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ISRAEL’S next general election isn’t due until November 2019, but an early poll is virtually certain given the outbreak of now traditional mutually antagonistic willy-waving engaged in by would-be prime ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s rancid right-wing coalition.
No election is complete without party leaders accusing each other of supposed “weakness” in dealings with the Palestinians and stressing their own uniquely tough qualities for the task.
Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is our Home) leader Avigdor Lieberman led the charge, resigning as Netanyahu’s defence minister in the wake of the ceasefire in Gaza facilitated by Egypt.
This followed a botched Israeli commando raid into Gaza that sparked renewed conflict in which hundreds of rockets were fired into southern Israel while Israeli warplanes struck targets in the territory.
Lieberman proclaimed his opposition to the ceasefire, asserting that it was time to sort out Gaza once and for all, as if Israel has not tried and failed to do this several times in recent bloody history.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party chairman, then scotched notions that he would step into Lieberman’s shoes, announcing his party’s withdrawal from the coalition, only to flip-flop his resignation and remain in post.
Bennett insisted he had been convinced by Netanyahu’s recollection that premature dissolution of a right-wing coalition in 1992 had resulted in Labour winning the subsequent election.
However, he may also have been swayed by objections to his becoming defence minister voiced by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a member of the prime minister’s Likud party.
In the event, Netanyahu crowned himself defence minister at the weekend, declaring that it would be “irresponsible” to dissolve the government and call early elections during the current period of volatility in Gaza.
Nevertheless, he pushed his own hard-man credentials on Tuesday by threatening to press on with the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which lies between the major illegal settlements Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim that were built to encircle East Jerusalem, which Tel Aviv purports to have annexed against international law.
"Khan al-Ahmar will be demolished very soon, but I am not saying when. We are prepared for it,” he swaggered.
The village, which was set up by members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe originally driven off their land in the Negev desert by the nascent Israeli state in 1951, was designated illegal by the occupation regime, having been built without planning permission.
Just 1.5 per cent of all Palestinian applications to build on their own land are approved, while Israeli colonisers construct large modern settlements without question even though international law brands them illegal.
“We were forcefully evicted from our original lands as Bedouins in the Naqab (Negev) desert by Israeli forces in 1951 and today we are forced to live in steel huts and struggle for the most basic of human rights,” said Khan al-Ahmar community leader Eid Khamis.
Earlier plans to demolish the village and transfer the residents to a landfill site on the outskirts of the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, which is designated a dumping ground for inconvenient West Bank Arabs, were deferred in the wake of an international outcry.
Israeli settlers in Kfar Adumim, with the connivance of political and military authorities, have adopted the additional harassment tactic of opening the valves on their sewers to flood Khan al-Ahmar.
Khamis knows the importance of his village’s continued survival to prevent Jerusalem’s total encirclement by closure of the gap between Ma'ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim.
“The issue is not that they will be demolishing my home but that they will be closing off the road to Jerusalem. Our state will disappear. How would you establish a Palestinian state then?” he asks.
Khamis calls the impending destruction of his village “a zionist project that is larger than all of us.
“If Israel does not face more international pressure than this, then it will demolish the village.”
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a lawyer from Gambia, reminded Israel last week that demolition would constitute a war crime.
"I have been following with concern the planned eviction of the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank. Evacuation by force now appears imminent and with it the prospects for further escalation and violence,” she said.
“It bears recalling, as a general matter, that extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute.”
Israel is not a member of the ICC and does not recognise its jurisdiction, but its citizens suspected of committing crimes on occupied Palestinian territories could still face charges.
Tel Aviv’s indifference to international law is matched by its hypocrisy towards terrorism — Arab terrorism bad, Jewish terrorism OK, as evidenced by a friendly interview hosted by Channel 20 with far-right terrorist Yitzhak Gabai on November 11.
Gabai was sentenced to over three years in prison for torching the bilingual Hebrew-Arabic Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem in 2014 and has no regrets over his actions.
Dov Khenin, a Knesset member (MK) for the Communist Party of Israel’s Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), who sits with the Joint List, tweeted: “An outrage! Laughing about the torching of a school.”
Gabai and his two brothers, who belong to the far-right Lehava organisation, also spray-painted slogans on the school walls, “There is no coexistence with cancer,” “Death to Arabs” and “Kahane was right.”
The last reference is to late rabbi Meir Kahane, who set up the fascist movement Kach, which was so extreme as to be banned from standing in the 1988 elections for inciting racism. He was assassinated in New York in 1990.
Lehava, which is devoted to his racist ideas, is not only tolerated but invited onto TV programmes to explain them.
Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel issued a joint call for speedy elections, declaring: “The time has come to bring a better government to Israel.
“The time has come for democratic elections and the sooner the better. Current affairs cannot be left in the hands of a bunch of fascists and settlers.”
They said that Lieberman’s resignation “revealed what we have already known for a long time. This government doesn’t have a strategy to put an end to the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip, the starvation of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories and its abandonment of the residents of the south of Israel.”
Joint List chair Ayman Odeh (Hadash) backed the call, saying: “Lieberman is a corrupt fascist who has endangered everybody. The rest of the far-right and neoliberal government needs to follow him.”
Netanyahu’s ministers have tried also to outdo each other in their condemnation of the US-based Airbnb home-rental company’s announcement that it will remove listings of illegal Israeli West Bank settlements.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called it “shameful and miserable,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan urged snubbed Airbnb hosts to sue the company and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked suggested that Airbnb should be dealt with under Israel’s anti-discrimination legislation.
While welcoming the company’s decision, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) negotiation affairs department objected to its description of the West Bank as “lands subject to historical disputes.”
“Israeli settlements are illegal and are built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, and are not ‘the subject of historical disputes’,” the PLO stressed.
Whatever coalition Israel’s election results throw up in the coming months, there will be no lasting peace in the region until the realities voiced by the PLO are tackled through honestly mediated negotiations, based on respect for international law.
John Haylett is political editor of the Morning Star. He writes this column fortnightly.
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