The central committee of the Daam Workers Party convened in the run-up to the general elections, following the unraveling of Benjamin Netanyahu’s third government. This document discusses the backdrop to this, the local and regional political forces which led to the crisis in which Israeli society and the Arab countries of the region find themselves, and the circumstances which led to Daam’s decision not to run in these elections.
The following is an abridged version of the Hebrew document.
Though the political parties competing this year appear to focus on social issues such as the cost of living and the housing problem, there can be no doubt that in practice Netanyahu’s government fell because of the political vacuum which followed the collapse of the talks with the Palestinians, and the attempt to change the status quo within Israel between Arabs and Jews – most notably with the “Nation-State Law” which undermines the rights of some 20 percent of the state’s citizens.
As usual, the political parties avoid the most burning issues facing Israeli society: the relationship between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The policy of Israel’s Right conflates these two issues: it declares that it intends to solve the Palestinian problem by annulling the Oslo Accords and unilaterally creating a Palestinian autonomous region; and it aims to give an official and legal seal of approval to the long-standing but unofficial policy of racist discrimination and exclusion against Israel’s Arab citizens.
Lack of Palestinian unity: the Right’s most precious asset
The increasing power of the Israeli Right, particularly the settlers’ party Habayit Hayehudi, is to a large extent the direct result of Palestinian disunity and weakness: the mixed messages coming from the organizations struggling against each other for power in the Palestinian political arena are a decisive reason for the turn of Israel public’s rightward. The Palestinian Authority, which recognizes Israel, demands an end to the occupation but at the same time maintains consistent and close “security cooperation” with the Israeli security forces, despite internal opposition from Hamas. In contrast, Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and offers no political solution to the conflict, has chosen to fight the siege Israel has closed around Gaza through armed resistance, including firing rockets at Israel’s civilian population. The PA’s weakness vis-à-vis Hamas’ extremism grant credibility to the Right’s claim that occupation and settlement must continue in order to protect the West Bank from a takeover by Hamas, which aims to destroy Israel. Thus the Right benefits from both the schism between Jews and Arabs within Israel, and the disconnection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, the internal Palestinian division reflects the battle raging in the Middle East between the main power blocs. These blocs are taking advantage of the chaos created by the Arab Spring in order to increase their circles of influence. Hamas in the Gaza Strip is supported by Qatar and Turkey, and faces a tight axis of common interests between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the PA and Israel. The rise of fundamentalism must also be noted, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda which directly affect political reality in Palestine, as well as the rightward trend among Israeli Jews.
Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip last July, illustrates how this vicious circle works. The backdrop to the war was the collapse of negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in April as well as the events in Egypt following the renewed military takeover of the state and the end of the democratization process: Egypt’s General Sisi cut off Egyptian aid to Hamas and closed the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, thus stopping the supply of basic goods to the Strip. This policy stifled the population. In light of the failure of negotiations, Hamas decided that the time was ripe to form a coalition with the PA in order to ensure at least minimal economic survival in the Strip. But Israel’s response to the Palestinian unity government was fast and violent, and the result was the opposite of what Hamas had intended. While relying on Qatar and Turkey as its main allies, Hamas was compelled to enter a prolonged war to stop the siege, but despite the enormous destruction and loss of life, it failed to achieve its basic objectives.
Even though it entered a unity government with Hamas before the war, behind the scenes the PA supported Israel and Sisi’s military regime in Egypt which aims to destroy Hamas. At the end of the war, the PA reneged on its commitments according to the unity government agreement, claiming that though Hamas indeed gave up its hold on the Gaza government, it did not give up its military control. Thus the PA refused to take responsibility for Gaza’s economy, for funding its political institutions and public services, or for paying the salaries of its civil servants.
A human catastrophe of the first order is unfolding in the Gaza Strip. In addition to the killing of some 2,000 Gazans, mainly civilians, the war laid ruin to the infrastructure. Some 20,000 homes were irreparably destroyed and some 100,000 people were left homeless. Donor countries agreed to budget five billion dollars for rebuilding Gaza, but only the PA is authorized to use those funds, and the PA refuses to do so because of its conflict with Hamas.
In the face of the internal Palestinian division and Israel’s adamant refusal to move towards any solution to the conflict, Abbas’ entire strategy is based on diplomatic moves in international forums. Most notable among these was his appeal to the UN Security Council with the aim of compelling Israel to commit to ending negotiations within two years and establishing a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders.
But while he turns to the International Court at The Hague and threatens to sue Israel for war crimes committed during Operation Protective Edge, during the war itself Abbas stood with the Egypt-Saudi-Israel coalition. A reality of Palestinian division and social collapse on one hand, and PA cooperation with the occupation on the other, gives the Israeli Right space to maneuver and validates its claim that “there is no partner” (for peace talks) on the Palestinian side which will fall to Hamas if Israel relinquishes control.
“The Zionist Camp” versus “the Jewish camp”
The stormy return of the slogan “Anyone but Bibi” (Netanyahu) as the central message of the opposition parties cannot hide the fact that almost all of these parties were partners in Netanyahu’s governments and acted as political fig-leaves for Israel’s rejectionist policy. Regarding the main political barriers to a political Israeli-Palestinian solution and the status of Israel’s Arab citizens, the Zionist Camp led by Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni has nothing new to offer. The Labor Party (one half of the Zionist Camp) sticks to its old policy based on negotiations without determining the content of any future agreement or setting a timeframe for ending the occupation. As for its approach to Israel’s Arabs, the kind of equality it advocates is symbolic and empty of any tangible content.
The Oslo Accords came to an end, in practice, with the intifada of the year 2000, when the Palestinians grasped the fraud they had been sold: though the Accords were a temporary general agreement whose purpose was to lead to a sovereign Palestinian state, from Yitzhak Rabin’s murder onwards, this temporary reality became permanent while the settlement project continued apace under all Israeli governments. The creation of the PA was merely part of this arrangement in which Israel recognizes a temporary Palestinian entity devoid of any tangible sovereignty, while the Palestinians remain dependent on Israel from an economic and military point of view. Thus the PA in the West Bank has become a governance mechanism operated by some 150,000 bureaucrats and security men whose wages are paid by donations from the West, while the settlements continue to dissect the West Bank and prevent the establishment of a sustainable, contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Today the Right, and Netanyahu in particular, no longer even pays lip service to the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution. The Israeli Right openly declares its opposition to a Palestinian state as a solution to the conflict, and proposes perpetuating the existing situation through “Palestinian autonomy” under Israeli sovereignty. Unilaterally, the “settlement blocks” have become part of Israel in any future agreement.
The crisis over the “nation-state law” (which would anchor the idea of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in Israel’s Basic Laws) which led to the early elections is merely formal. In practice, it was the Labor Party which established the discriminatory regime against the Arab population, and the Labor Party is responsible in the main for the situation Israel’s Arab citizens are in: high poverty rates, towns lacking basic infrastructure, youth with no future. There is a pressing need for an effective response to the discriminatory regime, which relies on the formulation “Jewish and democratic state” – a formulation which concisely expresses the essence of Israel’s Zionist Left. It is this pressing need that led the educated classes in Arab society to formulate an alternative political perspective based on the model of a “state for all its citizens.”
The “nation-state law” is the Right’s way of solving the internal contradiction of the “Jewish and democratic” state by legally prioritizing the Jewish component above the democratic component. In practice, the law would mean that when an Arab citizen faces discriminatory practices (such as unequal distribution of land), “Jewish interest” would take precedence over the principle of equality. The law thus grants legal authority for this kind of discrimination which stems from the definition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The Zionist Left’s protestations against the law stem from the very real fear that anchoring discriminatory practices in law will undermine Israel’s aspirations to belong to the club of democratic states. The law, if accepted, would cause an increase in international protest against Israel’s policies and even to expose Israel to sanctions. The Labor Party rejects the definition of Israel as a “state for all its citizens” – in other words, the Labor Party sticks to discriminatory policies wrapped in the doubtful cloak of “democracy.” And indeed, in this tragic and ongoing vicious circle which began with the catastrophic Oslo Accords, the structural discrimination in the existing regime has deepened the tension between Jews and Arabs, and thus only strengthens the extreme Right, increasing its power and credibility among Israel’s Jewish population.
The Arab Joint List
After the Oslo Accords were signed, and especially after Rabin’s murder, the Labor Party began sliding rightwards in an attempt to appease the settlers. One of the main claims against Rabin and his government concerned his alliance with the Arab parties to get the Knesset to vote in favor of the Accords. The Labor Party internalized the message and kept away from the Arab population, which unsurprisingly increased the polarization between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
The vacuum left by the Labor Party and the left-leaning Zionist parties was filled by new Arab parties which left the Arab political arena divided between three main currents: the Islamic current, the nationalist current represented by Tagamuh (Balad), and the communist current in Hadash. These parties have one thing in common – their adamant refusal to accept the “Jewish character” of the state and their adoption of the idea of a state of all its citizens. They are also united in their call for an end to the occupation in the territories and to the discrimination within Israel against its Arab citizens. And indeed, the Arab parties stand in opposition to the Israeli Right and are critical of the Labor Party and the Jewish Left which continues to team up with the Right, whether through government coalitions or support – active and passive – for war against the Palestinians.
But despite concord over political issues, there is significant disagreement among the Arab currents on an ideological level. For example, in Knesset discussions over the separation of church and state, or regarding civil marriage, the Islamic current frequently stands alongside the Jewish religious parties. As a rule, the Islamic Movement defines itself as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, supports Hamas, and aims for an Islamic state. In contrast, Tagamuh is a nationalist secular party which envisions “One Palestine,” and allies itself with regional players according to opportunistic considerations. In the past, Tagamuh supported Hezbollah as part of the “resistance”, and today (due to Hezbollah’s support for Syria’s Assad) the party is close to Qatar, where Tagamuh’s ideological leader Azmi Bishara has found sanctuary in return for his services as propagandist for Qatari interests in the region.
The ideological heart of Hadash is the Israeli Communist Party. It remains loyal to the two-state solution, but the party’s ideological orientation remains rooted in the Cold War. Anachronistic and intransigent readings of the regional political reality led Hadash to adopt absurd positions, such as its support of a dictator who massacres his own people, the “anti-imperialist” Assad, or of the Egyptian despot Sisi, who strives to crush the Muslim Brotherhood which was elected in a transparent democratic process to head the government.
The accord among Arab Knesset factions on basic points and in their opposition to the Jewish Right is not solid enough to create real unity between the parties. Their common hostility to Zionism, important though it is, cannot provide the answer to the most basic political question: what kind of society are we striving to create? Upon what political and ideological foundations will this society be based, and what will be its character?
More than anything, the aspiration to build a social-political force able to confront the occupation and the racist regime in Israel is dependent on the answers to these questions. These are the same questions that stood and still stand at the center of the political struggle over the essence of the Arab Spring: can democracy be applied to Arab societies? Can progress and modernity provide an answer to the poverty and backwardness in the Arab world, or must we turn to Sharia for an effective response to the disease of corrupt regimes? Does the democratic regime taking its first hesitant steps in Tunisia signal a way out of the cycle of violence of civil war in which most Arab states are mired, or is the Iranian theocratic model the answer? What is the role of the Gulf states in the conflict being waged between the different currents, and what should it be? Do Fatah and the PA offer a realistic option for Palestinians to free themselves from the occupation, or is Hamas the better option? How can we contend with the racism of Israeli society and politics when Arab society is so divided, crumbling and weak, and devoid of any economic or social resources for coping with the challenges it faces?
The answer to such questions differ from party to party, each with its own ideology, but on one thing they are almost identical: in neglecting their voters. Lacking party, social or cultural activities, Arab towns are facing a social crisis whose main characteristic is violence. This violence is sometimes expressed as “family honor” killings, sometimes as criminal violence, sometimes as violence between clans. This reality is an expression of the profound disintegration of Arab society.
The unification of the Arab parties holds very little hope for the real problems facing Arab citizens – problems which find no solution through parliamentary channels. An increase in the number of Arab Knesset members will not stop their exclusion from decision-making forums or from shaping policy. Moreover, the “Arab list” signals an ethnic – as opposed to ideological – identity as the central relevant characteristic of their political essence. It makes the logic of division between Jews and Arabs the decisive element in the democratic game, and thus reinforces efforts to prevent equality between Arabs and Jews – equality which requires that Jews and Arabs cooperate together against the Right.
Why we are not taking part in the elections
Since it was established in 1996, Daam took part in all the general elections. At that time, all the Arab parties were united in supporting the Zionist left in their support of the Oslo Accords and of Shimon Peres, the Labor Party’s candidate contending against Netanyahu. We believed it was extremely important to expose the dangers of the Oslo Accords and their principal architect. Thus Daam was established, after a decade of activity within the party framework of Hadash, to offer an alternative based on opposition to the mad concept of Oslo.
At the time, some people accused us of aiding Netanyahu. They said we had failed to understand, that the Oslo Accords must be seen as the first stage on the road to Palestinian statehood and the end of the occupation. But the language of the agreement already showed otherwise: the agreement was formulated to “domesticate” and “contain” the occupation, not to bring it to an end. The Accords were meant to determine the conditions for giving up on revolutionary change in Israeli society and for the defeat of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
In the last elections, Daam failed to translate public interest in the party and the social protest movement into enough votes. In the current elections, this failure compelled us to try to join a broad coalition which would ensure we would get over the electoral threshold. Previous attempts to build such a coalition, such as during the municipal elections of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, did not lead to the hoped-for results. With the fading of the social protest movement and lacking a broad political framework – Jewish and Arab, democratic – we were compelled to admit that we have no partners for this road at the moment. In light of the raised electoral threshold, we reached the conclusion that we do not have the resources or the manpower required to run an effective election campaign.
Though we are not contending ourselves, and not recommending any other party, we are not calling for boycotting the elections. This document clarifies our position regarding the existing parties, whether those on the Zionist Left or the Arab parties, and notes the discrepancy between their position and ours, a discrepancy which means we are unable to join any of them.
The opposition parties competing amongst each other are not willing or courageous enough to face the settlers – and the settlers are the “storming brigades” of the occupation. Their task is to “clean” the occupied territory of Palestinians or to subdue them until they agree to live under a regime without civil rights and under insufferable conditions. But unless all the settlements are evacuated there can be no end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, regardless of whether the solution is one state or two. Ignoring this enormous barrier to a sustainable agreement with the Palestinians reflects futile efforts to escape from reality.
The Knesset is a central and important forum for facing the Right, however, dedicated as it may be, parliamentary work will achieve nothing unless it has public backing in the form of a movement that can sway the population and face the fascist Right. For this reason, we at Daam were always, and still are, dedicated firstly to work on the ground. So our decision not to take part in the elections is not purist, nor does it mean we are giving up on political activity. On the contrary: a wide Jewish-Arab front is a crucial political aim of the first order, and we will welcome any initiative, Jewish or Arab, which presents an alternative to the Right, as long as it is based on the demand for a truly democratic society, free of racism and occupation. Whatever the results of the coming elections, we have no doubt that Israel is galloping towards a social and political catastrophe. We hope that sooner or later, in light of the resounding failure of the Arab and Zionist parties to face the fascist Right, we new partners will emerge that will be ready to create a new democratic political framework.
And finally, we must address the retreat of democratic and liberating forces which appeared in the Arab Spring, and undoubtedly influenced the Israeli and Palestinian political arenas. The entrenchment of the regimes of Assad, Sisi and the corrupt Gulf emirates on one hand, and the rise of Jihadist fundamentalism on the other, give the impression that democracy cannot be applied in the Arab world. But as long as the despotic regimes continue to ground their rule in poverty, corruption and repression, Arab society will have no alternative except democracy. The rise of radical Islam merely replaces poverty with poverty, corruption with corruption, barbaric repression with even more barbaric repression.
Daam is the party of the Arab Spring, the party of worker solidarity, a revolutionary party whose success is not measured by whether it passes the electoral threshold, but by the creation of revolutionary change in Israeli society. Such change has become even more urgent, and necessitates a genuine change, a new political discourse. Despite the difficulties and setbacks, the future is in the hands of those who march with history. Those willing to march against the current at times of retreat will be able to build their strength and achieve their aims when the balance of forces changes.