Failed Gaza war leads to election of Israeli rightists

By Kim Bullimore

Six weeks after the formal cessation on January 18 of Israel’s 22-day war on the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in Gaza, Israel continues to carry out sporadic airstrikes on the small coastal region. The war on Gaza was ostensibly aimed at stopping rockets from being fired from Gaza into southern Israel but really aimed at destroying the ability of its elected Hamas government to administer the territory through the destruction of nearly all of its government buildings and police stations. Neither objective was achieved.

During its three-week Gaza war, Israel killed 1400 Palestinians (90% of them unarmed civilians) and destroyed 5000 homes, 16 government buildings and 20 mosques. Another 25,000 homes were seriously damaged. At least 110 mortars and home-made rockets have been fired into Israel since it ended its 22-day air war and ground invasion, and Israel has been drawn into protracted indirect negotiations with Gaza’s Hamas government over the terms of a longer-lasting ceasefore.

Frustration among Israeli voters at the failure of the Gaza war to crush Palestinian resistance to Israel’s military control of the Gaza land borders, airspace and territorial waters, and its 20-month blockade of Gaza, led to the most openly anti-Arab political parties making major gains in the February 10 Israeli parliamentary election. The right-wing Likud party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, increased its representation in the parliament by 15 seats, bringing its total number of MPs to 27, one less than the “moderate” Kadima party. The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party, won 15 seats, making it the third largest parliamentary party behind Kadima and Likud.

Led by Avigador Lieberman, an openly anti-Arab ultra-Zionist, Yisrael Beiteinu campaigned on a platform that demanded that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship either swear an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship. Lieberman, who has previously advocated forcible expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian Arab population, is now in the position of Israel’s “kingmaker”.

With at least 65 right-wing legislators in the Knesset, a number of Israeli and international commentators have argued that the February 10 elections marked a “lurch to the right”. This, however, ignores the fact that Kadima, which was the dominant party in the former governing coalition, is also a militantly Zionist party.

Kadmina & Likud

Kadima, now led by Tzipi Livni, split from Likud in 2005. Like Likud, Kadima supports the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the building of the apartheid wall, and opposes the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes during the Zionist military conquest of most of Palestine in 1947-48. Like Likud, Kadima seeks to retain Israeli control of Jerusalem, denies East Jerusalem’s occupied status under international law and opposes Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state. Both Likud and Kadima supported the December-January war on Gaza and both have refused to directly negotiate with Hamas.

While Livni has stated that Kadima is willing to participate in a “negotiated” settlement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to bring about a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any Palestinian “state” established under Kadima’s policies would be a series of apartheid-type bantustans effectively still controlled by Israel. According to Palestinian journalist, Khaled Amayreh, writing in the February 19 edition of Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly, Livni has also made it clear that she believes “that at some point in the future Israel may inevitably deport most or all of its Arab inhabitants to such a Palestinian state, especially if ... [Israel’s] Arab population grew to ‘unbearable levels’”. Such an attitude has prompted Arab Knesset member Ahmed Teibi “to label the Kadima leader as 90 percent Lieberman and 10% Netanyahu”.

On February 20, Israeli President Shimon Peres invited Netanyahu, rather than Livni, to form a government, though suggesting that this be a “national unity government”, including both Likud and Kadima. According to the February 27 Tel Aviv Haaretz daily, Netanyahu has offered Kadima “a full partnership in the government and two of three top ministerial posts”. Livni however has reportedly turned down the offer.

Haaretz also reported that Yisrael Beiteinu, along with the other small ultraright parties, were jockeying for position within a possible Likud-led right-wing coalition government. Ya’akov Katz, the leader of the National Union party — which is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state or any Israeli withdrawal from Syria’s Golan Heights and wants the illegal West Bank settlements be declared legal and formal permission given for the construction of more such settler outposts — told Haaretz that he expected the new coalition government, encompassing ultrarightist parties, to be “more Israeli, more Jewish, more Zionist and different in its directives than the present government”.

US double standard

In response to increased parliamentary representation of a range of Israeli parties that oppose the US-sponsored “Road Map to Peace” and the establishment of a Palestinian state, even a bantustanised one, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs told reporters on February 13 that “President Obama looks forward to working with whoever makes up that next Israeli government in a search for lasting and durable peace in the region”.

On February 12, Nasser Lahham, the chief editor of the Bethlehem-based Palestinian Maan news agency noted that the US and the European Union insist that the Palestinian people and their leadership implement all past agreements such as the 1993 Oslo accords and “renounce violence”, but do not place any such demands on Israel. According to Lahhman, with “extreme right-wing parties” in power in Israel, including both Yisrael Beitenu and Likud (whose charter “explicitly calls for Israel’s eternal dominion over all its occupied territory”) “will the international community demand that Lieberman or Netanyahu comply with the land for peace principle? To renounce violence? To recognize the Road Map? To recognize the PLO as the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinians? To accept the Arab peace initiative?” If they don’t, asked Lahhman, does the PA have the right “to ask the world to boycott the Israeli government?”

The Ramallah-based PA, which is headed by US- and Israeli-supported Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired on January 9, has stated that it is ready to negotiate with the new Israeli government on certain conditions. According to Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for Abbas, “We will deal with any Israeli government if that government commits itself to the two-state solution, previous agreements, halting settlement activities, and international law”. However, support for Abbas, even in his own party, is waning.

Mouin Rabbani, a contributing editor to the Middle East Report, told Al Jazeera on January 19 that in the wake of the Gaza war, Abbas is facing growing criticism within Fatah “for the absolute failure of each and every one of his strategies since he assumed the presidency in November 2004”. On January 1, at the height of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, the Beirut Daily Star noted that Abbas “repeatedly called for an immediate halt to the Israeli offensive in Gaza, but his pleas have been eclipsed by the gory images of casualties and of protests across the Arab world broadcast on Arab television, particularly Al-Jazeera”. As a result, the Daily Star observed that “increasingly, the Palestinian man in the street is viewing Hamas as the cutting edge of resistance against Israel, while Abbas and certain Arab governments, particularly of Egypt, are seen as having given into the Jewish state”.

According to a Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre poll conducted on January 29-31, Palestinian satisfaction with the performance of Abbas as PA president had dropped to just 13.2%, with 49.9% of those polled saying they were very dissatisfied with his performance. According to the centre, 27.7% of those questioned in the West Bank and Gaza said they trusted Hamas, compared with 26% for Fatah. If elections had been held that weekend, 28.6% of Palestinians would have voted for Hamas, and 27.9% for Fatah.