There is no shortage of analysis devoted to the current state of Israel’s political system whether by Israeli or Western analysts, scholars, and journalists. Most of them uncritically accept that system’s terms of reference and privilege an Israeli perspective. As part of its Current Issues in Depth series, the Institute for Palestine Studies is pleased to offer readers an original point of view assessing the roots of the crises within that system, which, in March 2021, will experience its fourth parliamentary election in the space of twenty-three months.
A political scientist at Tel Aviv University, Amal Jamal has a unique vantage point, both within Israeli academia and as a member of the Palestinian minority in Israel who are citizens of the state but not part of the nation which the state was expressly and exclusively created to serve. Sensitive to aspects of Israeli politics that are overlooked by other observers, Jamal offers us the views of someone who is embedded within the Israeli system and its discursive world, but is at the same time an outsider with distinctive insights.
The essay reflects not only on the reasons for the stalemate that has produced a series of inconclusive elections in Israel, but also on the reasons for the extraordinary staying power of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has become Israel’s longest serving prime minister, eclipsing the record of David Ben-Gurion. Jamal shows that this political Houdini has managed to retain power in spite of multiple criminal indictments against him, notwithstanding his degradation of constitutional, legal, political, and ethical norms, and in the face of harsh critiques of his government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Although Israel boasts the world’s highest vaccination rate, it also has one of the world’s highest infection rates in proportional terms, just behind the United States.)
Netanyahu’s centrality to the Israeli political landscape, Jamal shows, is a testament to his political cunning and agility, as well as to his ability to ride and shape the populist-nationalist current that has come to dominate that landscape. Jamal argues that the nationalist theses propounded for so long by Netanyahu have become mainstream, part of a process whereby a “peace camp”––a politically weighty current that advocates as a vital priority a compromise settlement with the Palestinians––no longer exists a in Israel.
In addition to examining how these largely internal factors affect the Israeli political system and shape its current crisis, this essay examines the ways that Netanyahu has manipulated the issue of the annexation of more Palestinian territory to both maintain his supremacy within the system and normalize the idea politically. Similarly, it shows how Netanyahu was able shape the Trump administration’s [so-called] peace plan, and to benefit from its engineering of the normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab governments. Jamal cites an Israeli analyst as arguing that the plan’s language suggests that its authors were “most probably Jewish-Israelis and those that identify with them who are very remote from the Arab side and its demands.”
This monograph illustrates the almost seamless strategic consensus between all major Israeli political leaders and factions regarding the maintenance of Israel’s overall control of the entire territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, the strengthening of Israel regionally via normalizing relations with Arab states, and the simultaneous sidelining of the Palestine issue. Finally, Jamal offers an insight into the existence of what he calls a “red line,” a wall-to-wall consensus among Zionist parties to exclude Arab political parties from access to governing power within the Israeli political system. At the same time, he suggests ways in which that situation may change in the future.
By delving into the roots of the recent near-paralysis of the Israeli electoral system, which has paradoxically been combined with the unchallenged domination of Israeli politics by Benjamin Netanyahu, this essay offers indispensable background for understanding not only Israel’s political evolution over the past few years, but also possible developments after the Knesset election scheduled to take place in March 2021.