Israel’s parliamentary election results look pretty weird, with no clear winner and lots of questions about what shape the next government takes.
But despite all the political horse-trading already underway, little is likely to change in the most important aspect of Israeli policy: its oppression of the Palestinian people. On that issue, this was an election not between right and left, but between right and extreme right.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing leader and longest-serving prime minister, has steadily chiseled away at Palestinian rights and prospects for peace during his long tenure.
He’s called for annexing illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank and the entire Jordan Valley, which represents 30% of the territory. And he’s repeatedly (and brutally) bombed Gaza, while passing waves of discriminatory legislation against Palestinian Israelis.
His challenger, the “centrist” former general Benny Gantz, likewise promises to keep the Jordan Valley as Israel’s “security border” and to maintain Israeli control of the occupied Palestinian territories. Like Netanyahu, he also refuses to recognize the Joint List, representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, as equal members of the Knesset.
In fact, in a campaign video, Gantz bragged about bombing the occupied Gaza Strip — and its 1.8 million impoverished Palestinian residents — “back to the Stone Age” in 2014. He commanded the Israeli forces who killed more than 1,400 Palestinian civilians, including 551 children, during that assault.
Still, some things may change — especially when it comes to U.S. support for these policies.
Netanyahu’s long years in power gave him time to consolidate his ties with Washington elites — especially Donald Trump and his son-in-law (and ostensible Middle East envoy) Jared Kushner, who’s donated lavishly to Israeli settlement projects.
But while those ties have served Netanyahu well at home, in the United States they’ve provoked a blowback.
Already, powerful movements for Palestinian rights have accelerated massive shifts in public U.S. discourse on the issue, and significant shifts in how the media covers it.
Combined with partisan resentment about Netanyahu’s racism toward Barack Obama (former national security adviser Susan Rice complained Netanyahu all but “used the n-word” toward Obama), and his closeness with Trump, that shift has enabled stirrings of change in Congress.
Washington’s bipartisan consensus around uncritically supporting Israel, even as it violates international law and human rights, is eroding — gradually among lawmakers, and increasingly rapidly among the public.
Polls indicate that Israel has become a largely Republican priority. Democrats, especially young Democrats and most especially Democrats of color, are increasingly distancing themselves from the Israeli government. Significantly, so are more and more U.S. Jews.
For progressives, Netanyahu’s human rights abuses, corruption and the mutual admiration society he has built with Trump and his mishpocha (Yiddish for extended family) have made that distancing easier.
So has Trump’s embrace of Netanyahu’s threats of war against Iran and his provocative regional alliance with the Saudis, both of which played key roles in Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal the Obama administration negotiated.
So with the possibility of a new prime minister, or a rotating shared prime minister, what might be different in U.S.-Israeli relations?
In the short term, not much. U.S.-Israeli relations are ultimately institutional, not personal. While Gantz would come to Washington as a newcomer, many in Congress will embrace him, eager to prove their pro-Israel bona fides after chafing under the Netanyahu-Trump partnership.
Yet Gantz made perfectly clear he would continue Israel’s apartheid system of occupation and oppression of Palestinians, even without a BFF in the White House. And that would continue to widen the divide between U.S. progressives and Israel.
For the growing social movements for human rights and equality in all the lands now controlled by Israel, the problem is U.S. support for Israeli occupation and apartheid — regardless of who presides over the Knesset.
U.S. taxpayers pay $3.8 billion to the Israeli military every year, while U.S. diplomats shield Israel from international sanctions at the United Nations. The movement to cut off U.S. support for systemic injustice will persist no matter who’s in charge — in either country.