The return of Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party doesnot bode well for the prospects for a comprehensive and lasting peacebetween Israel and Palestine. Throughout his campaign, thecornerstone of Netanyahu's policy toward the 'Palestinian Question'suggests an intention to deepen the conflict rather than solve it.
Netanyahu has stated repeatedly that he does not want to get tangledup in 'final status issues' -- the boundaries of a future Palestinianstate, the rights of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem,Jewish settlements in the West Bank and water rights. These issuesform the core of what must be negotiated between Palestinians andIsraelis. Yet the man most likely to become Israel's next PrimeMinister does not want to discuss them.
Instead, his plan for the 'economic development' of the PalestinianTerritories is a euphemism for intensifying the Apartheid regime thatexists there. Rather than move toward the solution that the majorityof Palestinians, the United States and the international communityembraces -- an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel --Netanyahu would have the West Bank divided into disconnectedBantustans. Palestinians would be given "business projects" ascompensation for the self-determination Israel has denied them formore than four decades.
Netanyahu wants to better accommodate life under occupation, not liftthe occupation itself, in the hopes of pacifying Palestinians' desirefor freedom and our demand for the recognition of our most basic humanrights.
This has been tried many times in the past. It has always failed. Aprocess with no prospects for peace, as was Annapolis under Olmert, isno different to Palestinians than no process and no prospects forpeace under Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has also clearly stated that the occupation of Palestinianlands will increase rather than decrease during his tenure. He haspromised not to build any new settlements, but to allow for the'natural' expansion of existing ones -- so as not to 'choke them'.
According to international law, and a number of Israeli human rightsorganizations, there has been nothing 'natural' about settlementgrowth from the beginning. The population of settlements over the lasttwo decades has grown at an average of 4-6% annually in sharp contrastto Israeli society as a whole at 1.5%. In 2008, during the ongoingAnnapolis 'Peace' Process and amidst condemnation from the UnitedStates, settlement construction in the West Bank increased by 30%.If settlements continue to grow as 'naturally' as this, they will soondevour the entirety of the West Bank.
Furthermore, it is not only the settlements which constitute theoccupation. By themselves, the settlers consume only 3% of the WestBank; however, the public utility and military infrastructures whichunite them to the state of Israel consume over 40%. Total controlof our borders and economy is compounded by 700 checkpoints andmovement restrictions, a race-based regime of roads and tunnels, amassive cement Wall and barrier which is twice the length of ourinternationally recognized border and built almost entirely inside the WestBank, and on top of this, we play host to nearly half a millionhostile ideologues who consume 80% of our water resources.
Netanyahu seems only too eager to continue 'managing' the conflictlong enough to pass it onto our children and grandchildren. However,given the make-up of his likely coalition, he may not have a choice inthe matter anyway.
Far-right parties such as Shas and Yisrael Beitenu have gained morestrength proportionally in these elections than Likud and will surelybe part of the new coalition. They call for more than 'management' ofthe status quo and a refusal to negotiate a solution; they offerextreme measures of their own - solutions which would be marginalizedin any modern democracy. These include more disproportionate violenceaimed at 'teaching Palestinians to respect their masters', moreinstitutionalized racism within the 1948 borders, more settlements andeven full-scale population transfers - a more palatable expression forethnic cleansing.
These parties have proven their ability to collapse a government ifany meaningful negotiations with Palestinians are to take place andwill most likely maintain that pledge with an increased mandate inany new governing coalition.
In sum: meaningful negotiations may not even be feasible on theIsraeli side; and if they are, the 'offer' from Israel will mostcertainly be unacceptable to any Palestinian leadership interested inviable statehood. The status quo of 'occupation with no end in sight'looks set to continue into the foreseeable future.
The result of this election will not bring us closer to a one ortwo-state solution; it will bring us no solution. And if we continuedown this path much longer, 'no solution' will manifest itself in thedeath of the two-state dream and continued Apartheid for thePalestinian people.
Mustafa Barghouthi is the Secretary General of the PalestinianNational Initiative (PNI). The opinions expressed here are his own andcan be found regularly at www.palestinemonitor.org.