No Palestinian group has had to disclose its “preferred” candidate publicly or officially in the tempestuous conflict between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz over the new Israeli elections for Prime Minister, both during and after the election cycle. However, it is not difficult for a keen observer to ascertain the difference in these “preferences” and conclude that their divergence stems from narrow interests and short-term priorities.
The Palestinian National Authority did not wait patiently for the disclosure of official election results; a spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Minister said it would be willing to negotiate with any Israeli Prime Minister (except Netanyahu). All signs clearly indicate that the de facto rulers of Gaza preferred Netanyahu to Gantz, as the latter espoused “changing the status quo” and restoring “deterrent Israeli capabilities” in combatting Hamas—even if it required extensive military operations to overthrow the movement and its leadership.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, has pursued a policy of containment in Gaza. He has a boot on its neck with his siege and sanctions, constantly insisting that the “keys” in and out of Gaza are in his pocket and that he will condemn or liberate depending on how closely Hamas adheres to its agreements.
To Netanyahu’s turn of mind, Hamas’ presence in Gaza perpetuates the Palestinian division he deems necessary to suspend the two-state solution.
To Netanyahu’s turn of mind, Hamas’ presence in Gaza perpetuates the Palestinian division he deems necessary to suspend the two-state solution, refuse the Palestinian right to self-determination, and promote his viewpoint that he lacks a Palestinian partner.
The disparity in Palestinian preferences, in turn, was reflected—or rather was—an extension of regional disparities. The Arab-regional force supporting Hamas—a well-known entity in which the Muslim Brotherhood plays a key role—used to work with Netanyahu to keep Hamas afloat in Gaza. It has succeeded in delivering various forms of financial and material support, always via channels of security and political coordination with Netanyahu. This state of affairs could be affected by the advent of Gantz and the Blue and White party; at the very least, it may require more difficult negotiations to arrive at the same arrangement.
This would explain—in addition to the rhetoric prevalent in Palestine and the Arab world—the exit of three lawmakers from the Joint List (an alliance of Arab-majority parties in Israel) and their refusal to nominate Gantz (they did not nominate Netanyahu, of course). This decision gave the Israeli Prime Minister the first chance to form a governing majority (55 to 54 votes). Yet the Joint List’s position did not sway in a direction different to the winds coming from Gaza and a number of Arab and regional capitals.
The other three political parties—Hadash, Ta’al, and Islamic Movement—have taken an unequivocal position: to punish the prime minister.
The other three political parties—Hadash, Ta’al, and Islamic Movement—have taken an unequivocal position: to punish the prime minister, who has so far gotten away with targeting and “demonizing” its people and using inciteful rhetoric against them.
They are not so naive to see Gantz as the opposite of Netanyahu. But the Palestinians inside the Green Line could not let this short-term strategic opportunity pass without a strong slap in the face to the leader of the populist right, a rabble-rouser and Palestinian hater.
It is true that Gantz’s hands are stained with the blood of Palestinians in Gaza in particular, but the hands of Netanyahu and other Israeli generals and officials are stained with the blood of Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, and Arabs in general.
This is a tactical moment, without room for frills.
More seriously, some Palestinians are almost involved in the proposal to rebuild a new program for the Palestinian national movement, detailed in tactical differences between Gantz and Netanyahu, or between the Likud and Blue and White parties.
Such an approach not only creates delusions but contributes to the “fragmentation” of the Palestinian national project and a diminishing of its demands—yet no more than facilitated movement on the borders, money delivery to Gaza, or the recovery of set-offs. It would inevitably fail to rebuild the Palestinian national movement and to provide the most effective response to qualitative strategic phase challenges now being faced by the Palestinian national struggle.