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Once More, by Popular Demand, Israel’s Grand Illusion

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The Film ‘The Grand Illusion’ by Jean Renoir, which I’ve been returning to occasionally throughout the years (and wrote about here before), is a 1937 B&W masterpiece that suggests, among other things, that “war is futile, and that mankind’s common experiences should prevail above political division, and its extension: war.” (Wikipedia.) “Renoir’s critique of contemporary politics and ideology celebrates the universal humanity that transcends national and racial boundaries and radical nationalism.”

I wrote about it a year ago, almost, during the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up with Hamas in Gaza. And what strikes me the most now—following the latest terrorist attacks, stabbing and shooting by ‘lone-wolf’ Palestinians, which caused the death of fourteen civilians on the Israeli side (and I believe some 28 dead on the Palestinian side, as Israel always about double the number of casualties it inflicts on the Palestinians)—as it did then, is not only the futility of war (it was the fifth such round-of-hostility since Hamas took over power in Gaza in 2007), but the complete collapse of Israel’s belief that the Palestinian issue and conflict has been put to rest.

The notion that—especially during the twelve years of Netanyahu’s rule, but also during this first year of the current government—the Palestinian political struggle for independence and a state of their own is practically all but over. It has been put to rest. Israel has succeeded, the motion goes, in squashing their national aspirations down. They will agree, the Palestinian people—as long as their economy is in good shape, Israel so believes—and get used to living as second, or third-class citizens under Israeli occupation for good. Problem and conflict, solved. Let’s continue with being the start-up nation. Light to the goyim.

Not so, obviously, as not only the latest Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel so tragically prove, but Israel’s police brutality in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Israeli army in the West Bank during Ramadan as well. This notion, this ‘grand illusion’ that (as Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the Washington Post, April 8), “… ignoring settler attacks on Palestinians, or treating the deaths of Palestinians at soldiers’ hands in the West Bank as noise from distant galaxies, bring us any closer to peace.” Indeed, until it reaches closer, until it blows violently in your face inside Israel ‘proper,’ you drink your ‘upside-down’ coffee peacefully in a Dizengoff café and treat what’s happening in the occupied territories as “noise from distant galaxies.”

It won’t do. It’s not going to work. Deal with it. The ‘it’ being the Palestinians’ right to exist in peace and dignity. To have a state of their own. To be treated as human beings with equal rights under the sun. Not to be evicted at will from their homes in Jerusalem—where it all had started last time, and will end this time—and to end the occupation once and for all. To borrow and paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, it’s “The occupation, stupid.”

Israel’s refusal since the end of the Six-Day War of 1967 to realize that, to accept the consequences, and mostly its failure to stop the expansion of the settlement endeavor is very costly and now—flying in the face of reality once more—almost behind repair. The two-state solution is dead. It was declared so by yours truly here, and elsewhere, before. At best, it’s on its deathbed. Even with Biden in charge in Washington; even with a new Prime Minister in Israel (hard to believe that it’s almost a year to this unusual government); even if Israelis would realize their mistake (the minority do, the majority don’t), I don’t see how it can be reversed. I hope it can, but the facts on the ground, and the political challenges against it, are too immense. It is now a one-state solution. And how it would survive and thrive is anybody’s guess.

Case in point: Arab Israelis. For the first time in Israel’s history an Israeli-Arab Muslim party and its leader, Ra’am and Abbas (respectively), are part of the coalition and its ruling government. And despite all predictions to the contrary, it stayed in it and practically held it together these last ten months. But now, as a result of the eruption of violence in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslims Holy month of Ramadan, their participation is on shaky ground. Wisely, so far, Abbas declared that they would just freeze their participation in the government until the storm is over. ‘Freeze,’ that is, not participate and not withdraw. Let’s see how things progress. As it is, this government has only 60 MKs supporting it out of 120 members in the Knesset. How it will survive for long is anybody’s guess.

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Reflections on the Elections

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One: Stalemate. As was predicted here in last month’s post, pre-elections, the most likely outcome of Israelis going to the polls is another deadlock. An intractable division in which no side—right, center, or left—can form a governing coalition. In this early stage some unknown factors remain, but it will take a ‘Passover Miracle’ for anybody to form a coalition. And if successful, it will be so razor-thin a margin that it won’t last long.

Two: Bibi Netanyahu. Despite his election-night claim of victory—what else?—he lost. Not only he lost five members of Knesset (MKs) in his party (more than 10%), but his ability to establish a governing coalition has been reduced dramatically as a result. He has 52 MKs at his camp, and even with ‘Yamina’, a party to his right and a natural ally with 7 MKs, he won’t make it. He needs the help of the ‘United Arab List’, a Muslim Arab party which throughout the years he declared as the enemy of Israel and Zionism. Fat chance there, then, if not totally out of the question since he is not only fighting for his political life, but his personal life; i.e., to stay out of jail.

Three: Benny Gantz. As my readers know, I supported his move to join the coalition with the treacherous Netanyahu, and even stuck with him through thick and thin before the elections, calling on Israelis to vote for him. Apparently—they heard me. He and his Blue & White party are probably the biggest surprises of these elections. Predicted by experts during the campaign to not even pass the electoral threshold, and therefore not get into the Knesset, he now has 8 MKs and it’s the fourth biggest party. Even combat friends—such as previous prime Minister Ehud Barack –called on him publicly to withdraw from the election. Party friends and members deserted him. Yet he stuck with it. And the outlandish scenario I’d laid out before you in my last post, of him ending up being the Prime Minister as a result of this, and that of next elections’ stalemate, took another step forward to become an (unbelievable indeed) reality.

Four: Mansour Abbas. He is an Arab Israeli and the leader of the ‘United Arab List’ (Ra’am), who’s also one of the few winners of this round of elections. He’d split from the Joint Arab Party and was also not predicted to pass the electoral threshold. And yet he has passed with 4 MKs, and now finds himself in the enviable position of being declared a potential ‘kingmaker’. He can extract any price now, any deal, in order to solve the problems facing his constituency in the Arab society, in return to joining—or even just supporting in the Knesset without joining—either camp. Yes, even the rightwing Likud camp.

Five: Labor and Meretz. Another surprise. The rebirth of the Labor Party—the old party of the ‘giants,’ who fought, build, and sustained Israel from pre-independence to 1976—came out from the dead with 7 MKs, with a strong (almost Golda-like) woman leader, Merav Michaeli at its helm. Meretz, a party even left to the Labor party, which was predicted to not pass the electoral threshold too, did so with 6 MKs, enough to survive in the Israeli political arena. They should unite again, that’s my opinion, yet I’m delighted and encouraged to see them in the Knesset.

Six:  Religious Zionism. This party on the extreme right, led by Bezalel Smotricv, also won with 7 MKs. Without them Netanyahu doesn’t even have a prayer. They are the fervent supporters of ‘Eretz Shlema;’ the whole of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. This is the settlers’ party, with “lawmakers who back expelling ‘disloyal’ Arabs and vow to ‘put the Torah first’.” (Haaretz). This party includes “Itamar Ben-Gvir… the leader of this extremist right-wing party… a disciple of Meir Kahane.” Not only he’s in the Knesset, but he might be in the government too.

Seven: Israel is stuck. Split into two halves, left of center and right of center. One begins to think the whole political system has to change sooner or later before a significant change could come. Or Netanyahu is finally removed for power—before he grabs it for good—and goes to jail. Even he, the “political genius,” the  “Fox,” couldn’t muster a win. Twelve ongoing years in power, in control of everything, hailed as the coronavirus pandemic miracle worker, a receiver of tremendous political gifts from President Trump, establishing peace and normalization with about four Arab states, and yet he has lost. The problem is intractable, and even a united front of the center-left parties—very unlikely—might not bring a solution, as we saw in the first three election rounds.

Eight: A miracle. Fifth elections without decision. Benny Gantz becomes Prime Minister on November 17 because of the current coalition agreement and law. Netanyahu goes to jail eventually, or resigns with a plea agreement and is ordered to stay out of politics for good, yet a free man. This will shuffle the cards, will bring new elections with hopefully a new leader in charge. Fat chance, you say. I agree. Yet one can still hope.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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