Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Why Netanyahu election victory in Israel could be a disaster for peace in the Middle East

The prime minister's land grab policies mean there can be no viable Palestinian state, says Alban Maginness

Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates his victory in the elections
Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates his victory in the elections
Donald Trump
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

The success of Benjamin Netanyahu in the recent Israeli general election is a disaster for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is also a disaster for the world, as the creation of peace between these two nations is the key to establishing over-all stability in the Middle East.

Bizarrely, despite being indicted with serious corruption charges a short time before the election, Netanyahu has survived and will be re-elected as prime minister for the fifth time.

His success is largely due to the quirky nature of the Israeli proportional representation system, where a plethora of small right-wing, ultra-nationalist and religious parties can win seats in the Knesset or parliament with a mere 3.25% of the national vote.

This means that the smaller and more extreme parties on the right have a disproportionate say in the formation of the national government. Netanyahu being on the right, will therefore gather up the various ultra-religious parties to form a right-wing government headed by himself.

Both, Netanyahu's Likud party and the smaller right-wing religious parties have done well and are in pole position to form a new coalition government.

The actual make-up of this right-wing coalition is yet to be determined, as there is much horse trading and bargaining to be done, before a new government is finally formed.

But there is very little doubt that the new government dominated by Netanyahu will not entertain any new political initiatives that will lead to an ending of Israel's illegal occupation (under international law) over the Palestinian territories and people. While he may retain the pretence of formally supporting a "two state solution" and the ultimate setting up of an independent Palestinian state, there will be no real progress to such a desirable objective.

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In fact one can expect the opposite, as during the final stages of the election campaign Netanyahu stated that he would seek to annex the Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan.

In effect these settlements would become Israeli colonies permanently situated on Palestinian land. This would mean the complete fragmentation of Palestinian land, which would in physical terms frustrate the setting up of a cohesive and viable Palestinian state.

This policy of creeping annexation will further inflame Palestinian and Arab opinion and will tragically lead to a total breakdown in any political dialogue between the two peoples.

Such a step would not be supported by international opinion, except by the powerful President of the USA, Donald Trump, who has abandoned traditional American foreign policy positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump blindly followed the wishes of Netanyahu and his previous government's position. Therefore, Netanyahu can act without restraint, knowing that he has the unqualified support of a compliant US administration.

As long as Trump is president it is likely that the US will follow the wishes of the Likud-led government and ignore the wiser counsel of the State Department.

President Trump has unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He did so gratuitously, without first obtaining any concessions from the Israeli government on this vital and extremely sensitive issue. The international consensus on Jerusalem is that its final status is to be determined after a comprehensive agreement on all other issues. The UK, the EU and Russia, among many others, signed up to that position, but Trump without warning, or consultation broke that consensus.

This led to the Palestinians breaking off contact with the American government, as they claimed the Americans, by their decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem, were no longer acting as an honest broker.

The Netanyahu strategy is to gradually take more and more Palestinian land putting it under Israeli ownership and control, but if this process is substantially escalated in his new term as premier it will mean that there can be no meaningful Palestinian state created.

In addition it will ultimately bring about (albeit unintentionally), an expanded Israeli state that will have to accommodate the two-and-half-million Palestinians living on the West Bank. It will make the Israeli military domination of the West bank into a permanent, repressive institution.

Ironically it will also mean the gradual dilution of the Jewishness of the present Israeli state.

The alternative strategy, which is now little favoured in Israel, is to halt settlement development and enter into a fresh dialogue with the Palestinian leadership to revive the moribund peace process.

Without such a move, Israel will squander an opportunity in this generation to establish a permanent peace with its Palestinian neighbours.

The unqualified support of Trump for Netanyahu, and the apparent indifference of the rest of the world, can only lead to the festering of this conflict.

Sadly the Israeli electorate have voted for short-term gain and forsaken long-term certainty.

Belfast Telegraph

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