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Israel: two state ideal in peril

15 DECEMBER 2022 The Washington Post did not mince its words in the headline as Israel emerged from the 1 November 2022 hustings with discredited Benjamin Netanyahu back in power. "Israel takes a troubling turn towards illiberal democracy," it announced. Said The Post: "Objectively speaking, Israel might be stronger than ever before in its 74-year history. Its military is all but unchallengeable by other Middle Eastern countries. Arab countries increasingly either recognize it diplomatically or deal with it as if they did... And yet, in national elections this week, many Israelis voted as if none of this were true."

The paper lamented the exit of centrist Yair Lapid's coalition. "The defeat of centrist Yair Lapid’s coalition, which ranged from anti-Netanyahu conservatives to Islamist Israeli Arabs, can only trouble Israel’s friends abroad, including the United States. This is true not only because it all but certainly spells the end of an already improbable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Mr. Lapid had backed, at least in principle. It is also true because of Mr. Netanyahu’s record."

Al Jazeera decribed the polls as "farcical" and Israeli democracy as "fictitious". Al Jazeera desribed things thus: "Israel claims to be a Jewish and democratic state. In fact, it is neither. It boasts of being “the state of the Jewish people” everywhere, when less than half of the world’s Jews live in the country. Today, Israel rules over 15 million people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, half of whom are not Jews; most can’t vote in Israel."

The longest running Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, founded in 1918, said simply: "The psychological concept of ‘ambiguous loss’ captures precisely the range of feelings experienced by left-wing voters in Israel since the election."

The vote appeared to sound the death knell of the two state ideal. Said one commentary by the Middle East Institute: "This analytical mess has obscured a state of affairs of far more significance than the fate of Netanyahu — namely, the overwhelming domination in the Knesset of parties that reject Palestinian sovereignty in the occupied territories and support variations of the apartheid status quo."

As a new Israeli coalition government was sworn in under far-right technocrat Naftali Bennet - ending Benjamin Netanyahu's hold on office since 2009 (he was PM 1996-1999 too - world and Asian opinion was sharply divided. Cobbling together a diverse group with seriously conflicting interests, the government has inherrent wobbles.

Said the conservative Wall Street Journal, "Four inconclusive elections since 2019 have left the country deeply polarized, and Mr. Bennett and his allies must mend those rifts while confronting a swath of divisive issues, ranging from the construction of new settlements and empowering the country’s Arab citizens to state assistance for ultra-Orthodox Jews."

During the previous election that unseated Netanyahu, the liberal The New York Times, had written, "Yair Lapid, a centrist leader, is set to take Mr. Bennett’s place after two years, if their government can hold together that long. They lead an eight-party alliance ranging from left to right, from secular to religious, that agrees on little but a desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in the country’s history, and to end Israel’s lengthy political gridlock."

UK's The Guardian had taken a softer approach, touching upon the inclusion of an Arab party for the first time as a tempering influence. " This can only be good news for the country's harassed Arab population that has felt a growing squeeze over the years."

It seems that dream is now in serious trouble.

- AC