Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby was personally confident that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shift to the right was only an election campaign ploy and will “not be the policies of the future Israeli government.” In making this observation, Elaraby was sending a comforting statement to Arab leaders that Netanyahu did not really mean what he said, despite evidence to the contrary. Elaraby and others continue to hold onto an illusion called the two-state solution and the possibility that Israel will end its occupation any time soon. A Palestinian state was not in the cards for Netanyahu before or during the election, and now for sure not for the upcoming Likud-led government that he will lead. Netanyahu will continue with the long-standing Likud settlement building policies and “facts on the ground,” which are readily visible for all observers. In reality, Likud’s platform does not give recognition to a Palestinian state and this election cemented in real, public terms what was known on the ground for the past three decades.Netanyahu’s declaration on March 16, 2015 is illustrative of Likud’s and settlers’ present worldview. He said: “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel.” U.S. President Barack Obama and the current Arab and Muslim leadership were committed to the two-state solution and are participating in a type of hollow political theater while knowing that Netanyahu and the current Israeli leadership are not interested in ending the occupation and constantly working to undermine any effort directed at ending it. Netanyahu and successive Israeli right-wing governments have systematically engaged in dismantling the peace process piece by piece by building settlements, expanding “facts on the ground” and creating an occupation by means of negotiations. Successive Israeli governments used the peace process as a way to make occupation permanent and invisible by giving the impression of a Palestinian Authority (PA) exercising independence and control in its territories. In reality, the Oslo Accords made it possible to shift the responsibility of the Palestinian population to the PA while Israel went ahead and entrenched and deepened its control of land and resources.
After successfully dismantling the peace process, Netanyahu and his openly and increasingly racist Israeli right-wing have set out to design and improve a more sophisticated apartheid system. In the occupied territories there is a legal system governing Israeli Jewish settlers and a different set of laws and processes applicable to Palestinians. An Israeli Jewish settler living in settlements in the West Bank has Israeli citizenship, pays taxes and, as long as they are not religiously exempt, joins the army as well as votes in elections. In other words, a full member in Israeli society. On the other hand, a Palestinian living across the street or yards away from a settlement is subject either to military regulations as an occupied person or subject to the PA’s legal structure, which grants them Palestinian citizenship that is ceremonial and empty of any sovereignty.
The peace process made it possible to facilitate an entrenchment of the current apartheid structure while making it invisible to the world by engaging in open-ended negotiations whereby the finish line is constantly moving, if at all ever visible. Netanyahu’s efforts are directed at maximizing territorial control in the occupied territories with minimum responsibility toward the occupied population. In this context, the structure in the occupied territories is both a classical colonial system wedded with a religiously and racially designed apartheid edifice. The separation wall, checkpoints, permit regulations, bypass roads, settlements, restricted military security areas and natural reserves all constitute the architecture of Israeli apartheid and derailing any efforts for peaceful negotiations.
Likewise, the elections opened another front in the struggle for freedom, justice, equality and dignity for Israeli Arabs. The elections brought the Jewishness of the state into greater contestation and the impossibility of maintaining and achieving a religious identity for the country. The racist calls by Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman were in response to an increasingly visible, politically active and assertive Arab-Israeli population and should mark the end of the exclusivist Zionist project and emergence of a counter and more inclusive narrative. Just like the American South attempted to keep the racial landscape intact through Jim Crow, the Israeli Jewish political establishment is despondent to witness an enfranchised Arab population that takes its vote and power seriously. The days and years ahead will see more entrenchment of the Israeli apartheid system, but with it comes an increased global isolation and louder mainstream voices that will call for boycotts, divestments and sanctions. We all live on the same planet and are subject to the same rules: Apartheid and democracy do not mix and settlement building is the antithesis of negotiations. Elaraby’s confidence is misplaced and Arab governments should pay attention to Netanyahu’s concrete policies and facts on the ground more so than the racist words uttered during the campaign.