Preliminary results of Israel's election show Benjamin Netanyahu weakened but likely to serve a third term as prime minister, in a shift toward what mainstream accounts call "the center." Netanyahu's bloc made up of the right-wing Likud and far-right Yisrael Beitenu came out on top with 31 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset—down form 42. Coming in second, the new "centrist" Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by ex-TV personality Yair Lapid took a projected 19 seats. The center-left Labor, once the mainstay of Iraeli politics, came in third with only an estimated 15 seats. Arab parties are projected to have won 12 seats. The biggest party in the last Knesset, the "center"-right Kadima, dropped from 28 seats to none. (Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel blog, JTA, Jan. 23) But an election-time controversy demonstrated the degree to which ultra-right positions have become mainstreamed in Israeli politics…
Israeli TV aired footage of Jeremy Gimpel, a candidate with Habayit Hayehudi (formerly the National Religious Party), speaking to a church group in Florida in 2011: "Imagine if the Golden Dome—I'm being recorded so I can't say 'blown up'—but let's say the Dome was blown up, right? And we laid the cornerstone of the Temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? None of you would be here. All of you would be like, 'I'm going to Israel, right?' No one would be here, it would be incredible!" (Bartholomew's Notes on Religion, Haaretz, Jan. 20)
There was an outcry over this, thanks goodness. And Gimpel—an ordained rabbi and dual US-Israeli citizen—appears not to have won his Knesset seat. In rare criticism of an Israeli politician, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on Gimpel to apologize to Muslims for his comment. (JTA, Jan. 22)
Netanyahu will now have to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement, and there are signs of tension between his Likud-Beitenu bloc and the parties to its right. The Central Elections Committee fined Habayit Hayehudi NIS 72,000 for not taking down election posters that showed Netanyahu alongside Habayit Hayehudi's party leader Naftali Bennett. (Haaretz, Jan. 20)
But even the "centrist" parties are increasingly rejecitonist and Jewish-supremacist. Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, wrote on his Facebook page in the run-up to the election: "I do not think that the Arabs want peace… What I want is not a new Middle East, but to be rid of them and put a tall fence between us and them…. to maintain a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel."
Days earlier he said that the left "makes the same mistake again when it negotiates the division of Jerusalem… The Palestinians must be brought to an understanding that Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty and that there is no point for them in opening negotiations about Jerusalem." He added that Israel will not allow a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. "We need to be clear about Jerusalem as well and then they will understand that this is our solid position."
"We have no existence without Jerusalem," Lapid added. "The Tower of David is important for Israel's heritage and existence, because it is more than a tower, it is a symbol. It is more important than the Azrieli Towers"—a reference to a well-known group of high-rise buildings in Tel Aviv. (Arutz Sheva, Jan. 20) See our last post on the struggle for the Temple Mount.
Deadly repression continues on West Bank
Hundreds of mourners on Jan. 23 attended the funerals of a woman and a teenager shot and killed by Israeli forces in the Bethlehem area. Lubna Hanash, 22, was shot in the head that morning as Israeli soldiers in a civilian car opened fire at a group standing at the entrance to al-Arrub refugee camp south of Bethlehem. That same day, 15-year-old Salih al-Amarin, from Azza refugee camp, died in the hospital after Israeli forces shot him in the head during Friday clashes in Bethlehem on Jan. 18. His funeral erupted into clashes angry residents threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who retaliated with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, injuring 10 Palestinians. At least six Palestinians have been fatally shot by Israeli forces in January. (Maan News Agency, Jan. 23)
Farmers in the northern West Bank village of Sebastiya in Nablus protest that their fields have become a dump for waste-water from the nearby Israeli settlement Shave Shomron. Since early January, settlers have been pumping their sewage into the al-Khallah area of Sebastiya, flooding fields and damaging crops, local mayor Nael al-Shaer told Ma'an News Agency. He urged the Palestinian Authority to intervene.
Local farmer Ahmad Kayid said fruit crops were inedible because of the sewage. "Settlers are trying to spoil as much as they can of Palestinian fields in an attempt to force farmers to desert their lands completely," Kayid told Ma'an. (Maan News Agency, Jan. 22)