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On the eve of elections, Israel's politicians remain united in 'defense of ethnic purity'

January 30, 2014 at 1:10 am

With Israeli elections just around the corner, Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to retain his position at the head of a coalition government. Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister and now head of her own party, has been one of the most vocal critics of Netanyahu during the campaign, even if that hasn’t translated into success in the polls.

One of Livni’s main accusations against Netanyahu’s government is that the lack of progress in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority is endangering the very existence of a Jewish state. Answering readers’ questions in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Livni expressed her view that “two nation-states are a primary Israeli interest and without them Israel will not be the Jewish nation-state but an Arab or bi-national state”.

Later, Livni explained that while she still believes in “the Jewish people’s right to the Great Land of Israel” – i.e. including the West Bank – she thinks that for “the preservation of a Jewish and democratic Israel”, Israel “must divide [the land” so as to prevent “a state between the sea and the Jordan river which will ultimately be an Arab state”. Naturally, Livni sees Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” identity as “values [that] do not contradict each other”.

In other recent remarks Livni spoke in similar terms, worrying of the “end of Zionism” through “an undivided Israel”. Netanyahu’s policies, she said, “are harmful for Israel and are leading us towards a bi-national state, or in other words, an Arab state”.

A similar discourse has been aired by others. Israeli author Amos Oz has claimed that “the Netanyahu government is the most anti-Zionist government Israel has ever had” since “it is doing everything so there will be not two states here, but one”. It is clear what Oz, the famous ‘liberal’ Zionist fears the most: “an Arab majority” and “a bi-national state” that is in fact “an Arab state”.

Meanwhile, hundreds of letters were delivered to Netanyahu’s office in a joint initiative of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, J Street, and Americans for Peace Now, expressing concern over settlement expansion. The letter stated that “the ultimate safety and security of Israel as a Jewish state will depend on reaching a peace agreement that also allows Palestinians to live safely and securely in their own state”.

A final example – a recent op-ed in Ha’aretz by US businessman S. Daniel Abraham put it bluntly:

Israel needs the Palestinian state to come into existence even more than the Palestinians do. Without it, Israel cannot continue as both a Jewish and a democratic state. If Israel doesn’t reach a two-state settlement with the Palestinians very soon, then one day – likely sooner rather than later – the Jewish state as we know it will cease to exist.

In other words, the alternative to Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu is a ‘centrist’ coalition that believes the best way to secure Jewish privilege in the majority of historic Palestine is to physically separate Jews from Palestinians as much as possible, permitting the latter to ‘self-rule’ in reservations. The right (or far-right – a colonial political spectrum can get confusing) believes it is possible to hold on to more territory, ruling over disenfranchised Palestinians – or, in some cases, expelling them outright.

It is a disagreement about what version of settler colonialism is most sustainable. Despite their apparent deep disagreement, Netanyahu and Livni – and the constituencies they represent – share one thing in common: a commitment to ensuring no justice or restitution for the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the maintenance of an ethnocratic regime of privilege (its borders are disputed).

I am reminded of an excerpt from Condoleeza Rice’s memoirs, where she recounts Livni explaining to her in 2004 that a return of the Palestinian refugees would “change the nature of the State of Israel, which had been founded as a state for the Jews”. Rice reflects:

I must admit that though I understood the argument intellectually, it struck me as a harsh defense of the ethnic purity of the Israeli state when Tzipi said it. It was one of those conversations that shocked my sensibilities as an American. After all, the very concept of ‘American’ rejects ethnic or religious definitions of citizenship. Moreover, there were Arab citizens of Israel. Where did they fit in?

Rice silences her own questions “despite the dissonance”. But it is this ‘defense of ethnic purity’ that unites Netanyahu, Lieberman and Livni, and means no rights, equality or decolonisation for the Palestinian people: refugees, occupied, and second-class citizens alike.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.