- Amira Hass
Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories, based in Ramallah. She is the only Israeli Jewish journalist to have spent 20 years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. Her book, Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945, is just out in paperback this week.
- Jamal Zahalka
Arab member of the Israeli Knesset and chair of Balad party, which is part of the Joint List of Arab parties.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a surprise election victory, putting him on course for a fourth term in office. Netanyahu’s Likud Party is poised to control 29 or 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The Zionist Union opposition placed second with 24 seats. A united list of Arab parties came in third with 13 seats. Netanyahu closed out his campaign with a vow to oppose a Palestinian state, reneging on his nominal endorsement of a two-state solution in 2009. Netanyahu also vowed to expand the illegal West Bank settlements and issued a last-minute plea to supporters denouncing a high turnout of Arab voters. The Zionist Union, Netanyahu’s chief rival, also ran on a platform for Israel to keep the major Israeli settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, the home of any future Palestinian state. Likud says Netanyahu intends to form a new government in the coming weeks. Talks are already underway with a number of right-wing parties. To discuss the election, we are joined by two guests: Jamal Zahalka, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset and chair of Balad party, which is part of the Joint List of Arab parties; and Amira Hass, correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in the occupied Palestinian territories.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re going to move on now to Israel, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has won a surprise victory, putting him on a course for a fourth term in office. With 99.5 percent of the votes counted, Likud won 29 or 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The Zionist Union opposition placed second with 24 seats. A united list of Arab parties came in third. Exit polls had showed Likud and the Zionist Union in a close tie, but in the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu stressed his right-wing positions. He visited the Har Homa settlement and vowed to ramp up the construction of more settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. And he unequivocally ruled out allowing a Palestinian state, thus reneging on his nominal 2009 endorsement of a two-state solution. On Election Day, he railed against Israel’s Arab voters.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in mass to the polling stations. Left-wing nonprofit organizations are bringing them in buses. Go out to the polling station, bring your friends and family, and vote Likud, in order to close the gap between us and the Labor Party. With your help and God’s help, we will form a national government and protect the state of Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, Likud said Netanyahu intended to form a new government within weeks, with negotiations already underway with a number of parties, including the pro-settler Jewish Home party and ultra-Orthodox groups.
Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union and the son of a former Israeli president, conceded defeat, saying he had called Netanyahu to congratulate him. The Zionist Union also ran on a platform for Israel to keep major settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, keep Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital, and block the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
On Tuesday, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, responded to the election results.
SAEB EREKAT: Well, I think there is also, the Israeli elections indicate business as usual. It seems to me that Mr. Netanyahu will form the next government in Israel. And we all heard what he said yesterday. He said if he is re-elected as the prime minister in Israel, Mr. Netanyahu said, he will not allow a Palestinian state. He will continue with settlement activities and dictations. I believe he was not campaigning in the elections. I believe he was honest, and he specified his truth. Mr. Netanyahu has done nothing in his political life but to destroy the two-state solution. And I believe now it’s up to the international community to stop treating this prime minister as a prime minister that’s above the laws of man. And he should be held accountable. And he should—the international community should not cover him or give him impunity. Impunity will mean more conflict, more complicities, and it will not make peace. Justice will make peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
To talk more about the Israeli election, we’re joined by two guests. Joining us from Tel Aviv, Jamal Zahalka, he is an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, chair of the political bloc of Arab parties known as the Joint List, which took third place in Tuesday’s election, winning 13 seats. He has served as a member of the Knesset since 2003. Here in New York, we’re joined by the Israeli journalist Amira Hass, correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in the occupied Palestinian territories. She’s based in Ramallah. She’s the only Israeli Jewish journalist to have spent more than 20 years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. Her book, Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945, written by her mother, Hanna Lévy-Hass, with her own afterword and introduction, is also just out in paperback this week.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with you, Amira Hass. Your reaction? Would you call this a surprise victory of—
AMIRA HASS: Not at all, not at all. The whole campaign was not about the real issues of war, of occupation, of Israeli continued colonization. The cosmetic differences between the Labor, which is now called the Zionist Alliance or the Zionist Camp, and Likud were minor, did not attract people’s real enthusiasm. What Netanyahu has been offering for the past years continues to be a winning horse for most of the people. That means the nonexistent welfare state in Israel proper now exists by the occupied territory in the forms of colonies, well-pampered colonies, so it is always an option for Israelis to move to the occupied territory to improve their conditions. Inside Israel, his policies guarantee that there will be continued the discriminated—the policy which discriminates Palestinians, Israeli citizens, from their—against the Israeli Jews. With a combination of support of the right-wing parties—of the religious parties, I think his position was guaranteed. The change would have been only in the puzzle—I mean, if he would get 28 seats and not 30 seats. So, for me, I didn’t expect much more.
And when people say that it is because he promised now not to have a Palestinian state, to do everything against a Palestinian state, his actions have done everything possible to prevent this from happening anyway. So it’s not about statements that the people fall to. I mean, it’s the reality that he’s established for the past—and not only he, other parties as well. So it’s not about the last-moment statements, I think, that—what guaranteed his position. Labor—anyway, the two-state solution that people, that other parties, like the Labor Party, advocate, I call it the 10-state solution or the seven-, eight- solutions, which doesn’t see Gaza in a Palestinian state, and the Palestinian state itself is a bunch of bantustans inside the West Bank.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the impact on the international community of Netanyahu’s last-minute veering even more to the right on many of these issues and his attacks on Arab citizens within Israel?
AMIRA HASS: Yeah, sure, sure.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What’s going to be the long-term impact.
AMIRA HASS: This has to be seen, because, I mean, we always expect, you know—we feel that each, every time Israel is crossing a red line, and now is the moment for the world to react, and there it doesn’t react, the world. So still we want to see it reacting. We thought that the war on Gaza was a red line that was crossed again, and good relationships with Europe, with America continue. So, of course, we want to hope that something will change, and not only among rank-and-file and grassroots levels, but also among the political echelons in their decisions. But so far, as long as Israel is considered part of the enlightened, democratic West, and Israelis are welcome, and Israeli support teams are welcome everywhere in the world, and scientists, etc., Israel is seen as part of this world.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we’ll go to Tel Aviv, as well, to get response from Dr. Jamal Zahalka, who is a Knesset member for more than a decade and chair of the Joint List. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are the award-winning Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who is a correspondent for Ha’aretz, lives in the Occupied Territories, and we’re joined in Tel Aviv by Dr. Jamal Zahalka, Arab member of the Israeli Knesset. He is chair of the Balad party, which is a part of the Joint List of Arab parties, joining us from Tel Aviv.
Doctor, you’re an MK, I guess you’re called in Israel, member of the Knesset. Dr. Zahalka, your response to the win of Netanyahu, who has vowed there will be no Palestinian state and went after Arab voters yesterday, saying if he lost, it would become—it would be because of, well, I guess, people like you?
DR. JAMAL ZAHALKA: First of all, we are proud of the achievement of our Joint List. We are four parties, and we won—more than 30 percent more voters voted for us. Mr. Netanyahu winning the Israeli elections is a very, very, very bad message to everybody, to everywhere, because he implemented war crimes in Gaza, and he should be punished. Now he’s become Israeli hero. So I think this is why, because the world watched him and did nothing. Men like him should be sentenced in an international tribunal. He killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. I think this is the main thing in the Israeli elections, meanwhile. Politically, no change in Israel, and Netanyahu is continuing with the same policies.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the impact of the growth on the Joint List vote? Most Americans are not aware that the Arab population of Israel is 20 percent. That’s a higher percentage than the African-American population of the United States. And what about the impact for the future in Israel of the growth of the Palestinian and Arab vote of citizens of Israel?
DR. JAMAL ZAHALKA: We are stronger now, and we can defend better our people and our interests, our lands, our rights, and oppose rising Israeli racism and their policies, especially those of Mr. Netanyahu himself. He did yesterday something which I don’t—I don’t think that any prime minister in the world did: He said that voting of some citizens is a danger. Instead of encouraging the citizens to go to vote, he said that Arabs are voting, and it’s danger for us. This is something, I think, clarify that Mr. Netanyahu is anti-democrat and racist, mainly.
AMY GOODMAN: This is one of the videos, produced by the Joint List, that features a variety of Israeli voters explaining why they support it.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 1: [translated] I’m voting for the Joint List as a Jew, because I think that it’s the only democratic option.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 2: [translated] The hesitaters need to look inward and ask themselves what they’re afraid of.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 3: [translated] Because I’m sure you want to live in a state of social justice and equality.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 4: [translated] I feel totally confident and comfortable, as a Mizrahi Jewish feminist, to vote for the Joint List.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 5: [translated] The Joint List represents me, as a half-Palestinian, half-Jewish girl living here.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 6: [translated] It’s the first time that I feel I’m going to vote wholeheartedly.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 7: [translated] It’s the only list that represents both of us.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 8: [translated] The Joint List is my political home.
JOINT LIST SUPPORTER 7: [translated] Nice!
AMY GOODMAN: One of the videos produced by the Joint List. Dr. Zahalka, can you explain what the Joint List is, what are the parties that make it up, and how you came into being?
DR. JAMAL ZAHALKA: You know, the Joint List is comprised of four parties: Hadash, which is communist and that allies its binational party, Jews and Arabs; and Balad, my party, is a democratic national party; and the moderate Islamic Movement; and the Arab Movement for Change. And I think that we became a major force in the Knesset by joining together. And we also have many Jews who are supporting us. And because we have also—they support us as act of solidarity with oppressed people, first of all, and also because we have a democratic platform, the only democratic platform in the Israeli Knesset, based on the state for all its citizens, not state who belong to one group of the citizens, namely a Jewish state.
AMY GOODMAN: During an interview with a website owned by U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, one of his leading backers, the prime minister, Netanyahu, unequivocally vowed never to allow a Palestinian state if he’s re-elected.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] I think that whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel. This is a genuine reality that was created here in the past few years. Those who do not understand that bury their heads in the sand. The left-wing parties do it, bury their heads in the sand, time and again.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Amira Hass, talk about the significance of this and also of the growth of the Joint List. Is this a new development in Israeli politics?
AMIRA HASS: As I said before, what Netanyahu said now in an interview to an American, probably he says now he’s more frank than he was four years ago, five years ago, three years ago, but, again, his actions have been always directed to preventing a Palestinian state from being established. But he was not unique in that sense. I mean, the whole trend in the past 20 years of—also of Labor-led coalitions and Labor-led governments, all was channeled to this reality, that the two-state solution seems almost impossible, at least in the sense that we saw the two-state solution—Gaza, West Bank, '67 border, East Jerusalem the capital, and no settlements. I mean, now, when they talk about the Palestinian—some kind of a strange configuration of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, which is an agglomeration of some islands in the ocean of Israeli-controlled area, I mean, this is a joke. This is not really two states. So, I don't attribute, personally—maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t attribute too much importance to this statement, only that he—maybe he’s defying more the American audience, who likes to hear, or the American politicians, who like to hear that—”Oh, since also even Netanyahu is for the two-state solution, let’s continue and support him.” Maybe it’s a sort of defiance, stretching a bit more this edge or pushing the edge a little bit more. I tend to believe that also this will pass quietly, but I hope to be wrong. But…
Now, the List, of course, I think it’s one of the—it’s the only positive thing about these elections, the Joint List. First of all, because it was—you know, that, actually, it was a reaction to the Knesset bill to higher—to increase the threshold for these elections, so not three votes, not three seats in the Parliament, but four seats in the Parliament, so that you should get as many votes as—I mean, up to four seats, minimum, in the Parliament, which meant that some of the parties were in danger not to be elected, some of the Arab parties, of the four. And this made—this brought to the decision to unite forces, even though there are big differences between the different parties and animosities, you know, that exist, because, OK, they are all Arabs, but they are also—they also have different convictions and different viewpoints. But still, we thought—many of us, both Palestinians, citizens of Israel, and Israeli Jews—we felt that because it is the most targeted community in Israel, targeted against, because the threshold build meant to eliminate them, or almost eliminate them, from political presence, from parliamentary presence—and, by the way, it was the—Avigdor Lieberman suggested it, and it went through, and some of the so-called mainstream parties voted also in favor. So this was a defiance of the Israeli right-wing wish to oust them from political presence. And this is why—this is why this is already a victory. If there are 13 seats or 14 seats, which are two or three more than it used to be together, altogether, in the past elections, then it’s already a sense of achievement—I won’t say victory, but a real achievement, that can also—of course, as being the third strong party in the Parliament, it gives them certain position within the committees of the Parliament. But the best thing for me is the message to the Palestinians in Israel and also in the West Bank and Gaza, that some changes in internal politics can create a change of other effects.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, in the lead-up to the elections, a lot of the coverage here in the United States talked about the growth of the economic issues—
AMIRA HASS: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in the Israeli electorate, and not so much the issue of the occupation.
AMIRA HASS: That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But in the end, it really was the occupation that drove so much of the vote for Netanyahu, don’t you think? I mean, did the economic issues fade?
AMIRA HASS: The feeling that there is nothing to change about the occupation, this is good. I mean, people approve. Voting for Netanyahu is an approval of—a re-approval of his policies: to keep the occupation going; to call it—I don’t know what to call it, to name it—to call Gaza a state, a separate state; to have wars every now and then; to repress the Palestinians. This is a vote for confidence, an Israeli vote of confidence for these policies, and which says that, yeah, it is—it is always a mystery how a population that is not rich, the Israeli Jewish—not everybody is rich, not everybody benefits from the plutarchy that Netanyahu has created over those years, on the contrary—still they vote for the nationalist option. But it works. At the end, it works, because we are still—still, we are better off. We benefit from the occupation, as we see it now. I mean Israelis. We benefit from the occupation, when it comes to water, when it comes to land, distribution of land also in Israel proper, when it comes to always having an option to go and move into the occupied territory. There are about—there are more than half a million Jews who live in the occupied territory—I mean, both in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank—and in conditions so much better, that they could never afford in Israel proper. Half a million is a lot, is not something to dismiss.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Dr. Jamal Zahalka about the foreign minister, Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who recently made headlines after calling for the beheading of disloyal Arab-Israeli citizens, prompting critics to label him “the Jewish ISIS.” Your response to Mr. Lieberman?
DR. JAMAL ZAHALKA: Mr. Lieberman is a racist, and being the foreign minister of Israel reflects the change in Israel, and that racism is not in the margin, but it’s the mainstream of Israeli politics. The fact that capitals in Europe and in America received him and they respect a racist character like him, racist man like him, I think it’s a very bad message to Palestinians as a whole and Palestinian citizens of Israel: “We don’t care about you. He can—he’s racist against Arabs, not against Jews, so he should be forgiven.” That’s what—otherwise, he shouldn’t be a guest in Paris and London and Berlin and Rome and Washington.
I think the world should intervene what happen—in what’s happening in our country. And I think the world should force a solution. The Israel is not right for any solution, kind of solution. And the only way to end the bloodshed is that the world intervene and force—have a force—force solution over everybody, according to the U.N. resolutions.
AMY GOODMAN: How can you, as an Arab Israeli—what difference can Arab parties make in the Israeli Knesset?
DR. JAMAL ZAHALKA: We struggle for our rights and defending our land. And we use the Knesset for that. So now we will be represented in more committees, and we will have more votes in the Knesset. And the world will change its policies toward us. I met European embassies, and everybody came, and they were very interested in our List. And now they are not dealing with us as partners, but rather as representatives of our community. This is very important, according to the world. And every establishment in Israel would be forced to do that for us—with us also. So now we are not one party or four parties united, but rather representatives of our community in the Knesset.
AMY GOODMAN: I was just speaking to a young Palestinian activist. She couldn’t vote—
AMIRA HASS: No.
AMY GOODMAN: —in the Israeli elections. She lives in the Occupied Territories. But she said she really—if she could vote, she would have voted for Netanyahu, because she said he states it exactly as it is.
AMIRA HASS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: The other parties may soft-pedal it, but at least the world understands what’s happening.
AMIRA HASS: Yes, there is such a theory, which, of course, you know, it’s—we all know that he speaks frankly what maybe the Labor Party is saying more softly. But when it comes to policies, there hasn’t been much of a difference. There is still—with age, I come to appreciate also the danger of being in the worst—choosing for the worst situations, because when it’s worse, it’s worse. And sometimes if he might bring his bullies to be in ministries and in the army and in all kind of deciding stations in the body politic, which can push to brutalization which is not reversible. This is what I fear. It is not—it is not that I think that Labor would have made a change. Of course not. I mean, it’s not—I never thought of voting for them. But the brutalization that the presence of very right-wing parties in a coalition, this brutalization is very dangerous for both people. So sometimes it might be healthier or wiser to wait a bit more and to change one’s—also one’s tactics than to opt for the worst solution. I mean, that’s my—
But the right wing, the extreme right wing in Israel, I mean, the real—the most racist party of all, and the really dangerously racist party, Yachad, I think they’re named together, which is a combination of very, very—how would I say?—retarded religious party with the extreme nationalist religious groups, didn’t pass the threshold. Though we still have to wait for the soldiers’ votes. They are counted a day or two days later, and usually they strengthen the right wing. So we have to wait for the soldiers.
I wanted to add that one of the things that really warmed our hearts—I mean, I would say left wing, and even some of the Israeli press—is that the Joint List, Arab List, also presented that they—true, as Jamal said, representing the Palestinian community in Israel, but they also want to represent and to fight for the rights of other weakened groups in the Israeli society, which means also Jews, so to fight for social justice for all, and, of course, coming out from their position as representatives of the Palestinian community in Israel. But this is something that was—it showed how they are so much more enlightened than any of the other Israeli Jewish parties.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you both for being with us. Amira Hass is a longtime Israeli journalist, has lived in the Occupied Territories for more than 20 years, award-winning journalist with Ha’aretz newspaper. Her mother’s book has just come out in paperback, Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945, by Hanna Lévy-Hass, with a foreword and afterword by Amira Hass. We also want to thank our guest in Tel Aviv, Dr. Jamal Zahalka, Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, chair of the Balad party, which is a part of the Joint List of Arab parties.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll learn about a father and son who were held at Guantánamo for more than eight years, then resettled—though never charged—resettled in different countries. We’ll learn about their story. Stay with us.