A record number of 33 parties representing the broad spectrum of
Israeli society participated in the elections for the 18th Knesset,
so the formal democratic system is still functioning. But the
foundation of Israeli democracy is eroding in the face of a rise in
support for fundamentally anti-democratic right-wing parties.
The center-left suffered a resounding defeat, with the right bloc
winning 65 seats in the Knesset to the center-left's 55, and
Avigdor Lieberman's anti-democratic Yisrael Beitenu party is now
the third-largest party, with 15 seats; while Labor, the historic
social democratic party, which established and led the country
during the first decades, came in only fourth, with 13 seats.
Yisrael Beitenu's anti-Arab campaign slogan, "Without loyalty there
is no citizenship," coined with the aid of American neocon
political strategist Arthur Finkelstein, recalls the worst of the
McCarthy era in the United States. We have come a long way from the
original vision as enshrined in Israel's Declaration of
Independence, which said that the state would "foster the
development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants,"
would be "based on freedom, justice and peace" and would "ensure
complete equality of social and political rights to all its
inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex…."
In retrospect, it is actually surprising that we did not reach this
point earlier. Perhaps it was only natural that a society living in
a constant state of conflict, with periodic wars, would generate
anti-democratic tendencies and the desire for "strong leaders" to
cope with the challenges. The key to maintaining and preserving
Israel's increasingly fragile democracy remains a comprehensive
resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab
Are there any signs of hope in the current situation?
First of all, Tzipi Livni, leader of the Kadima party, whose
campaign was based on a commitment to a two-state solution and the
continuation of the negotiating process, came out ahead of Benjamin
Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, whose campaign was based on
no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no withdrawal from the Jordan
Valley, no partition of Jerusalem and no declared readiness for a
two-state solution. Netanyahu's proposal for "economic peace"
rather than political negotiations is a non-starter, since movement
towards a solution requires a clear political horizon.
The second sign of hope is that the Palestinian-Israeli citizens
ignored calls to boycott the elections and fought back against
Lieberman's racist slogans, increasing the representation of the
predominantly Arab parties Hadash, the United Arab Party and Balad
from 10 to 11 members.
A right-wing government in Israel is the last thing that the region
needs for peace and stability. And it is clear that Netanyahu is
very wary of the only glimmer of hope on the Middle Eastern horizon
- the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United
States, who has resolved to give primacy to diplomatic rather than
military solutions, based on multilateral rather than unilateral
actions, and to "aggressively pursue" Israeli-Arab peace.
Given the outcome of the Israeli elections, and the weaknesses and
divisions among the Palestinians, it is incumbent upon the
international community, led by President Obama, together with
international civil society, to meet the challenge of achieving a
peaceful settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in all its
aspects - including the refugee problem, the theme of this issue of
the PIJ - which is so much in the interest of both the
Israeli and the Palestinian peoples.