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Israel’s election outcome remains unclear — but the ‘ultimate loser’ will be Palestinians

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Israel is facing political turmoil as Tuesday’s election remains too close to call. With 92% of the vote counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party appear to be nearly tied. Both leading candidates aiming to be prime minister had run on platforms vowing to take harsh measures targeting Palestinians. Netanyahu promised to annex nearly a third of the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law, if he won re-election. Earlier this year, Gantz had threatened to bomb Gaza back to the “Stone Ages.” On Tuesday night, Gantz said he had fulfilled his mission by preventing Netanyahu’s outright re-election, while Netanyahu did not claim victory or concede defeat in a speech to supporters. From Jerusalem, we speak with Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu about the significance of the snap election. “It’s not clear who will be the ultimate victor,” Buttu says. “I can tell you who will be the ultimate loser, and that’s the Palestinian people.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Israel is facing more political turmoil as its national elections Tuesday remain too close to call. With 92% of the vote counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party appear to be nearly tied, with about 32 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu was seeking a record fifth term as prime minister, but his political future is now in question. The election was called after Netanyahu failed to build a coalition government following an election in April. It also came as Netanyahu is facing possible indictments over multiple corruption cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Both Netanyahu and Gantz had run on platforms vowing to take harsh measures targeting Palestinians. Netanyahu promised to annex nearly a third of the occupied, if he won, in violation of international law. Earlier this year, Gantz bragged in a campaign ad he had bombed Gaza back to the “Stone Ages,” and he vowed to, quote, “pound Gaza again.” As chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gantz oversaw Israel’s assaults on Gaza in 2012 and 2014. He’s currently facing a war crimes lawsuit in a Dutch court filed by a Dutch-Palestinian woman who lost six relatives in Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. On Tuesday night, Gantz said he had fulfilled his mission by preventing Netanyahu’s outright re-election.

BENNY GANTZ: [translated] I am happy and very excited to be here tonight. We will, of course, await the actual results, but, as it seems, we fulfilled our mission. And just as important, we fulfilled it our way. … One can say that according to the results as they appear to be, Netanyahu did not succeed in his mission.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu did not claim victory or concede defeat in a speech to his supporters.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Israel needs a strong government, stable government, Zionist government, a government that is committed to Israel as a national state for the Jewish people. There can’t be a government that is being supported by Arab parties which are anti-Zionist.

AMY GOODMAN: The close election could result in the far-right former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman becoming the kingmaker, as both Gantz and Lieberman attempt to form a coalition government — as both Gantz and Netanyahu attempt to form a coalition government.

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We go now to Jerusalem, where we’re joined by the Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu. She’s a former adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, serves as policy adviser of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. Her latest piece for The Nation is headlined “The Israeli Elections Are a Referendum on Who Can Treat Palestinians Most Harshly.”

Diana Buttu, welcome to Democracy Now! Your take on the elections so far?

DIANA BUTTU: Well, so far, it’s not clear. It’s not clear who will be the ultimate victor. I can tell you who will be the ultimate loser, and that’s the Palestinian people. This is because both Netanyahu and Gantz have come out very strongly against Palestinians. This was not, for example, a referendum on the more than 50-year military occupation, but instead it was a campaign that was filled with racist statements on the part of Netanyahu, urging people to vote because the Arabs were voting out in large numbers, and with Gantz also saying that he was intending to crush Gaza. So, we don’t know yet who the victor will be, but we certainly do know who the loser will be, and that will be those who don’t want to see apartheid, those who don’t want to see a continuation of the occupation, and those who do want to see freedom.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Diana Buttu, you’ve mentioned, for instance, that there was no discussion in this campaign of the Jewish nation-state law that was passed last year and which really calls deeply into question any Israeli claims to being a democratic state. Could you talk about that?

DIANA BUTTU: Yes, certainly. In fact, none of the party platforms, with the exception of the one anti-Zionist group called the Joint List, none of them even mentioned words like “occupation” or had a platform when it came to Palestinian freedom, or even mentioned the word “equality.” Instead, all of the political parties across the spectrum, with the exception of the Joint List, really came out and said that this needs to be a Jewish state, that needs to preserve the idea of a Jewish majority and Jewish superiority. And none of them really had anything to say about Palestinian freedom.

So, in sum total, when we were looking at this election, as a Palestinian who is a citizen of Israel, this really was an election, in U.S. terms, of between Trump versus Trump, with no real difference between the candidates, and certainly no difference between the political parties and platforms.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the Joint List? Did it grow in numbers based on the results so far?

DIANA BUTTU: Yes. What we did see was that the Joint List ran a very strong campaign, a campaign that was aimed at stopping the extreme-right-wing fascist party, a party that is labeled as a terrorist party in the United States. The attempt was to try to get as many people out to vote so that this party would be stopped. And indeed, they did succeed in that — not only succeeded, but they’ve increased their numbers to yet another seat.

What was very interesting in their campaign was that the campaign is not just a campaign that targets Arab voters. It’s a campaign that targets the Jewish Israeli left and says to the Jewish Israeli left, “If you really believe in an end to the occupation, if you really believe in equality, ours is the only party that has that platform.” And we did see that they managed to secure votes from Jewish Israeli voters, as well, because of the fact that there is really no alternative. All of the other parties were competing over how harsh they could be against Palestinians, not in terms of what vision they have for freedom or equality.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to the Democratic Union Knesset candidate Stav Shaffir. She was first elected to the Knesset as a member of the Labor Party in 2013, becoming the youngest woman lawmaker in Israeli history. She told CNN Tuesday the majority of Israelis support a two-state solution. This is what she said.

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STAV SHAFFIR: Most Israeli citizens are not like Netanyahu. We have — even after 40 years of mostly right-wing governments, we have 65% of Israelis who support a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. That’s the most safe solution. It’s the most moral solution, that we all support. But Netanyahu, at the moment, regardless of what he actually believes and of what our security system supports — the entire Israeli security system is pro-two-state solution and a clear border between us and the Palestinians — Netanyahu, at the moment, will do everything that he can in order to establish — to build a government and escape trial, to pass legislation that will prevent the justice system and prevent parliament from putting him in trial and from getting into prison because of his corruption cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Diana Buttu, your response? And the significance of Stav Shaffir?

DIANA BUTTU: It’s very interesting that she says this, given that her own party platform didn’t mention ending the occupation, didn’t at all talk about the two-state solution. And she was aligned with Ehud Barak, who’s also a member of her political party. This is the former Israeli prime minister who propagated the false claim that there was no Palestinian peace partner and who himself was the person who was responsible for killing 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel in October of 2000, when the Second Intifada started.

So, it’s wonderful that she has this outlook at this point in time, when the election is done, but it would have been, obviously, much better for her to have had this outcome — this vision from the beginning, articulated that vision in the beginning, and been pushing for Netanyahu and other parties to actually end the occupation rather than continuing to perpetuate it.

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AMY GOODMAN: And I want to ask you about Netanyahu’s pledge earlier this month to annex a third of the West Bank, if re-elected. Despite the widespread condemnation his proposal received, his main political rival, Benny Gantz, offered no criticism, instead claimed Netanyahu took the idea from him. Gantz’s Blue and White coalition said the Jordan Valley is, quote, “a part of Israel forever. Netanyahu drafted a plan to cede the Jordan Valley in 2014. We are happy that Netanyahu has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognize the Jordan Valley,” he said. This is Netanyahu announcing his pledge to annex a third of the West Bank last week.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Today I am announcing my intention to apply, with the formation of the next government, Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.

AMY GOODMAN: Diana Buttu, what would this mean? And does it matter if either Gantz or Netanyahu is prime minister, given each is claiming it’s his own idea?

DIANA BUTTU: You know, the fascinating thing is that it’s been condemned by the entire world but been applauded inside Israel. So it shows you exactly where the Israeli public lies. When you see Netanyahu bragging about this plan and other parties also coming forward and bragging about it, and the so-called center, centrist, Gantz, coming forward and not just bragging about it, but claiming that it’s his own, you can see exactly where the thinking lies inside Israel, that they believe that they are above the law, they believe that the Palestinians are beneath the law, and that they can do whatever they want.

And this is why it is vitally important for us to keep our eyes on the fact that, whether it is Gantz that’s going to be in office or Netanyahu that’s going to be in office, for Palestinians, the outcome is going to be the same. And this is also why it’s very important for the BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, movement to become even stronger, because that is the only way that Israel is going to be stopped.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, on Tuesday, Israel’s far-right former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a national unity government, as you mentioned, to be formed. This is what he said.

AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN: [translated] We have only one option: a national, liberal, broad government comprising Israel Beiteinu, Likud and Blue and White. … Both financially and in terms of security, we are indeed in a state of crisis. Therefore, the country requires a broad government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Diana Buttu, your response about this national unity government and what it might mean?

DIANA BUTTU: This is something — you know, Lieberman was on the brink of extinction in terms of his political position. And even now he’s only the fifth in terms of the size of the party. But because of the fact that he and the other parties have this very racist outlook, he has now become somebody who is very important. So, he doesn’t want to see a redo of the election again, but is instead calling for a broad national unity coalition. “National unity,” in their terms, means anybody but Palestinians, because they want to continue to — continue the settlement expansion. They want to continue annexation and so on. So, even though Avigdor Lieberman is really not very important, because the fact that nobody really wants to look at the anti-Zionist party and their platform, they are instead pushing for — to have this broad coalition that will continue to build and expand settlements and continue to deny Palestinians their freedom.

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AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat tweeted yesterday, quote, “The fact that about 5 million #Palestinians who will be governed by the Israeli Knesset cannot vote in todays #election should tell you all that you need to know about #Israel and the international community’s normalization of its racist system. #Apartheid #SettlerColonialism.” Again, that was a tweet from human rights attorney Noura Erakat. Diana Buttu, explain how the system works.

DIANA BUTTU: Yes, she’s absolutely right. Well, the system works in the — which is that only those people who are citizens of the state of Israel who are over the age of 18 are allowed to vote. Now, even though there are nearly 6 million individuals who are entitled to vote, Israel is also occupying land — the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem — where, under the rules of occupation, these are individuals who are not entitled to vote, and yet who are ruled over by Israel. And so, the fact that you have this dual system in place, where Israel is in control of the lives of millions of people and half of those people are not entitled to vote, clearly shows the level of apartheid in the system that we have in place. And that is one of settler colonialism. It’s one of apartheid.

And this is why I think it’s very important for us to recognize that rather than applauding somebody like Gantz, who may just be Israel’s prime minister, we should instead be pushing and focusing on ending that apartheid system and making sure that Palestinians finally get to live in freedom and in dignity and in equality, rather than under a system of Israel’s thumb.

What was interesting yesterday was that as Israelis were going to the polls, the checkpoints were completely shut down, so that while Israelis had freedom of movement, Palestinians were locked in their Bantustans, in order to be able to make sure that Israel was able to vote. This is the essence of living under apartheid in a settler-colonial regime.

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AMY GOODMAN: Diana Buttu, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Palestinian attorney, policy adviser of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. Her latest piece for The Nation, we’ll link to. It’s headlined “The Israeli Elections Are a Referendum on Who Can Treat Palestinians Most Harshly.” Previously, Diana Buttu was adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

When we come back, it’s day three for the GM strike. Striking workers have entered that third day on the picket line, and now GM says they are cutting off their health insurance. We’ll speak with veteran labor reporter Steven Greenhouse. Stay with us.


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