With votes still being cast, and with last-minute polling illegal under Israeli law, no one has any real idea how the Israeli election will turn out; even after all the votes have been cast and counted — the polls close at 4 p.m. EDT — we’ll still be a long way from knowing because only then does the work begin to try to cobble together a governing majority from Israel’s many parties.
However, we do know this much: If Benjamin Netanyahu manages to hang onto power as prime minister, Israel’s growing and dangerous isolation from the rest of the world will accelerate. His announcement over the weekend that there will never be a Palestinian state as long as he is prime minister, combined with the increasingly desperate and anti-Arab tone of his campaign rhetoric in the last few days, plays right into the hands of Israel’s international enemies and will give unfortunate pause even to many of Israel’s friends.
Six years ago, Netanyahu claimed to believe in a much different future. “In this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side by side, in amity and mutual respect,” he said back then. “Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.” With Netanyahu now pledging to never surrender any conquered territory, in effect pledging to permanently annex the West Bank to Israel, that vision is now gone, although to be honest it was probably never real in the first place.
It’s a tragedy. An Israel that rejects a two-state solution to its Palestinian problem is an Israel that has abandoned the democratic values of its founding. It is an Israel that dooms itself to becoming an apartheid state in which its Jewish citizens survive only through the perpetual suppression of its Arab underclass. And over the long haul, that is not an Israel that will find many friends. We hear often about how the U.S.-Israeli relationship is based upon shared values, and that has been true; apartheid and ethnic-based repression of half your nation’s population are not among those shared values.
If there is a third option — a solution that allows Israel to keep all of its conquered territories, as Netanyahu now insists, without sacrificing its soul and its standing with the Western world — I cannot envision it and no one else has given voice to it.
We have been coming to this choosing time for decades now. For decades, Israelis have been putting it off and putting it off while continuing to expand settlements at a pace that indicated that the choice had really been made already. But inevitably, there had to come a moment when the choice was made explicit, when one course was publicly embraced and the other course publicly rejected.
Netanyahu has now proposed that choice to Israel, and over the next few months we shall see how his proposal plays out, both within Israel and among the larger global community. It makes me heartsick to watch.