Israel-Palestine: Two elections, under the burning sun of Apartheid

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  March 9, 2021

Many people think there will be an election round in Israel this spring (March 23rd). But that’s only half the story, because there will actually be two election rounds: one in so-called ‘Israel proper’, and one in the Palestinian territories which it has occupied for the past 53 years (May 22 Palestinian general elections).

The question is, which are the real elections? The answer is, none – they are both make-believe.

Just two months ago, the prominent Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem came out with a report titled: “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid”.

This was considered a watershed moment in Israeli terms, but those who have been following this theme have seen a similar assessment in the much longer report commissioned by a UN agency in 2017, authored by professors Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, about how Israel has been practicing Apartheid from its inception, and veiling it as a “Jewish democracy”.

One must pause to really internalize these concepts: That Israel, from the river to the sea, is one Apartheid state.

Because when that sinks in, it lifts the veils of the acts under that paradigm and deems them ancillary at best.

This is what Nathan Thrall calls the “separate regimes delusion” in his masterful recent essay in the London Review of Books. There are no real dual elections here, since the single regime of Apartheid does not change, from the river to the sea.

In the “Israeli” elections, which I have been covering regularly, there are the supposed dramas of whether Netanyahu will be elected yet another time or not (I’m putting “Israeli” in quotes, because the other, Palestinian elections, will also occur under Israel’s control, which I will return to). The major drama is about whether Netanyahu will be replaced by this or that ‘liberal’, be it Benny Gantz who boasted of bringing Gaza back to the “stone age”, Yair Lapid whose “principle” is “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”, Gideon Sa’ar whose “New Hope” is about “realization of the natural and historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel” (including “settlement… in Judea and Samaria”) or Naftali Bennett who boasts of having “killed many Arabs”, whom he considers “shrapnel in the butt”.

Even if Netanyahu is unseated in these coming elections, a possible coalition without him would predominantly consist of such ultra-nationalist, Jewish-supremacist forces. One can forget about the Palestinian-representing parties being part of any government construct here – it has never happened, and there is no prospect of it happening now.

So that’s the make-believe “Israeli” elections. A lot of noise, and you know that there is one constant, clearer than ever: Jewish supremacy and Apartheid, that will not be challenged.

Then there’s the Palestinian elections. But Palestine is a state under occupation, atomized into enclaves constituting Bantustans and ghettos.

We cannot call these free elections, because Israel interferes in these through the terrorization of representatives whom it deems too radical for its colonialist taste. Thus Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar is sentenced to two years imprisonment despite no real evidence against her; it’s enough that the party she is part of, PFLP, seeks one democratic secular state to make her a terrorist. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass reported last week on how Israel’s security service presses Hamas activists not to run in Palestinian elections:

In recent weeks the Shin Bet security service has threatened West Bank political activists who support Hamas with detention for a number of years if they run in the election. In a few cases, Shin Bet coordinators have made phone calls to activists, warning them that running for the legislature could result in their being separated from their families for an extended period. In other cases, coordinators came to activists’ homes late at night, with an Israeli army escort, to deliver the message in person.

And if Hamas wins as it did in the last elections in 2006? Then Israel will try to overturn it by violent means, as it did with the coup attempt that Hamas intercepted – maybe it will also use Fatah operatives and the US to make that happen as it did then, because the ‘elections’ can only have one result – one that is amenable to the colonizer. If Hamas insists on holding power, well then, Israel puts the enclave under siege, as has been the case for the past 14 years.

Palestinians may also be exaggerating their ‘independence’ with these elections. What are elections where one cannot decide, where the result is so conditioned and controlled by your occupier?

The rivalling Fatah and Hamas factions have on occasion made attempts at national unity. This was always seen as a threat by Israel, which seeks to divide and rule. In April 2014 Hamas and Fatah arrived at a unity agreement, one in which Hamas already approximated parameters that would allow the international community represented by the Quartet – UN, EU, US, Russia – to deal with it. But Israel said defiantly no – Netanyahu said that Abbas should “choose between peace and Hamas”, and led the countdown to the unprecedented 2014 Gaza onslaught – the one Gantz bragged about.

Hass refers to the wish to revive such a unity:

Hamas and Fatah have sworn that they want to end the political division and the dual governments of the past 14 years. One solution that is shaping up is the establishment of a national unity government, regardless of the results of the elections… If this comes to pass, it remains to be seen whether Israel will let such an elegant solution survive.

And that’s the news. There’s no news under the burning sun of the Apartheid state.

It’s clear that people want to make some movement towards change, even in this impossible paradigm. And some movement needs to be made in some way. But this one overarching reality must be understood, realized, internalized:

Israel is an Apartheid state from the river to the sea. Elections in such a reality are only relevant if they lead to a change of this paradigm, and it is doubtful that any change from within these mechanisms can truly move things forward.

We know that there’s one real answer to such Apartheid: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Jonathan Ofir – Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark