Whither Israel after the Jan. 22 elections?
Many analysts of Israel's politics are asking this question after last week's elections in which right-wing religious and nationalist parties continued to make strong gains in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.
Although Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's center-right coalition (31 members) will form the next government, Yair Lapid's centrist There is a Future party will also have 19 members in the 120-member Knesset. It is notable that Lapid and his party have taken exclusionist positions regarding the Palestinians, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The new government will have to take into consideration the growing strength of right-wing religious-nationalist parties in the tough negotiations over the next few weeks regarding creating a new government.
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The election confirms the continued right-wing trend among nationalist, religious as well as secular-nationalist parties, in keeping with the rightward direction of Israel's politics since 1977 when the Likud, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's party, first came to power.
Likud profited greatly from Israel's capture of the West Bank opening it to widespread Jewish settlement and unleashing zealous nationalist and religious desires to incorporate the West Bank into Eretz Israel (Land of Israel). With only a few interregnums, Likud and its offshoots and allies, have dominated Israel's politics ever since.
Two major factors contributed to this rightward trend. The first was the growing strength of the political parties dominated by Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab countries and Iran. Because of the prejudice Jews endured in these countries, they were strongly anti-Arab and Palestinian. By the end of the 1950s they comprised some 50 percent of Israel's Jewish population as they do today. The Shas became the major party representing their grievances.
The second major factor was the immigration of an estimated 1 million Jews from Russia to Israel in the 1990s. Unlike Jews from the Arab countries and Iran, Russian Jews tended to be much less religious, but strongly nationalist and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. In 2009 when Netanyahu became prime minister, he chose Avigdor Lieberman, a Jew from Moldova and leader of Israel, Our Home, largely a party made up of Jews from Russia, as his foreign minister.
Once in office, Lieberman pursued a strongly anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian course going so far as to recommend that Palestinians in Israel be expelled. He and his party also advocate that non-Jews in Israel, meaning largely Palestinians, declare their loyalty not just to Israel, but also to the Jewish state. Israel, Our Israel and Lieberman suffered a slight defeat prior to the election when Lieberman was compelled to resign due to corruption charges.
In the run-up to the election, another strongly nationalist, but not necessarily religious, party, The Jewish Home, led by a young, charismatic and strongly religious-nationalist politician, Naftali Bennett, began to make gains by appealing to secular-nationalists as well as religious-nationalist Jewish voters.
Bennett's principal appeal is that he advocates that Area C of the West Bank be completely taken under Israel's control. Under the Camp David Accords signed in 1993, the West Bank was divided into three areas: A, B, and C. Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the 2,200 square-mile West Bank, was to be controlled by Israel; Area B was to be jointly controlled by Israel and Palestinians and Area A was to be governed by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Areas B and A make up 40 percent (990 square miles) of the West Bank.
Bennett and his party have advocated strongly that Israel annex Area C and that the estimated 75,000 to 100,000 Palestinians living there be given Israeli citizenship.
He argues further that an estimated 28,000 Palestinians homes have already been destroyed by Jewish settlers, with the complicity of Israel's government, making its annexation feasible. Bennett stresses that the 2.5 million Palestinians living in Areas B and C be given self-rule. He does not spell out how such self-rule would be able to deal with the 600,000 Jewish settlers in those two areas.
If any of Bennett's proposals are placed into action by Jewish settlers, no possibility of a two-state solution is in the cards in the near future. Also impossible would be a one-state solution in which Palestinians in the West Bank would become citizens of Israel.
If the above proposals are put into effect, probably by Jewish settlers' actions, and with the complicity of the state, the future for the Palestinians in the West Bank is stark and consists of three major choices:
■ Accept living in reservation-like enclaves in Areas A and B in constant battle with Jewish settlers and in further economic strangulation.
■ Opt for immigration to other Arab countries or elsewhere.
■ Flee or face expulsion or incarceration due to resistance to the above imposed restrictions.