Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won Israel’s elections on Tuesday, likely cementing his role as Israel’s longest-serving and most prominent leader.
While Likud’s victory was narrow, Israel’s right-wing parties together demonstrated significant support for their pro-occupation, anti-pluralist, pro-settlement policies.
What do these elections mean for the future of Israelis and Palestinians? And most urgently, how should pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli, pro-peace activists respond?
Here are 5 key takeaways and 5 key action points for pro/pro/pro peacemakers:
5 Takeaways: What does this mean?
- The Israeli right may have succeeded in destroying the possibility of a viable two-state solution: The presumed eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel—the so-called Two-State Solution—will not happen anytime soon, if ever. Three days before the election, Netanyahu promised right wing parties that he would begin annexing—or making part of Israel—some Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Many commentators have long said that the two-state solution was dead, or very nearly dead: They argued that number and location of Israeli settlements made impossible the creation of a truly independent Palestinian state. After Tuesday’s decisive win for the right, we can only expect these expansionist policies to continue—with the full support of the Trump Administration. While President Trump has long touted a peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians, no iteration for that plan is expected to provide for a truly independent and sovereign Palestinian state. It is true that a renewed movement for the two-state solution might emerge in the future—especially given the rise of global anti-Semitism and the accompanying fear that the lack of a Palestinian state threatens Israel’s long-term viability as a Jewish-majority state. And it is possible that some “facts on the ground,” like settlements, might be dismantled or repurposed. But given current political realities and long term trends, this is all highly speculative. Many members of Netanyahu’s presumed coalition have long stated their intent to make a two-state solution impossible. They may have won.
- Palestinians forced to radically reexamine their approach to Israel: The current Palestinian leadership in the West Bank staked its legitimacy on negotiating a two-state solution with Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already long overstayed any electoral mandate. What waning legitimacy Palestinian leaders claimed had already been under assault by the Trump Administration’s move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, cessation of humanitarian assistance for Palestinians, closure of the United States Consulate General in Jerusalem, and explicit rejection of basic Palestinian claims and rights. The end of these relationships has increased burdens on everyday Palestinians, already living in harsh realities; yet these developments, along with Tuesday’s elections, spell a death knell for the current leadership’s legitimacy in the West Bank. Opponents of negotiations with Israel and the two-state solution, such as Hamas in Gaza, now feel further vindicated. While the Palestinian Authority will likely continue to coordinate security and day-to-day life in Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, and Hamas will continue to manage Gaza, a catalyzing vision for the future has yet to take hold. Now, a vacuum exists for new visionary leadership to claim, for better or for worse.
- Divisions between Israel and traditional supporters: With no pretense that the occupation is “temporary,” tensions between Israel and some of its traditional supporters in Western countries will only become more fraught. In recent years, growing numbers of Jewish Americans, particularly liberal, have taken public exception to Israel’s policies vis-á-vis the Palestinians. Even before the election, a number of Democratic Presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg denounced Netanyahu’s policies. Among increasing numbers of liberal pro-Israel supporters, Netanyahu and his emerging coalition are seen as the real existential threat to Israel—not Palestinian terrorism, neighboring Arab states’ hostility, or even Iran. These divisions, which map across party lines, mean that Israel will increasingly become a partisan issue in American politics, and Israel may see opposition to its policies from historically unlikely places.
- BDS will now gain stronger support: BDS—or the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel—is a clear winner in the short term. BDS is highly controversial, with many supporters of Israel declaring the movement, or some of its proponents, as anti-Semitic. Yet in the absence of any credible peace process, and with continued and increasing human rights violations against Palestinians, growing numbers of frustrated observers will say “not in my name.” Other initiatives aimed at targeting the occupation economically, such as efforts targeting trade between Israel and Europe, will gain further steam, though it is improbable that Europe will play a significant political role in either resuscitating the two-state solution or jumpstarting a credible negotiations process.
- The alliance between the Israeli right and Evangelical Christians worldwide will become an ever-more prominent feature of this conflict: Tuesday’s elections were not a fluke, but rather another data point in a long trend to redraw Israel’s international alliances. Supporters of expansionist Israeli policy have long been concerned about evolving perceptions among younger Americans. Strategic alliances were forged with Evangelical Christians in the States—and around the world. Increasingly, white Evangelical Christians in America have become coveted supporters of the Israeli right. Christian Zionism is booming globally—particularly in Latin America, large swaths of Africa, India, and supposedly even in China. This is also true among populations once very sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. Other strategic alliances, including with some Arab countries supposedly opposed to diplomatic relations with Israel, will grow as well. The next years will see many of these long-nurtured alliances take more public form, as global trends towards fascism, authoritarianism, and fundamentalist religiosity—and corresponding support for extremist Israeli policies—gain greater prominence.
5 Action Points: What should Pro/Pro/Pro Activists Do?
- Center yourself for a long and necessary struggle: We are in for a long, tortuous, and beautiful ride. Together. We must remind ourselves that when things get difficult, we can’t just throw up our hands and walk away. If good people of good will walk away, then we become complicit with the forces that conspire and toil to create a different, unjust reality. So abandon that ego-driven drive to want to see our hands reap the fruit of a long-fought struggle. And get comfortable with ambiguity. Yes, it’s a more difficult fight when we don’t have a clear goal. But remember, fighting for fundamental human rights for ALL people, especially the vulnerable and the oppressed, is noble. And unlike our Palestinian and Israeli friends, we don’t carry the enormous burdens they do. Many have come before us in world history. Their faith in a time beyond the darkness, beyond the ambiguity, consistently carried us forward through seemingly impossible transformations. In South Africa. In Europe during and after WWII. Here at home. The same will be true throughout the Middle East. As long as we remain focused. We may not see the transformation we want in our lifetime. But we’ll postpone that transformation for future generations if we allow the despair of today to romance us into inaction. Let’s roll up our sleeves, with pride and joy, and know that things will change. Because they always do. But they’ll only change for the better if we continue to do our part.
- Contact your Palestinian and Israeli friends to see what they might need: Your friends need to hear from you. And we need to hear from them. If you feel confusion, they’re living it. They’re paying the real price. Resolve to regularly check in on what they need. Stay connected, stay proximate. Hear from them, and support them in ways they say would be helpful, not necessarily in the ways that might be easy or comfortable for you.
- Host a conversation with your community and take a trip in the next 18 months: We can’t change this alone. Building the team is some of the most important and necessary work. How else will our neighbors and communities speak, donate and vote differently? We need more of our friends and family and leaders and children involved in these conversations. Telos will be releasing a new program to grow conversations around Israel/Palestine and other seemingly intractable issues—called the Telos Table—this summer. In the meantime, host a dinner. Plan a trip with us to check in on your friends. Grow the circle of potential support. Just grow the circle of curiosity. Allow your friends and family to enter a conversation. Here’s a conversation guide that may help.
- Champion fundamental human rights for all—and especially the oppressed—while rejecting the politics of fear and dehumanization: In all of your communications, make sure to put fundamental human rights front and center. The core problem we face with this issue and so many others is that we don’t see each other as equally human. Many of our neighbors, not to mention many Palestinians and Israelis, only fear the other—which self-serving politicians exploit for gain. And, unfortunately, our media often portrays whole people groups, like Palestinians, in one-dimensional tropes—Arabs, terrorists, instigators—stripping them of humanity and context. While we cannot know what the politics will look like in the short- and mid-term, we know that no political program will succeed unless it supports security, dignity and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians in equal measure. And we know that urgently addressing the pressing human rights concerns of Palestinians is critical to achieving that goal. Further, Israelis seeking to exercise their democratic rights feel increasingly isolated within their own country. Ensuring your language and communications remind us and your friends that we’re all created equal—and that means something—including Palestinians and Israelis, is a necessary step to creating the conditions for true peacemaking.
- Get community leaders together to meet your Member of Congress now: We’re in this mess because of broken politics. Politics are part of the problem. And they’re part of the solution. While there isn’t a clear political program to support today, there is a lot you can do—including learning how to express your voice politically. No good peace will come until you do. There’s much anti-peace, pro-occupation, anti-free speech, pro-settlement legislation in Congress. And Congressional leaders often don’t know that people like you—their voters, supporters and donors—hold different views on Israel/Palestine. Start by calling your representative and expressing concern for Palestinian human rights after the Israeli elections. Set up a meet-and-greet with your Member’s staff in your home District. And connect with us to learn how to grow in the coming months and years in your advocacy. To get you started, we’ve come up with a quick guide for political advocacy.