted on 11/02/2009 - 19:00
Israeli elections on Tuesday have produced varied reactions on the Gaza street some 3 weeks after the end of Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip killed 1,300 Palestinians and injured more than 5,000. MENASSATs Ola Madhoun talked to a wide cross-section of Gazans, from armed resistance factions to school teachers to gauge expectations of the new Israeli leadership.

Election quote:

“…There is certain right-wing consensus in Israel, and this is, in my opinion, a result of international community policy which made Israel feel that it has impunity and is unaccountable to the world community and irresponsible towards international law, and practically it has become even irresponsible towards itself, because I don't think there is anything to be proud about when in ten years from now the Israelis discover, or five years from now, that they are the worst apartheid system in human history.”

Dr Mustafa Barghouti in an interview with Salon Radio.
Barghouti was a 2005 candidate for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority.