Hard right shaping Israel's 'new normal'
For many middle class secular Israelis, infection by a post-Oslo-accord “there-can-be-no-peace” fatalism has seen them turn away from politics, and, as journalist Noam Sheizaf puts it, concentrate “on improving their own standard of living in the greater Tel Aviv area and in some smaller affluent communities north of the city”.
Hagit Ofran, of the once influential Peace Now movement, complains to the New Yorker’s David Remnick that “our fight today is not so much to persuade the Israeli public that we need two states. The biggest challenge is to ward off the despair and the indifference.” On the right, however, the despair about peace has become a boast, a rallying cry.
Within Likud the party’s internal primaries were a real turning point, with almost all the liberal wing, including three ministers, excluded from winnable positions on its election list. Of the top 20 names, 12 support at least partial permanent annexation of the West Bank. For them, the idea of a Palestinian state is a non-runner.
Such irredentist views are most explicitly articulated by tech millionaire and ex-commando Naftali Bennett, the charismatic young star of the campaign, the leader of the new far-right Jewish Home party, predicted to take third place in the election. He told a paper recently the conflict was “insoluble” and insisted “there is not going to be a Palestinian state within the tiny land of Israel”. He is confident of being part of a government led by Netanyahu, for whom he once worked as chief of staff.
His extremism is wrapped in a charming cosmopolitanism, a “freshness” that plays on what many see as the increasing acceptability in Israel of naked anti-Arab racism. As for Palestinians, there is total den- ial that they exist as a nation. There is nothing complex about the question of occupation. There is no occupation. “The land is ours,” he says.
Although a secularist who is as likely to cite Bruce Springsteen as the Torah, Bennett is determined to forge an alliance between settlers and religious ultra-conservatives that will make for a powerful blocking minority in any coalition. Even if Netanyahu wanted to sue for peace with the Palestinians, and there is little evidence he does, the poll looks set to tie his hands
In effect, the election, Sheizaf argues, is taking the form of an internal, sometimes personal, battle within the right, with Netanyahu and Bennett presenting the two faces of “the new normal”. Israeli politics have moved on.