What’s at stake in the Israeli election?

Israel’s upcoming election on April 9th has an extraordinary backdrop of controversy and uncertainty.

Israel’s upcoming election on April 9th, has an extraordinary backdrop of controversy and uncertainty. It may mark changes of historical significance. Benjamin Netanyahu’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned because the prime minister wouldn’t adopt his hard-line position against Hamas, and instead agreed to a ceasefire with them. Consequently, the government coalition became too fragile and an early election was deemed necessary. Should Netanyahu be re-elected, he will become the longest serving Israeli prime minister, surpassing even Ben-Gurion.

However, Netanyahu is mired in legal and political controversy. In February this year, Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies these charges, dismissing them as a “witch-hunt”. He is hoping that if he receives the backing of the Israeli public through an election, he will command enough political clout to see off the charges. In order to win though, he is resorting to extreme measures.

Netanyahu has veered further rightwards, demonstrated by enacting the Nation-State Bill in July 2018. Critics argue that the bill explicitly makes the Arab and Druze population second-class citizens. Additionally, Netanyahu brokered a deal persuading the Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit parties to merge under the name the United Right- to improve his chances of having a right-wing coalition partner. Netanyahu has consequently received widespread condemnation, including from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee due to their far-right, anti-Arab, racist views.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu was boosted by his ally US President Trump, who formally recognised the Golan Heights as Israeli sovereign territory in March 2019. This policy change rebuffs international law that states the Israeli controlled Golan Heights in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War are “occupied”. It also strengthens the settlement movement advocated by Netanyahu and the far-right.

Netanyahu’s main opponent is the former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces, Benny Gantz, who leads his newly created Israeli Resilience Party. Gantz is considered as more moderate, since, unlike Netanyahu, he supported the 2005 disengagement of Israeli settlements in Gaza. Gantz believes lessons should be learnt from this and applied elsewhere. However, Gantz rejects the Palestinian right to return, insists Jerusalem remains the undivided capital of Israel and that the Jordan Valley remains in Israeli hands. With Netanyahu damaged by scandal, polls suggest their polling numbers are close.

In March 2019, the de-facto governing authority in Gaza, the Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist group Hamas, exchanged missiles with Israel. Netanyahu has been under pressure from opponents, including Gantz, to retaliate aggressively, but military advisors don’t favour such action. Palestinians have also held economic protests against Hamas, who responded by firing live rounds and beating people, including journalists, according to Amnesty International. The combination of Hamas increasing taxation, the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, and Trump’s aid cuts, have worsened hardship in Gaza. Palestinians have also felt increasingly isolated because of improving relations between Israel and the Gulf states who have a common enemy in Iran. Subsequently, Palestinian solidarity has weakened, and Trump’s expected one-sided peace proposal is supposedly soon to be revealed.

The uncertainty around Israeli politics and the potentially destabilising effects it could have regionally, suggests the left must address the problem imminently.

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