Op-Ed: Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection underlines Israel’s apartheid reality

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara, greets supporters at the Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10.
(Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)

The results of Israel’s elections reveal a stark reality: Not only will Benjamin Netanyahu almost inevitably form a coalition government even further to the right than the one he already heads, but the country’s Jewish electorate has given its resounding endorsement to the policies for which he stands.

Netanyahu ran a manifestly racist electoral campaign, reaching out to embrace politicians who openly espouse the desire to expel Palestinians from the state and promising to annex parts of the West Bank, dealing probably a final blow to the moribund two-state solution. What Israeli voters want, clearly, is precisely what is on offer: more dispossession of Palestinians, more home demolitions, more indiscriminate bombing campaigns, more shooting of protesters, more settlements, more restrictions on Gaza and on Palestinian life in general, and deeper and deeper inequality between Jews and non-Jews in Israel and in the territories over which it rules.

The bloc led by Benny Gantz hardly offered much of a difference. Gantz’s own electoral campaign prominently featured a series of videos called “Only the Strong Survive,” which gloated over how many Palestinians the former army chief of staff had killed and how proud he was to have bombed parts of Gaza “back to the Stone Age.” One video limply offered, “It’s not shameful to be striving for peace.” In the end, Gantz’s tough-guy claims were clearly not enough to convince Israeli voters to depart from a wily politician they knew for a fact — because he’s been doing it for so long — would continue to subjugate the Palestinians.


The takeaway from Israel’s election is simple: The two-state solution is dead.

The voters reaffirmed the de facto or de jure realities Palestinians have long faced. Last year, Israel legally enshrined a Jewish nation-state law that formalized the superior status of Jews over non-Jews, officially relegating Arabic — the language spoken by the 20% of the state’s citizens who are Palestinian — to a secondary status, elided Palestinians’ ongoing presence in and claim to their ancestral land, directed the government to “encourage and promote” Jewish settlement and thereby further segregation, and declared that the right to self-determination in the state is reserved for Jews alone. Netanyahu himself announced on Instagram in March that Israel is “the nation state not of all its citizens but only of the Jewish people.”

International law has a word to describe a state that discriminates along racial lines like this: apartheid.

Two sets of numbers indicate how institutionalized this apartheid is. First, although Israel exerts control over territory (including the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza) inhabited by around 13 million people, only 5.8 million — 80% of them Jews, according to Israel’s Central Election Committee — are eligible voters.

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When you add to these shameful figures the millions of registered Palestinian refugees living outside Israel and the occupied territories, in enforced exile solely because Israel refuses to allow them to return home, the reality becomes even more stark: Israel’s elections, far from being legitimately democratic, are in fact a manifestation of minority rule. Millions of disenfranchised Palestinians have no say over the structures and patterns of their everyday lives. They are subject to whatever Jewish Israeli voters think they deserve, which is essentially further dehumanization.


But if the Palestinians had the right to vote, what would they vote for? They may not have elections, but opinion polls consistently show that when asked which Palestinian leader they trust the most, the overwhelming winner (48% in the most recent poll conducted by the reputable Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre) is “none of the above.” And when asked which party they support, the answer is consistently neither Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority, (28%) nor Hamas (10%), but “don’t trust anyone” (41%). A solid majority prefer negotiations to armed struggle and an increasing number want a single state, shared with Jews. (Only 0.4% want an Islamic state to replace Jewish state of Israel.)

The takeaway from Israel’s election is simple: The two-state solution is dead. What remains is a single racist state whose beneficiaries are satisfied with their government and whose victims are deeply unhappy and desperate for something new: a transition from an apartheid state to a genuinely democratic one in which Palestinians are treated as equal citizens with Israeli Jews, not disenfranchised brutes.

Saree Makdisi is a professor of English at UCLA.

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