After the last Israeli election, the virtual tie made it clear that there were only two paths to forming a new government: a minority government consisting of the centrist bloc supported from the outside by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint List; or a unity government of the Likud and its chief rival, Blue and White. When 61 MKs gave their assent to Benny Gantz forming a government, that number included the Joint List. It marked a major break with the past–with the Palestinian parties offering critical support to a Jewish candidate for prime minister.
As Gantz sought to form this minority government, rifts began to develop with the right-wing of his coalition, which objected to serving in a government which relied on even indirect Palestinian support. When two of these MKs threatened to bolt, Gantz seemed to hold fast. He made statements that were respectful of his non-Jewish partners. It seemed that Israel might cross a watershed in co-existence. For the last governing coalition relying on such support happened nearly a half-century earlier. Since that time, though there had been individual Palestinian government ministers, no non-Jewish party had ever been part of a government.
Even I, who harbor great skepticism about the possibility of full integration of Palestinians into Israeli society, wrote tentatively but hopefully of the prospect. Liberal Zionists, on the other hand, were almost in ecstasy:
It seems that a new and fascinating phenomenon is resulting in a real change in Jewish Israeli society. The Arab public longs for integration and for increasing its political influence to advance its interests and defend its rights. This striving toward “Israelization” and a shift in the traditional position on lending support to Zionist parties and cooperating with them are reshuffling the cards…
And this bit of delusional thinking from TV presenter, Shlomi Eldar:
The political constellation created by the latest elections offers an opportunity to build a Jewish-Arab coalition and foster Jewish-Muslim reconciliation. The political-social infrastructure of this partnership could be based on accepted democratic principles, such as equal opportunity, narrowing of socio-economic gaps, cultural autonomy and an end to the occupation.
Here is Haaretz’s leading liberal Zionist, Anshel Pfeffer:
…The fact that the overwhelming majority of Kahol Lavan…the Joint List, and…even Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, are prepared to vote together in support of a new government is a turning point in Israeli politics. The veto [against Palestinian participation in government] is beginning to crumble on both sides,
The prospect of Jewish-Arab collaboration signaled to them that the dream of the country’s Declaration of Independence would indeed be realized.
But true to form, Gantz dumped this plan and reverted to the unity government option. Though journalists have written extensively of the sense of outrage and betrayal felt by Gantz’s erstwhile partners, Moshe Yaalon and Yair Lapid, none have written about the Joint List and its response. As always, Palestinians are an after-thought, if they are even a thought at all.
I wouldn’t expect that Ayman Odeh and the other three parties in his coalition to be terribly surprised at the outcome. Palestinians, like African-Americans for 200 years before Brown v. Board of Education, were used to disappointment, to disrespect, and to betrayal. After all, Israel was founded in a fundamental betrayal of its non-Jewish minority: the Nakba. Everything that has come after has followed in the same vein.
Gantz’s abandonment of the minority government with its tacit alliance with Israeli Palestinians, reverts back to a model that all Israelis, both Jews and Palestinians, know and are familiar with. It’s the Palestinian as outsider, as other, as alien. The sabotage of the minority government is further affirmation that Israel as presently constituted can never be a true democracy. It can never be a state for all its citizens.
Benny Gantz betrayed not only his Jewish and Palestinian political partners. He betrayed Israeli democracy. But it’s not like that democracy was robust to begin with. At best, Gantz added yet another kick to its carcass.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.