Israeli Elections: From Bad to Ugly

By Dr. Ahmed Yousef – Gaza

Pundits have asked Palestinians of every persuasion what they think of Israeli elections over the past several weeks. Opinions are varied and thoughtful; yet the truth is that to prefer one of the leading groups over another is an exercise in futility. Asking for a choice is akin to opting hypothetically for France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen (Lieberman), Dutch parliamentarian Geet Wilders (Livni), or Russia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Netanyahu), with South Africa’s Pieter W. Botha (Peres) playing the presidential role of whom to ask for the formation of a national unity government.

Israeli democracy is an oxymoron, a reality underscored by the abuse of any non-Jewish party vying for equal representation. Palestinian parties entering elections in 2006 were represented by Muslims, Christians and even atheists, with no obligation or pre-condition other than those recognized by international law. The Israeli state, however, routinely purges or inhibits Arab political movement, such as those of Azmi Bichara, with unsubstantiated claims of treason or treachery. And the political neutering of indigenous Arabs is negligible compared to the dismissive approach to any popular presence across the 1967 border.

Israelis in this year’s elections claimed there were no Palestinian partners for peace. Ironic, since regardless of label, all Israeli politicians play the same game under a different name: settlements are built; borders are open and shut on a whim; buildings are destroyed; banks are stifled; cities are bombed; and so on. How can Palestinians, let alone the democratically elected Hamas, believe any Israeli politician can be spoken to, let alone trusted, when terrorism and/or racism runs through the veins of every political party?

The roots of Labour and Likud are in organizations that terrorized innocent civilians and murdered randomly. Before Likud there was Gahal and before that Herut which was borne of Irgun, a proven terrorist group. Likud’s supposed peacemaker who became Prime Minister in 1977, Menachim Begin, was a key figure in the Irgun and even had a 2,000 British pound reward for his capture. The Haganah was the militant precursor to the Labour party. Yitzhak Shamir was a leader of the Stern Gang, accused of atrocities against civilians; yet still became PM in 1983.

The mainstream Zionist groups are rooted in Judaism but secular when convenient. The religious parties – those that sell their seats for power in coalition governments – are more numerous therefore more likely to gain influence in one form or another. Although there are a few anti-Zionists such as Edah Ha Chareidis, Satmar and Neurei Karta International, right-wing Zioinists dominate, such as Tsomet, Shas, Morasha, Shinui Ometz, Gush Emunim (Ne’emanei Eretz Yisrael), the Jewish National Front (Hayil), and the National Movement (Herut) among others. Some are defunct, such as Kach, Kahane Chai and Tehiya (Banai), though their members often form other groups, with the usual aim of building Greater Israel.

The emergence of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu as the “kingmaker” party is no surprise, given that their dependence on the public’s xenophobia is as deep as the religious groups. They play the chords of racism, nationalism, Zionism and Judaism perfectly. Their manifesto includes statements like the group’s “clear vision” to pursue “the three cardinal principles of Zionism: Aliyah (immigration), settlement, and defense of our homeland.” Further declaring: “The responsibility for primarily Arab areas such as Umm Al-Fahm and the ‘triangle’ will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. In parallel, Israel will officially annex Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria.”

At their core, most Israeli political parties are the same when it comes to their neighbors. They dispute among themselves only in terms of controlling budgets and ministries – but as far as contributing meaningfully to regional stability or economic growth, they are satisfied to be parasites off the American taxpayer while bullying the occupied. That is why they have invested so much in lobbying groups, partisan think tanks, and other organizations in the US but made no effort to honor international law.

While paying lip service to allies, Israelis use the Palestine dialectic much like some regional politicians do, for convenience rather than principle. War is declared on civilians to help prove how strong this or that Israeli leader can be; public meetings are held with puppets to show how much of a peacemaker this or that Israeli leader can be.

The Israelis have decided to try and eliminate Hamas because it does not play according to the rules of their game. Hamas has witnessed the complete lack of progress gained by trying to engage the Israelis over the decades.

After Sadat signed with Begin, the PLO kept hoping for over 10 years that peace would come. When it did not and the intifada broke out in 1987, the Israelis decided to divide and conquer and promised change if the PLO renounced its charter, which it did; and was merely rewarded with permission to enter occupied territory – the difference was that the Fatah leadership stopped being a field slave and was now a house servant. Historical precedent therefore, does not bode well for any group, let alone Hamas, to acquiesce to terms lain out by any contemporary Israeli party. Hamas’ position is that it shall represent the interests of its people regardless of who forms a coalition government; and this means breaking the blockade of Palestinian territories, both West Bank and Gaza, by any means necessary. Hamas believes there is no point in trying to have a rational engagement with the Israelis.

There is no logic to justifying the payment of $2.2 million to the family of a wrongfully killed British cameraman, however much they may deserve it, but then to deny the moral and financial culpability of murdering 1,400 Palestinians, over 60% of whom were women, children and the elderly and less than 3% of whom were in the resistance according to human rights groups. According to Israeli authorities, quoted in Ha’aretz, two thirds of the dead were “terrorists”, a bizarre case of denial, especially for a nation that seeks criminal prosecution of anyone denying the scale of the Holocaust.

There is no benefit in trying to resurrect dead ideas like those offered in and since Oslo because the Israeli leadership of today denies the very humanity of Palestinians. Those initiatives and declarations have been rendered irrelevant; and a new reality exists that the Israelis will have no choice but to address. Palestinians will not give up the right, enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights, to resist occupation. The group is, however, willing to reach long term solutions through the international community.

Hamas believes a new entity should be created as a permanent body comprised of members of neutral nations, based in a regional capital, to engage with the democratically elected representatives of the two peoples, and resolve each and every issue on the table sequentially, starting with the issue of the freeflow of goods and people. Clear deadlines should be established, the penalty for which should be sanctions – not just economic but cooperative such as military cooperation, and even diplomatic ties.

Hamas has stated clearly that it will accept a long term truce, and a Palestinian state within 1967 borders including Jerusalem as its capital. There can be no foreign control of Palestine’s borders; and the Palestinian people will be the only force permitted to manage their ports, industries, banking sector and energy resources.

Hamas will honor the outcome of any Palestinian election in which the people participate without external influences; and it is prepared for the 2010 ballot. While it remains the voice of the people, however, it will speak only to those who demonstrate the maturity to listen. 

– Dr. Ahmed Yousef is a Deputy of Foreign Minister and former senior political adviser to PM Ismael Hanniya. He contributed this article to

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