Gal Levy: ‘Gaza is hovering over the heads of Israeli-Jews as a nightmare come true’
The only sure thing about the upcoming elections on January 22nd is that Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu party will win the majority. What sort of coalition the reelected premier will form is anyone’s guess. Not even Gal Levy, the political scientist who directs the branch of New York University in Tel Aviv, has an answer. As usual, it is all going to depend on who the runner-up is. One contender is Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home, an ultranationalist religious party that makes no secret of its intentions to annex the West Bank to Israel. The other possible runner-up is the Labor Party, though its leader Shelli Yacimovich has already stated that, in view of the radicalization of Likud-Beitenu (read: Netanyahu’s further shift to the extreme right), she’d rather be the head of the opposition at the Knesset (Parliament). Nonetheless, in order to divide a center and center-left opposition Netanyahu may woo moderate parties into his governing coalition. Another difficult fact of this election is that the two-state solution will not happen, certainly not during the next mandate.
CartaCapital: Considering that Binyamin Netanyahu will most likely win the elections, the main question seems to be this: will he prefer to make a coalition with a moderate party or with rightwing ones?
Gal Levy: It is difficult to assess in my view. I am not sure that this is the choice that he would necessarily face, as the results of the elections, unlike how it looks, are greatly unpredictable. Labor in any event has now put itself in a position where it will be difficult to convince the faction to go into the coalition.
CC: How do you explain Bennett’s success in the election polls?
GL: I presume his success reflects a sense of despair in the Israeli political arena, and the fact that he is a new politician with a highly acceptable resume – with combat military background and hi-tech success. These credentials have made him a kind of “clean” figure. However, he is making many mistakes in the campaign, so it is unclear how will it affect the final results. Likud-Beitenu is now, as they say, shooting in all directions in order to minimize its losses in the last couple of weeks.
CC: Have Bennett’s extremist views made Likud-Beitenu, as some analysts claim, shift further to the right?
GL: It’s not about becoming more or less rightwing. There’s no real pattern to it in my view.
CC: But before the success of Bennett, had Netanyahu not shifted to the right by building new settlements due to the United Nation’s recognition of Palestine as an observer state by the end of last year?
GL: There is more being said than done, and I remain cautious in making assertions about this topic. Yet, the current political context creates a certain dynamics, but it is difficult to anticipate the future.
CC: How is Avigdor Lieberman [the belligerent foreign minister who resigned over allegations of fraud and breach of trust], who believes in the expulsion of Arab-Israelis from Israel and in executing Arab MPs who meet leaders of Hamas, less of an extremist than Bennett?
GL: I do not think that there’s a difference in the degree of extremism between the two, it is just a matter of direction.
CC: Why is the left so fragmented?
GL: The left has no leadership, because there is no one with a plan. They all subscribe to Netanyahu’s doctrine at the end of the day, so who can they be more than the sum of their egos?
CC: According to a recent poll, two-thirds of Israelis support a two-state solution, including the partition of Jerusalem. But according to the philosopher and clinical psychoanalyst Carlo Strenger the Israelis are “disillusioned” with the peace process partly because “Israel has not been able to answer a question – and that is how a Palestinian state on the West Bank based on the 1967 borders would be different to Gaza.” Do you agree with Strenger?
GL: I did not follow Strenger’s argument in depth, but I do agree that people are disillusioned now on both sides, and that on neither side is there a leadership figure that can move forward in terms of proposing a vision and making practical steps to get out of the impasse. Gaza is hovering over the heads of Israeli-Jews as “a nightmare” come true.
CC: The French Government, among others, argues that Netanyahu is colonizing areas around East Jerusalem and in the West Bank. Will Israel choose to confront the so-called international community?
GL: Israel is antagonistic to the international community and it does not seem to find ways to resolve its issues with it.
CC: Netanyahu says that Iran poses an existential threat to the Jewish people as in the past Nazi Germany did. In fact, had it not been for some of his advisers, the premier would already have attacked Iran. How will Netanyahu deal with Iran in his second mandate?
GL: Again, more is being said than done also in this case.
CC: Is militarism the most important issue of this election? If so, does it have to do with Israel feeling more vulnerable with the Arab Spring and Iran?
GL: I am not so sure what is the most prominent issue in this election. Social protest is at the back of everyone’s minds, but they are all trying not to talk about it directly. However, they calculate its implications on their respective votes.