Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage before He Exits?

Global Research, September 20, 2019

For most Israelis, the general election on Tuesday was about one thing and one thing only. Not the economy, nor the occupation, nor even corruption scandals. It was about Benjamin Netanyahu. Should he head yet another far-right government, or should his 10-year divisive rule come to an end?

Barring a last-minute upset as the final ballot papers are counted, Israelis have made their verdict clear: Netanyahu’s time is up.

In April’s inconclusive election, which led to this re-run, Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with its main opponent in the Blue and White party, led by retired general Benny Gantz. This time Gantz appears to have nudged ahead, with 33 seats to Netanyahu’s 31 in the 120-member parliament. Both parties fared worse than they did in April, when they each secured 35 seats.

But much more significantly, Netanyahu appears to have fallen short of the 61-seat majority he needs to form yet another far-right government comprising settler and religious parties.

His failure is all the more glaring, given that he conducted by far the ugliest – and most reckless – campaign in Israeli history. That was because the stakes were sky-high.

Only a government of the far-right – one entirely beholden to Netanyahu – could be relied on to pass legislation guaranteeing him immunity from a legal process due to begin next month. Without it, he is likely to be indicted on multiple charges of fraud and breach of trust.

So desperate was Netanyahu to avoid that fate, according to reports published in the Israeli media on election day, that he was only a hair’s breadth away from launching a war on Gaza last week as a way to postpone the election.

Israel’s chief law officer, attorney general Avichai Mendelblit, stepped in to halt the attack when he discovered the security cabinet had approved it only after Netanyahu concealed the army command’s major reservations.

Netanyahu also tried to bribe right-wing voters by promising last week that he would annex much of the West Bank immediately after the election – a stunt that blatantly violated campaigning laws, according to Mendelblit.

Facebook was forced to shut down Netanyahu’s page on two occasions for hate speech – in one case after it sent out a message that “Arabs want to annihilate us all – women, children and men”. That sentiment appeared to include the 20 per cent of the Israeli population who are Palestinian citizens.

Netanyahu incited against the country’s Palestinian minority in other ways, not least by constantly suggesting that their votes constituted fraud and that they were trying to “steal the election”.

He even tried to force through a law allowing his Likud party activists to film in Arab polling stations – as they covertly did in April’s election – in an unconcealed attempt at voter intimidation.

The move appeared to have backfired, with Palestinian citizens turning out in larger numbers than they did in April.

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, intervened on Netanyahu’s behalf by announcing the possibility of a defence pact requiring the US to come to Israel’s aid in the event of a regional confrontation.

None of it helped.

Netanayhu’s only hope of political survival – and possible avoidance of jail time – depends on his working the political magic he is famed for.

That may prove a tall order. To pass the 61-seat threshold, he must persuade Avigdor Lieberman and his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party to support him.

Netanyahu and Lieberman, who is a settler, are normally ideological allies. But these are not normal times. Netanyahu had to restage the election this week after Lieberman, sensing the prime minister’s weakness, refused in April to sit alongside religious parties in a Netanyahu-led government.

Netanyahu might try to lure the fickle Lieberman back with an irresistible offer, such as the two of them rotating the prime ministership.

But Lieberman risks huge public opprobrium if, after putting the country through a deeply unpopular re-run election, he now does what he refused on principle to do five months ago.

Lieberman increased his party’s number of seats to eight by insisting that he is the champion of the secular Israeli public.

Most importantly for Lieberman, he finds himself once again in the role of kingmaker. It is almost certain he will shape the character of the next government. And whoever he anoints as prime minister will be indebted to him.

The deadlock that blocked the formation of a government in April still stands. Israel faces the likelihood of weeks of frantic horse-trading and even the possibility of a third election.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of Palestinians – whether those under occupation or those living in Israel as third-class citizens – the next Israeli government is going to be a hardline right one.

On paper, Gantz is best placed to form a government of what is preposterously labelled the “centre-left”. But given that its backbone will comprise Blue and White, led by a bevy of hawkish generals, and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, it would, in practice, be nearly as right wing as Netanyahu’s.

Gantz even accused Netanyahu of stealing his idea in announcing last week that he would annex large parts of the West Bank.

The difficulty is that such a coalition would depend on the support of the 13 Joint List legislators representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority. That is something Lieberman has rejected out of hand, calling the idea “absurd” early on Wednesday as results were filtering in. Gantz appears only a little more accommodating.

The solution could be a national unity government comprising much of the right: Gantz’s Blue and White teamed up with Likud and Lieberman. Both Gantz and Lieberman indicated that was their preferred choice on Wednesday.

The question then would be whether Netanyahu can worm his way into such a government, or whether Gantz demands his ousting as a price for Likud’s inclusion.

Netanyahu’s hand in such circumstances would not be strong, especially if he is immersed in a protracted legal battle on corruption charges. There are already rumblings of an uprising in Likud to depose him.

One interesting outcome of a unity government is that it could provoke a constitutional crisis by making the Joint List, the third-largest party, the official opposition. That is the same Joint List described by Netanyahu as a “dangerous anti-Zionist” party.

Ayman Odeh would become the first leader of the Palestinian minority to attend regular briefings by the prime minister and security chiefs.

Netanyahu will continue as caretaker prime minister for several more weeks – until a new government is formed. If he stays true to form, there is plenty of mischief he can instigate in the meantime.

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Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

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Gantz’s Electoral Campaign Is Focused on Gaza’s Vulnerability

Image result for Gantz’s Electoral Campaign Is Focused on Gaza’s Vulnerability
Ramona Wadi
August 14, 2019

Five years after the colonial massacre unleashed by Israel on Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge, Israeli politicians are still eyeing the enclave for ultimate destruction. Former IDF Chief and leader of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz, is promoting the same violent tactics that formed part of his earlier electoral campaign: invade Gaza and assassinate Hamas leaders if the conditions Israel demands are not accepted.

“We will aim for the toppling of Hamas, take action to assassinate all Hamas leaders and go in with ground forces for however long we want,” Gantz remarked during a press conference in Sderot.

As the IDF Chief of Staff during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Gantz oversaw the scale of bombardment and massacres against Palestinians civilians. The deliberate violence, which also targeted Gaza’s infrastructure, left thousands of Palestinians displaced. Over 2,000 Palestinians were killed and 11,231 injured, according to UN reports.

Netanyahu has so far refrained from another large-scale aggression against Gaza. While his strategic, intermittent bombing has earned him widespread criticism in within Israel’s settler-society, Netanyahu has merely changed tactics but not ideology. Without any overt declarations of targeting Gaza, Netanyahu is normalising the Israeli agenda and deflect criticism from the international community. The latter was put to the test a few months ago last May, when Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza elicited rhetoric from the international community justifying Israel’s purported right to “defend itself” while blaming Hamas.

While attempting to portray himself as different from Netanyahu, Gantz is merely offering another trajectory of implementing Zionist colonial violence. Israeli media is already running reports of a possible coalition government between Likud and the Blue and White party, thus signalling that despite alleged differences, Netanyahu and Gantz are still in accordance over political issues, notably Gaza, settlement expansion and the prevention of any form of a Palestinian state.

Gantz’s party is proposing the elimination of the Hamas leadership and destruction of its “headquarters, warehouses, operatives,” after which it would “fix the humanitarian situation in Gaza.” This plan of action was outlined by Gabi Ashkenazi, under whose direction as IDF Chief of Staff Operation Cast Lead unfolded in 2008.

Such exploitative comments illustrate Gaza’s vulnerability. In recent years, Palestinians in Gaza have suffered increasing deprivation as a result of endeavours by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community to render humanitarian aid conditional. UN officials have even stated their preference for a return to PA rule in Gaza to facilitate their humanitarian operations. Again, depriving Gaza of basic necessities is also blamed upon Hamas.

Gantz’s solution is to eliminate a political leadership and resistance movement in a large scale, drawn out aggression that will affect Palestinians in Gaza who are still suffering the consequences of the previous Israeli bombardments. Humanitarian aid, according to Gantz, is conditional upon Hamas’s elimination. As Gaza is rendered fragile to Israeli threats and their implementation, the manipulation of humanitarian aid for Palestinians, already a plan in action, will be consolidated.

Furthermore, Gantz is proposing is the re-establishment of Israeli presence in the enclave – a notion which is prevalentamong other Israeli candidates, albeit with different interpretations.  The ground invasion, therefore, must not be thought of merely as a military action tied to a specific operation, but as a possible prelude envisaged by the former IDF chiefs to contain Gaza from within – along with the illegal blockade that continues to threaten the wellbeing of Palestinians.

Once again, the Israeli electorate is facing propaganda that pits Netanyahu’s refined and brutal strategy against the violent “deterrence” promoted by Gantz. Yet, talk of a possible coalition only highlights how close both agendas are in terms of destroying Gaza.  Netanyahu has prepared the groundwork in terms of influencing the international community to turn a blind eye to Israel’s assaults on Gaza. A prospective Israeli government with Netanyahu and Gantz at the helm will build upon what Israel has so far accomplished in generating oblivion when it comes to Palestinians in Gaza.

Netanyahu Rival Speaks of Possible West Bank Withdrawal

Benny Gantz

 February 6, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival in an April election has raised the possibility of pulling back from the occupied West Bank, in remarks published Wednesday that drew right-wing criticism.

Benny Gantz, the former armed forces chief of staff, spoke positively of IsraelI pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, in his first interview since launching his election campaign last week.

The Gaza withdrawal had been “approved by the Israeli government and implemented by the army and settlers in a painful but good way”, he told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

“(One should) learn from it and apply it to other places,” he said.

Gantz did not explicitly mention the West Bank in his remarks and refrained from outlining the conditions for any pullback from the Palestinian territory.

The 59-year-old launched his campaign on January 29 in a speech promising to keep the strategic Jordan Valley area of the occupied West Bank under Israeli rule, along with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and east Al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Although he did not say so in the interview, Gantz could support a withdrawal from wildcat outposts that are not approved by the Israeli occupation authorities.

Gantz’s comments drew criticism from right-wing parties.

“We told you Benny Gantz would form a leftist government with the help of” MPs of the Arab-led Joint List who hold 13 seats in parliament, said a spokesman for Likud.

His remarks were also attacked by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads a newly founded ultra-nationalist formation that favors the partial annexation of the West Bank.

“Gantz has thrown off the mask and overtaken Avi Gabbay (of the centre-left Labour party)… and wants to expel Jews from their homes through a unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank),” Bennett said.

Since founding his party, Gantz has emerged as the most serious challenger to Netanyahu, who has been prime minister since 2009 as well as between 1996-1999.

Source: AFP

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