Netanyahu’s Win Is Good for Palestine
New York Times
March 18th 2015
WASHINGTON — IF anyone doubted where Benjamin Netanyahu stood on the question of peace, the Israeli prime minister made himself clear just before Tuesday’s election, proclaiming that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. Then he decided to engage in a bit of fear-mongering against Palestinian citizens of Israel in hopes of driving his supporters to the polls. “The right-wing government is in danger,” Mr. Netanyahu announced on Election Day. “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”
But Mr. Netanyahu’s victory is actually the best possible 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.
This might seem counterintuitive, but the political dynamics in Israel and internationally mean that another term with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm could actually hasten the end of Israel’s apartheid policies. 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.
Israelis have grown very comfortable with the status quo. In a country that oversees a military occupation that affects millions of people, the biggest scandals aren’t about settlements, civilian deaths or hate crimes but rather mundane things like the price of cottage cheese and whether the prime minister’s wife embezzled bottle refunds.
For Israelis, there’s currently little cost to maintaining the occupation and re-electing leaders like Mr. Netanyahu. Raising the price of occupation is therefore the only hope of changing Israeli decision making. Economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s increased its international isolation and put pressure on the apartheid regime to negotiate. Once Israelis are forced to decide between perpetual occupation and being accepted in the international community, they may choose a more moderate leader who dismantles settlements and pursues peace, or they may choose to annex rather than relinquish land — provoking a confrontation with America and Europe. Either way, change will have to come from the outside.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) has thrived while Mr. Netanyahu has led Israel. He has become the internationally recognized face of Israeli intransigence, settlement building and brazen disregard for Palestinian human rights. But while Mr. Netanyahu has become synonymous with the occupation, he is in many ways a product of it. There are also entrenched political and economic interests that benefit from maintaining the status quo.
By monopolizing West Bank land and natural resources, Israel reaps the benefits of occupation with few costs. Settlements are a major state investment, and add both a geographic and political obstacle to peace since settlers play a key role in shaping Israeli politics and their interests cannot be ignored.
Mr. Netanyahu’s style has certainly heightened tensions and harmed relations with Israel’s allies. He has clashed with President Obama and thumbed his nose at the Democratic Party by helping to make Israel a partisan political issue in America. His most recent speech before a joint session of Congress, which 60 members of Congress boycotted, was merely the latest incident.
Replacing Mr. Netanyahu with his challenger, Isaac Herzog, would have slowed down the BDS movement and halted pressure on Israel by creating the perception of change. A new prime minister would have kick-started a new “peace process” based on previous failed models that would inevitably fail again because of a lack of real pressure on Israel to change its deplorable behavior.
The re-election of Mr. Netanyahu provides clarity. Two years ago Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the maximum time left for a two-state solution was two years. Mr. Netanyahu officially declared it dead this week in order to drive right-wing voters to the polls. The two-state solution, which has seen more funerals than a reverend, exists today only as a talking point for self-interested, craven politicians to hide behind — not as a realistic basis for peace.
The old land-for-peace model must now be replaced with a rights-for-peace model. Palestinians must demand the right to live on their land, but also free movement, equal treatment under the law, due process, voting rights and freedom from discrimination.
Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election 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.
The election results 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. In the past few years, a major Dutch pension fund divested large sums from Israeli banks active in the West Bank, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been divested from companies, like G4S and SodaStream, that operate in occupied territory.
There won’t be real change on the ground or at the polls without further pressure on Israel. And now, that pressure will increase. For this, we have Mr. Netanyahu to thank.
See also One Democratic State Group