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What to expect from Israel's election:
"All the parties support the war on Palestinians"

March 31, 2006 | Page 4

ISRAEL'S NATIONAL election was taking place as Socialist Worker went to press. The Kadima party, founded by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before being incapacitated by a stroke, and now led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was expected to win handily, cementing its emergence as a new power in Israeli politics.

What will these elections mean for the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation?

TIKVA HONIG-PARNASS is an Israeli socialist and longtime activist for Palestinian rights, and co-author with Toufic Haddad of a forthcoming book on Palestine. She will be speaking at Socialism 2006 in New York City at the end of June. She talked to Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about the impact of the elections on the struggle for Palestine.

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WHAT DOES the founding of the new party Kadima represent? Will it survive Ariel Sharon's departure from the scene? Has Kadima completely changed the character of Israeli politics?

THE APPEARANCE of Kadima is an expression of a process that has been underway for a long time. What once seemed to be essential differences between the Zionist right and left with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been blurred--to the point where they have almost entirely disappeared.

Both left and right always shared the principal aims of Zionism--to build an exclusive Jewish state with a Jewish majority that rules directly and indirectly over the whole of historic Palestine, while preferring the solution of mass expulsion of Palestinians when circumstances permitted.

The Oslo "peace process," led by the Zionist left, was a temporary deviation from their original approach of emphasizing the need for the inevitable elimination and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Since the failure of the Oslo framework, which was intentionally caused by the Labor government of Ehud Barak in 2000, the left has signed up with the mainstream consensus shared by most of the Zionist parties, with the exception of the messianic, fanatic right wing of the settlers and transfer parties.

Kadima, which presents itself as a "centrist" party, is the embodiment of this consensus and therefore has attracted leaders from Likud (like Ariel Sharon, who founded the party and was its leading candidate until his stroke) and Labor (like Shimon Peres), as well as many supporters who traditionally voted for these parties. In addition, most of those who previously voted for the racist populist party of Shinui, which has lost almost all of its support according to the polls, have shifted their allegiance to Kadima.

Hence, Kadima will almost certainly win the coming elections and lead the future government coalition. The only real question is how big a victory it will enjoy. Although the distinct political organizations of the Likud and Labor parties still exist, they differ from Kadima only tactically, and thus are part of the broad consensus emerging in Israeli politics.

The collapse of Oslo has ended the left's rhetoric of "peace and negotiations" and opened the way for it to explicitly adopt the strategy of unrestrained warfare directed at Palestinians (economically, socially, politically, geographically and so on). It's presumed that this pressure will ultimately force the Palestinians to accept Israel's dictates.

In the meantime, the so-called left, center and right are united around the "unilateral" strategy first initiated by the Labor party and later adopted by Sharon (and his successor, Ehud Olmert). The approach of unilaterally imposing Israel's will on Palestinians was embodied in the misnamed "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip and the erection of the "separation wall," which has annexed large areas of the West Bank to Israel.

Even if Labor and Meretz (the party associated with Israel's Peace Now movement) pay lip service to preferring negotiations with a moderate Palestinian leadership to policies of unilateralism, they have de facto been supporting the daily policies of Sharon and Olmert, which are in fact policies of elimination and ethnic cleansing in slow motion.

In recent days, Kadima has announced plans to carry out the hiving off of the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank, and the bifurcation of the north of the West Bank from the south.

Furthermore, at a time when killings and arrests are committed daily by the Israeli occupation army, and while settlement construction continues unabated, the Labor and Meretz parties are declaring their willingness to join the future Kadima government. They claim that Kadima has adopted their "moderate" approach to the "conflict" and their readiness to make "concessions" to the Palestinians.

In a sense, this is true--Kadima has adopted the hypocritical method that traditionally characterized the Zionist left: speaking about "peace" while carrying out the cruelest policies. This is the "secret" of Kadima's likely victory--which in all likelihood will thrive as a party because it embodies the refusal of the majority of Israelis to recognize the national rights of the Palestinians as a condition for a just peace.

THE TRADITIONAL parties in Israeli politics are Likud and Labor. What accounts for their decline?

THE EXPECTED decline of Labor's share of the vote is a decisive stage in the gradual process that has taken place since 1977, when Likud first ascended to power. This process is a consequence of the convergence of the policies--both economic and political--of what used to be the two main parties, Labor and Likud.

Labor has traditionally represented the interests of Israel's capitalist class, especially since the introduction of privatization and "free market" policies that Labor implemented in the mid-1980s. Israeli capitalists supported the Oslo agreement because it helped them accomplish their goal of integrating into the globalized economy and playing a hegemonic role in the "New Middle East," while using the Palestinians as a cheap labor force.

Due to developments within the Israeli economy, however, Israeli capital has since lost interest in Palestinian workers, thereby removing their objection to the strategy of war and ethnic cleansing undertaken by Israeli governments since the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, which began in 2000.

Kadima now embodies this approach and wholeheartedly supports pushing Israel's borders to the east to incorporate the large settlement blocs and newly confiscated agricultural lands of dispossessed Palestinian villages.

The settlements currently being built and expanded in the vicinity of Israel's imposing apartheid wall are areas where important alliances have been forged between the settlers, the state agencies that subsidize and build the walls, and real-estate corporations and high-tech industries--the representatives of both the old economy and the new. Israel's high-tech firms have transferred many of their factories into the newly annexed areas west of the apartheid wall, where a captive, skilled and cheap Jewish labor force and massive government subsidies have provided these companies optimal conditions.

Parts of big capital still support the Labor party--first, because its strategy toward the Palestinians is not essentially different than that of Kadima, and second, because these sections of capital support Tony Blair's "third way," the variant of conservative social democracy also endorsed by Amir Peretz, who is the newly installed Labor party chairman and the leader of the Histadrut, Israel's main labor federation. Like a growing number of their counterparts abroad, Israeli capital sees the need to restrain the "wild free market" in order to insure the survival of the neoliberal project in the long run.

In the past, the bulk of Labor's constituency came from well-to-do Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European origin), who for decades made up the bulk of the Israeli "peace camp." For them, the Labor party served as the bulwark for preserving the Ashkenazi-capitalist hegemony.

The Mizrahim (Jews of Arab origin) on the other hand supported Likud. They have made up the majority of the Jewish working class (alongside the Palestinian citizens of Israel) and the majority population of the development towns, built in the 1950s and 1960s in border areas where no Jews previously lived.

The historical tendency of the Mizrahim to vote for Likud was an act of protest against the Ashkenazi elite, which had led the ideological and political charge to erase their Mizrahi-Arab identity. Voting Likud also provided the Mizrahim with a means to demonstrate their support for patriotic militarism and Israeli security--a litmus test of sorts for allowing them to join Israeli society, steeped as it is in anti-Arab racism.

Amir Peretz is of Moroccan origin and was raised in the development town Sderot. His positions on Palestinian and "security" issues, even by his own admission, are no different from those of Kadima.

This is likely to bring about a change in the political voting patterns of development-town Mizrahi residents. Their identification with the Mizrahi origins of Amir Peretz, together with his social economic approach, is likely to lead this constituency to "safely" express itself in support for the Labor party.

But the support of the development towns has not halted the shrinking of the Labor party's support. Precisely because of this new support for Labor among Mizrahim, a mass desertion of the racist Ashkenazi middle classes has taken place, leaving what they considered "their" party to join the newly formed Kadima.

The election of a Moroccan as Labor's candidate for prime minister, together with the support of the Mizrahim in the development towns, constitutes a perceived threat to the Ashkenazi identity of the Labor party.

Kadima became an attractive alternative because it adopted the Labor party's known "pragmatism." This applies not only to Kadima's approach to unilateral implementation of the "peace plan," but also to their strong political and ideological orientation toward the U.S.

Kadima's adoption of an approach that defers to the dictates of U.S. imperialism as a central dimension of Israeli strategy is something that Likud in the past (and what remains of it in the present, together with the fanatic right) don't share to the same extent.

WHAT IMPACT has Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections had on the Israeli political situation? And what's behind Israel's recent abduction of a secular Palestinian figure from a Jericho prison? Is there a connection between the raid and the upcoming elections?

THE HAMAS victory will not change in any essential way the war plan that Israel has pursued for some time now.

Following the directives of the U.S., Israel did all that it could to weaken Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction. Both the U.S. and Israel opposed Abbas' request to delay the elections, refusing to provide him with the smallest of crumbs to ensure his victory.

This was not done because of the contradictory position toward the Palestinian Authority of seeking to weaken it on the one hand while preserving it symbolically. Rather, the growing power of Hamas (it's not clear to what extent Hamas' outright victory had been predicted) was supposed to be used to buttress Israel's argument that "there is no one to talk about peace with," thereby allowing Israel to unabashedly continue its wholesale war.

The raid on the Jericho prison and the transfer of its prisoners to Israeli jails reflects the way in which Israel, in collaboration with the U.S. and Britain, is going to exploit the Hamas victory.

The operation, which was an armed incursion into a jail under Palestinian sovereignty, has openly and cynically violated the agreement with the PA about the prison and those detained there. However, the point was also to send a larger message to Hamas (and all national forces) that a new era has begun, in which no past agreements are valid and the way is cleared for sheer military power to determine the fate of the Palestinians.

Of course, the U.S. and Britain also aimed at strengthening the position of Olmert in the elections. The argument that he lacks the military credentials of, say, Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu can now be countered by pointing to the Jericho operation as proof of his ability to continue the force-centered approach of Sharon.

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