IIt would be encouraging to think that the massive upheaval underway in Israeli politics with the overthrow of Benjamin Netanyahu also indicates a radical shift in political culture. Perhaps a turning point in its democratic decline, even a movement to end its rule over millions of Palestinians.
Unfortunately, it does not indicate any of these things. The burning desire to depose Israel’s oldest leader is undoubtedly the driving force behind the disparate eight-party coalition hoping to replace him. But another factor also ties them together, by default, if not by design: the consensus that, in determining the future of the Jewish state, the conflict with the Palestinians can be managed in perpetuity.
Netanyahu, more than any other Israeli leader, has promoted this idea, cementing it so quickly within the national consciousness that it may be his most enduring legacy.
It is a sign of how invisible the Palestinians are now in Israeli politics that even the truly historic inclusion of an Arab party in the coalition has not put them on the agenda. The Islamist Ra’am party is using its four seats to make some limited gains for its own constituency but, like all other partners, it has agreed not to get bogged down in the entire Palestinian issue in order to avoid friction.
For a long time, the decades of occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip played a central role in Israeli politics and in a national debate about the direction of the Zionist project. Even after the failure of the Oslo accords, successive prime ministers at least remained theoretically loyal to the idea of implementing a two-state solution.
Netanyahu did something different. He sold the Israelis the idea that the occupation of millions of reluctant Palestinians could be handled as an inconvenience rather than an existential threat.
The Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war not only diverted global attention from Israel-Palestine, but gave weight to Netanyahu’s premise that now is not the time to even consider creating a Palestinian state.
Amid lurid warnings that Israel’s policies would make it the pariah of the West, Netanyahu sought stronger economic and diplomatic ties with less demanding partners in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
And life was good. No matter how much European liberals condemned her human rights record, Israel’s economy continued to rise, singer Netta won the 2018 Eurovision song contest, and the Jewish state ushered in the world’s most successful coronavirus vaccination program. .
The warm embrace of Donald Trump, with the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the annexation of the Golan Heights and a sequence of peace accords with the Arab monarchies, seemed to validate Netanyahu’s entire strategy.
In the midst of such national success, it is not a difficult narrative to sell to his constituents: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is exceptionally intractable and, due to eternal Palestinian intransigence, the problem must be managed or at best reduced. instead of being resolved.
That’s not that different from the view of Yair Lapid, the leader of the largest bloc slated to become prime minister in 2023 if by some miracle the coalition lasts until then. The Mondeo Man of Israeli politics represents a huge and significant constituency of centrist and secular citizens. But they want civil marriage, subsidized child care and buses to run on Jewish holidays more than they want to deal with an occupation with little impact on their daily lives.
As for Naftali Bennett, the next potential prime minister and once political protégé of Netanyahu, he has done more than anyone to change the image of the settlement company within Israel. He transformed the staunch party of religious Zionism from a handful of dusty old fanatics on the top of a hill to one claiming to offer a home to all Jews, including, like him, urbanites into high-tech businesses. The argument that the predominant impetus for control of the Palestinian territories was not religious fanaticism but security turned out to be a much more palatable concept to the general Israeli public.
The presence in the coalition of the fragmented group of the Zionist left, seizing the opportunity to finally regain some kind of political relevance, will not revive the Palestinian question either. Labor and Meretz have nothing new to offer, clinging to the idea of the two-state solution as a kind of magical thinking to perpetuate their dream that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic.
The Netanyahu years have shown that goal to be an illusion. Under his rule, the Jewish nature of the state was repeatedly privileged over its democratic character, with incremental attacks on the judiciary, civil society, and the media. The political force that has come together to overthrow him shows no signs of wanting, much less trying, to reverse this democratic decline.
Netanyahu long embraced the old Zionist truism that got the fledgling state through war and infighting, the secret weapon of “ein brera” (no choice). Under Netanyahu, there was no choice beyond him and there was no choice beyond maintaining the status quo. The options that come now can change very little.
Daniella Peled is the managing editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism