Netanyahu’s Re-Election Kills Prospects for Palestinian Statehood

Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election and promises to enforce Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank push hopes for a Palestinian state even further into the remote future.
Netanyahu’s Re-Election Kills Prospects for Palestinian Statehood
Photo credit: AFP

Yesterday marked one year to the day that the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Yesterday marked one year to the day that the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Today, on the 71st anniversary of Nakba Day (or “day of the catastrophe,” marking Israel’s creation in 1948 and the exile of at least 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland), just a month after Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election to a fifth term as Prime Minister on April 9, the dream of an independent Palestinian state is more remote than ever.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the longest-serving leader in the country’s history. As the results of the April 9 elections rolled in, the apparent neck-and-neck race shifted, giving Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition a ruling majority.

Palestinians have reacted with both despair and stoicism. For them, his win signaled the endurance of a militaristic agenda that leaves no room for them to exist. Hanan Ashrawi, a spokesperson for the Palestinian leadership, said that “Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid.” For diplomat Saeb Erekat, Israel “said no to peace and yes to the occupation.”

Fading Hopes

By most measures, Netanyahu has all but abandoned bilateral negotiations and the long-running Oslo peace process, and with it, the possibility of a two-state solution. Three days before the election, he made this explicit when he promised, for the first time ever, to annex all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The action would dissect the territory into a patchwork of Palestinian cities and towns separated by a mesh of Israeli settlements. Although Israel’s United Nations (UN) ambassador reassured that his government would not annex the West Bank’s cities, the plan would nonetheless chop up and encircle Palestinian land, effectively making a Palestinian state impossible. It would inevitably fortify Israel’s control over Palestinians in the occupied territories without affording them equal rights. It may also very well be the beginning of a full annexation and the confirmation of a full-fledged, non-democratic, Israeli apartheid state.

This 2009 artist’s rendition of a map is an interpretation of what Netanyahu’s sovereignty plan could look like—ten years and more settlements later, the Palestinian archipelago would be even smaller.

Currently, Palestinian officials seem to have no practical means to prevent this annexation. While Netanyahu’s supporters celebrated “King Bibi’s” new crown, his re-election hit many Palestinians with a wave of despair. Those who have endured decades of restrictions, violence, and discrimination in return for the prospect of sovereignty now are forced to contemplate a future without a Palestinian state.

More of the Same

Though it inspired dread, Netanyahu’s win was not entirely surprising. Mary Giacaman, a Palestinian Christian, lamented that she could not watch the election results on TV because she “knew what would happen.”

“Israel will only serve the interest of the occupation,” a young Palestinian woman told the Guardian. “We have no hope.”

The nearly five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip cannot vote for the Israeli leaders who largely determine the fate of their lives. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the population, can vote, but Netanyahu’s government has sought to suppress their already low turnout (many boycott voting, which they perceive as complicity with the occupation).

Researcher Hanna Alshaikh wrote that there “seems to be no acceptable avenue for [Palestinians’] demands for political and human rights . . . . There is a widespread sense that Israeli elections make little difference in their lives.”

Benny Gantz, a former chief of Israel’s military and self-described “centrist,” was Netanyahu’s rival for prime minister. Although, for many Palestinians, the two candidates were two sides of the same coin. Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, said that “the competition between the Israeli parties was on who can oppress the Palestinians more.” Gantz also played to Israelis’ fixation on “security,” boasting about bombing Gaza back “to the stone age” during his tenure as military chief.

One Palestinian man told the New York Times that a resolution would not come from politicians—Israeli or Palestinian—but from “our God above.”  

A Reach Farther Right

Netanyahu’s Likud party won only one seat more than Gantz’s Blue and White party, but the right-wing bloc swept up a ten-seat majority overall.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won only one seat more than Gantz’s Blue and White party, but the right-wing bloc swept up a ten-seat majority overall. No party has ever won a majority in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) on its own, so coalition-building is vital.

Though already right-wing, Netanyahu spent his campaign cozying up to more extreme factions—including the overtly racist Jewish Power party, which has proud ties to Kach, a radical anti-Arab party and U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

The prime minister, who is facing three charges of corruption, likely promised the West Bank annexation in return for right-wing allies’ legal protection. His comfort with the extreme right, and Israelis’ apparent comfort with him, put the idea of Palestinian sovereignty, or even basic rights, even farther out of reach.

Fading Support for Palestine

Netanyahu upholds a status quo that predates him, though annexation is an aggressive new move, emboldened by support from a compliant U.S. President Donald Trump. The prime minister applauds himself for pushing Trump’s policies on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Israel’s UN ambassador promised that annexation would wait until the “Trump administration releases its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan,” in the next few months. But the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) new prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said that the plan, which excludes Jerusalem from Palestine, would be “dead on arrival,” and would receive no Palestinian support.  

Within Israel, support for a sovereign Palestine is dwindling. Israel’s left-wing parties hardly discussed Palestine in their campaigns and still scraped up only meager representation in the Knesset. The only explicitly anti-occupation party, Meretz, won just four seats.

Israel’s four Arab parties now have only ten seats between them.

Arab nations, long champions of Palestinian statehood, have shied away from the cause and instead have strengthened ties with Netanyahu.  

A Palestine Divided

One Palestinian man lamented to the New York Times that Palestinian society, worn down by decades of conflict with dim prospects, is dangerously divided. Wealth gaps are widening, Fatah and Hamas supporters are in conflict, and there is no consensus on how to move forward. “We’ve lost our social fabric,” he said.

Palestinians debate within families between accepting Israeli control and fighting tooth and nail for a sovereign state. “They are lying about the history, and we are lying about the reality,” Rand Musmar, a Palestinian proponent of peace with Israel, told the New York Times.

Young Palestinians feel unrepresented and have not unified under a political movement with clear demands. Some Palestinian elders fear that more constriction under Netanyahu will provoke a third Intifada, echoing previous violent uprisings that left many dead.

Moving Forward

Ashrawi still hopes Palestine can unite and stand up to Netanyahu.

Ashrawi still hopes Palestine can unite and stand up to Netanyahu. “The Palestinian people will overcome this dark and highly dangerous chapter and remain deeply rooted in our homeland,” she said. “We will persist and forge alliances with like-minded and responsible international actors.”

Days after Israel’s elections, the PA formed a new government. PA President Mahmoud Abbas said that “we have many difficult and complicated tasks . . . . [We] will remain steadfast and will resist [the occupation] by all legitimate means to establish our independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders.”

However, with Netanyahu’s power bolstered by the Israeli elections results and unwavering U.S. support, the Palestinian dream of an independent state is more distant than ever. Perhaps the time to start imagining a viable secular “one-state solution” is not far behind.