Israeli Voters Embrace Netanyahu and Permanent Occupation of the Palestinian People

Interview with Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, conducted by Scott Harris

After winning a close race against his nearest opponent, former Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heading towards a record fifth term in office. After the April 9 Israeli election, Netanyahu and his supporters were confident that they’ll be able to put together a coalition of their Likud Party with other right-wing and ultra-orthodox Jewish parties in the Israeli Knesset or parliament. This, despite the fact that the Israeli prime minister faces likely indictments in three corruption and bribery cases brought against him.
During the campaign, Netanyahu pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if elected, a move in direct defiance of international law and United Nations resolutions. Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), declared that the election results confirmed the persistence of what she called Israel’s “racism” and “extremism.”

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Here, he discusses the outcome of Israel’s election, Netanyahu’s campaign pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the role the Trump administration played in emboldening Netanyahu’s commitment to a permanent occupation of the Palestinian people.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: The main opposition parties to Netanyahu – and, you’re right, he is likely to form a right-wing religious coalition, very similar to the previous coalition – the opposition was not really opposing Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians. In fact, they didn’t campaign in any way on opposing his policies towards the Palestinians. If anything, you know, they came out with a very similar line on these issues. The head of the opposition party was himself a former Israeli military chief of staff (who) launched his campaign by bragging about how many Palestinians he had killed. And his position towards towards the question of peace was, in his own words, “(they) will continue to build and strengthen the settlement blocks. They will never divide Jerusalem. They will forever hold onto the Golan Heights and they will hold on to the Jordan Valley.” Of course, this is the vast majority of the West Bank. And they would retain security controls throughout the entirety of the territory.

This is just a fancy way of saying that they will never end the occupation. This is the opposition to Netanyahu. Not Netanyahu himself, right? So they are really speaking one language when it comes to this issue. And so as far as the Palestinian, people are, as far as Palestinian rights are concerned, you know, this election was really a competition between one Trump-like figure and another when it comes to the rights of Palestinians.

BETWEEN THE LINES: During the campaign, Netanyahu pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank if re-elected, extending full Israeli sovereignty over settlements widely considered illegal under international law. I wondered if you would dig down a little bit into what we may see now from Netanyahu now that he’s likely to form the next coalition government.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Right. And you know, in some ways, this is not particularly new, but in some ways it is. it’s not really new in that the position of Netanyahu, the position of his party for a very long time has consistently been the complete rejection of Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They’ve always opposed that. They continue to oppose it. They continue to support the building of settlements, the colonization of Palestinian territory, and so on. He said something very similar on the eve of the last election when he declared definitively, “There will never be a Palestinian state on my watch.” So, you know, this idea of retaining control forever in Palestinian territory is not really new. What is different now though is the language that they’re using to describe this control, and they’re talking about annexations.

And, you know, for all intensive purposes, the territory in the West Bank has in many ways already been annexed by Israel, particularly Area C. What has not happened is that the Israelis have not afforded the Palestinians there, the rights that they would afford to Israeli citizens and others in Israeli territory, particularly, the right to vote in elections. Millions of Palestinians were denied the right to vote in this election because they’re not Israeli citizens, despite the fact that they’re living under the control of the Israeli military. But, you know, now we’re starting to hear this talk about annexation and obviously, Netanyahu feels emboldened by this election victory. He is going to be relying very much on right-wing religious nationalists for whom, you know, the West Bank is ideologically important territory. Who, of course, wants to retain control over it forever.

And also very importantly, he has been emboldened by a administration in the White House, which has really given him almost every item on his wishlist – from recognizing Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, something the Trump administration did that no previous administration was willing to do; recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which was very recent. Of course, during the leadup to this election and also something that no previous administration was willing to do. So you know, Netanyahu knows now that he has a friend in the White House in President Trump and he may be able to get the Trump administration to recognize once again a step that he would take in annexing territory in the West Bank, part of it or all of it in the hopes of creating an irreversible reality, that future administrations would be reluctant or would not be able to reverse. He sees a window of opportunity, to reach for, you know, his greatest colonialist dreams and he may very well seek to take that opportunity in the weeks and months to come.

For more information on the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, visit uscpr.org

 

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