As Israel Prepares for Elections, Its People Think the Status Quo is Just Fine

Joseph Dana

Israel’s rightward political shift is fully underway as the country inches toward elections in April. With left-wing parties struggling to maintain relevance, the right’s vision for the country dominates. Thus, instead of advocating for a lasting peace with the Palestinians (or full annexation of the West Bank), mainstream politicians are promising more of the same. And the reason is simple. For many Israelis, the status quo is precisely what they want for their country and is the preferred resolution to the conflict with Palestinians. For them, the future has arrived and they believe it is good. They just aren’t ready to admit that publicly.

It is clear just how good things are for Israel at the moment. The Palestinian leadership is in utter disarray. Unpopular and ineffective, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, appears to be out of ideas and options to revive a sense of community and purpose in Palestine. Hamas, which controls the besieged Gaza Strip, is out of money and allies. The fragmented and divided nature of Palestinian politics today reveals just how efficient Israel has been in its use of the classic tactic of divide and rule – literally in the separation of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as figuratively. Since the beginning of the conflict, Israel has taken advantage of a divided Palestinian people to its benefit.

Next, Israeli settlements are booming. Recent figures from the Israeli interior ministry show a 3.3 percent increase in the number of settlers in the West Bank last year. The current total number of settlers now approaches 500,000 and there is no sign of an impending decrease. New settlement construction also is continuing unabated.

Israel also benefits from an ally in the White House. The Trump administration essentially has acceded to every Israeli wish. By moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Donald Trump sent a clear message that Israel had free rein over managing its conflict with the Palestinians.

From the Israeli perspective, these developments are the best the country could hope for. Tel Aviv administers an economically lucrative occupation over the West Bank, while ensuring that Palestinian resistance is nearly impossible. The US supports whatever Israel deems necessary to maintain its position.

Making matters even more favorable to Tel Aviv, Israel’s relationships with major Arab countries have never been better. Fueled by a mutual distrust of Iran and a close alliance with the US, Israel has found common cause with governments across the Sunni Arab world. While these relationships used to be kept quiet, they are now in the open.

While Israeli leaders speak about vague notions of peace, the average Israeli looks at the situation and sees an easily manageable occupation, a booming economy and Israel’s growing clout in the international community. Israelis have the peace that they want.

Of course, this status quo is not guaranteed. It is not unlikely that the Palestinians won’t be able to break down the barriers that separate them and stage another display of resistance. But those days are likely far away. In the meantime, Israel’s leadership will do everything in its power to protect the status quo and entrench it further.

The threat matrix that Israel relies on is proof of this concept in action. The aggressive nationalism Israel has used to justify its actions in creating the current status quo requires a constant existential threat. Over the years, this threat has transformed from fear of the Arab world pushing the Israelis into the sea, to the rise of Palestinian terrorism. But because the chance of either happening is now more or less under control, the threat perception has shifted to the boycott movement against Israel’s economy. Nevertheless, while the government might be unhappy with boycott activists, the reality is that the movement is still far from inflicting real harm on the economy. The international community just doesn’t care enough about Palestinians or the conflict as a whole to give the boycott movement the muscle needed to challenge the status quo.

The Israel of today is precisely the Israel its citizens want – at least for now. In a democratic society such as Israel, there will be debates within opposition parties on how to respond to the government coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu in such an environment. The problem for them, however, will reach its nadir as the polls open in April, when – not if – voters begin to admit that the status quo is just fine.

Joseph Dana, based between South Africa and the Middle East, is editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab that explores change in emerging markets and its global impact. 

AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ