Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Israel's far right ascendancy

Before I start, I thought you might like to see this picture taken as students at UCL flew the Palestinian flag from the building yesterday:



It seems that the spirit of 1968 is being awakened in the student body, and not before time. As John Rose points out in the Indy report, what is striking about this wave of radical activism is that the students are mainly winning. (More details here). Apparently, similar protests are also sweeping US universities. Trade unionists, from Belfast to Durban, are also continuing the solidarity actions.

Now, the Israeli elections have confirmed that the country has taken a radical shift to the right. Labour, the main part of the 'left', got its worst ever result, and was taken over by the explicitly racist Ysrael Beiteinu party. The 'centrist' Kadima got one more seat than Likud, but in terms of any future coalition, the right-wing will dominate and the hammer of the Israeli Arabs, Avigdor Lieberman, now has the role of kingmaker. Actually, if Kadima and Labour were prepared to govern alongside the Arab parties, they could form a coalition but - well, letting Arabs anywhere near the levers of power is taboo in Israel. Most Jewish Israelis don't even want to share a street with Arabs, and the main parties did all they could to stop the main Arab parties being allowed to stand. And at any rate, why would the Arab parties work with the butchers of Gaza? So, in all likelihood, it will be a Netanyahu government, with Zippy and Lieberman in coalition. The rapidly escalating colonization of the West Bank will now be an explicit policy of the government, since Netanyahu has openly stated that he intends to expand the existing settlements and make no territorial concessions to the Palestinians. It may mean war with Gaza again soon, since Netanyahu also stated that Operation Cast Lead ended too soon (and note that Israel's repeated provocations of late have prepared the ground for this). Bear in mind that Netanyahu was part of a rightist revolt against Sharon's government after the strategic 'withdrawal' from Gaza. If it were up to him, the prosperous Gush Katif settlements would still be peering down over on dirt poor Palestinian towns and villages. Who can say they won't be rebuilt in short order?

According to Juan Cole, this is the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. He maintains that there are now only three options: ethnic cleansing/genocide, apartheid, or one state. I don't know that Cole has ever taken such a position before and my feeling is that it signifies part of the ongoing change within the liberal-left in the United States. Glen Greenwald also thinks the election results make a two-state solution much less viable. Even the centrist Stephen Walt who - contrary to some of the things said about him - has always been relatively sympathetic to Israel's 'right to exist' as a Zionist state, has concluded that the two-state solution is dying in plain sight. If Walt, who is a respected and well-placed figure among US foreign policy elites, represents a significant strand of opinion among the political class, then another kind of change may be taking place as well.

Of course, I appear to be missing the most important story here, which is how dashed inconvenient these results are for Obama. But Obama can always shut off the money fawcet, or just threaten to do so. One thing Israel can't survive is a serious chilling in its relations with the United States. So, if Obama really wanted to stop the colonies, he could just defund them and tell the Israelis to play ball. Oh yes, the wretched Lobby would so something to him - like what? Say mean things in the papers? Bribe a few Congressmen? The only thing that would stop Obama from disciplining Israel, if he wanted to, would be his innately conservative disposition and his tendency to flatter and comfort existing power, even where he doesn't have to.