Monthly Archives: March 2015

Jordan’s Divided Brotherhood


WASHINGTON — A dramatic split in the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan could be one of the most important developments in the recent evolution of Islamist movements. And a crucial experiment in developing a new modus vivendi between Arab states and moderate Islamist groups may well be unfolding in the process.

In the early and optimistic days of the Arab Spring, mainstream Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood garnered all the attention. Many assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that Brotherhood parties would be swept into power in country after country once Arabs were able to vote freely.

With their well-established brands, strong grass-roots organizations and lack of taint of association with former dictatorships, Brotherhood parties did indeed quickly come to power in Egypt and Tunisia. But it soon became apparent that the public did not care for their approach to governing. The July 2013 ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, by a military-led coalition responding to huge public protests signaled the beginning of the end for the Brotherhood’s hopes for regional hegemony.

Across the Middle East, Brotherhood parties found themselves facing both popular rejection and official repression. Throughout the Arab world, they collapsed into crisis or became politically marginalized. Perhaps the biggest blow was when the key Arab states — first, Egypt in 2013, and soon after, in 2014, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — designated the Brotherhood a “terrorist organization.” Indeed, Egypt’s campaign against its domestic party, the oldest and largest of them all (often referred to as the “mother party”), has had repercussions so profound that the Brotherhood movement everywhere now seems almost moribund.

Attention shifted instead to extremist groups like the Islamic State that are thriving in the context of civil wars and failing states. One of the most widespread criticisms of the crackdown against the Brotherhood led by Egypt and the two Persian Gulf states is that it pushed Islamists to the extreme. There’s no real basis for believing that the progress of the Islamic State would have been significantly altered if there had been no campaign against the Brotherhood — yet this criticism from both Western and Arab commentators persists regarding Jordan’s recent moves.

For more than a year, factional tensions have been intensifying in Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood. The wing of the party rooted in that country’sPalestinian population tends to be more reactionary, and aligned with Hamas and other regional Brotherhood parties, while the traditionally Jordanian wing is politically less strident and emphasizes loyalty to the kingdom.

On Feb. 14, the party’s ruling Shura Council voted to expel a set of reform-minded Jordanians, most of whom had been part of what was called the “Zamzam Initiative,” which sought a break with the regional Brotherhood movement. The move backfired. The reformists founded their own group, which the Jordanian government formally recognized as the Brotherhood on March 3.

The status of the original Brotherhood group is unclear, and there may be a protracted legal and administrative battle over the organization’s considerable property and financial resources. Enraged old-guard members accused the government of staging a “coup.” But given the many months over which the fracture developed within the party, the government’s response looks more opportunistic than scheming.

The rise of the Islamic State may help to account for the Jordanian initiative. Faced with the threat of jihadist extremism, Jordan may be pioneering a policy of rehabilitating Brotherhood parties. This Jordanian model would show that Islamist parties could be reintegrated into national systems as long as they were neither seeking regime change at home nor part of a broader regional revolutionary Islamist movement.

Another component of such an accommodation might come from the détente between Egypt and Qatar. Until now, Doha was the main sponsor of Brotherhood parties in the region, and Cairo its chief antagonist. There are also signs of a Saudi-Qatari rapprochement. These countries have a clear interest in creating a path for the reintegration of moderate Islamists in national politics, especially given the regionwide defeat the Brotherhood movement has suffered. Qatar has already reduced its support for Brotherhood groups, including Hamas, leaving Turkey as the main sponsor of the movement.

I’ve long argued that nationalism is the Achilles’ heel of even the most mainstream Arab Islamist groups. The widespread perception is that, by embracing an agenda that is both regional and religious, parties like the Brotherhood are, at best, insufficiently patriotic and, at worst, outright treasonous. No surprise, then, that the Islamist parties that have fared least badly since the ouster of Mr. Morsi are Ennahda in Tunisia and Justice and Development in Morocco.

Both insist that they are not part of any regional coalition or affiliated with the broader Brotherhood movement. This also means that they have effectively signed up to operate within the constitutional norms of their national political systems. The approach has served them well.

The interest of Jordan and its allies in promoting the development of nonconfrontational and patriotic Muslim Brotherhood groupings is obvious. But the idea may go further than that. Ennahda, in particular, has demonstrated a pragmatism and a willingness to compromise that have enabled it to remain a viable player in Tunisian democracy despite recently losing both the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Arab societies have Islamist constituencies, and therefore will have Islamist parties and organizations. Ultimately, even those states most opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood must think about how to accommodate those supporters.

Much now depends on the outcome of the Jordanian Brotherhood’s split. It seems almost certain that one faction will come out on top and the party will reunify. If the moderates prevail, this could provide a new model — alongside Ennahda — for other Arab societies seeking to integrate Islamist constituencies into stable political systems.

Does the US have a Palestine policy?

Netanyahu has called the American bluff on the two-state solution

An olive tree burned by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, July 2013 (Ahmed Mazhar)

The recent Israeli election has presented a complex policy conundrum for the United States. It’s not just that the Obama administration will be faced with yet another term for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What’s really at stake is whether the United States has a policy towards, and bilateral relations with, the Palestinians that are independent of the overall thrust of US-Israel relations.

Towards the end of the Israeli election campaign, Netanyahu bluntly stated that Israel cannot countenance the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even though he has been trying to backtrack from them, these remarks seem to resolve widespread doubts about his commitments. He had a long history of opposing the idea of a two-state solution until he seemed to embrace it in a 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University. But his ideological orientation, numerous caveats and reservations, and, above all, his policies—especially aggressive settlement activity—led many to question his sincerity.

President Barack Obama seems unimpressed with Netanyahu’s protestations that he didn’t really mean what he said. But the problem isn’t just Netanyahu. His comments came at the end of a hard-fought campaign that broke at the last minute heavily in favor of the incumbent.

Moreover, Netanyahu is still what he has long been: a supporter of the status quo. He doesn’t want to take any risks for peace—which he doesn’t believe in—but at the same time he doesn’t want to do anything radical, such as annexing parts of the occupied territories. Regarding the Palestinians and the occupation, Israeli society has been divided into two major competing camps for several decades. But the nature of that division has radically altered. It used to be that, as the leader of the pro-status quo forces, Netanyahu was fending off challenges from the pro-peace left. But in recent years, he has instead been fending off challenges from a new rising tide in Israeli society: the annexationist right.

Netanyahu is still where he has always been; in the pro-status quo center. But the Israeli political constellations swirling around him have moved dramatically to the hawkish right. Netanyahu knows this, which is why, faced with an unprecedented political crisis during the campaign, he pushed hard against Palestinian statehood and won big as a consequence.

It is this broader change in attitudes among Israelis that poses such a challenge to American policy. For many years, the consensus in Washington has been something of an oxymoron: “peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a vital American national interest, but we cannot want it more than the parties themselves.” This internally-contradictory formulation was unstable enough under the best of circumstances. But now that one of the two parties appears to be categorically, and perhaps irrevocably, rejecting a two-state solution that is the bedrock of American policy and international law on the question, our bluff has been called. Americans must now decide which of the two phrases in the policy consensus has primacy: the vital national interest part, or the caveat about the cooperation of the parties.

Some observers have argued that, from its outset, US diplomatic relations with the Palestinians and engagement with the peace process has been almost entirely a function and subset of the relationship with Israel. Even though President George HW Bush had to coerce Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir into attending the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, significant constituencies in Israel were already interested in pursuing an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO and Israel conducted secret negotiations in Norway, without the participation of the United States, leading to the Oslo Accords. This demonstrates that American pressure was not required during that era to push Israel into serious talks with the Palestinians.

There are numerous narratives regarding the subsequent American role in the peace process, but most serious accounts acknowledge that the United States tended to defer to Israeli concerns. If there is a consistent exception to this pattern, it is in the American insistence on a two-state solution. The most obvious distinction in the way which the United States dealt with the two parties in the peace process is that Palestinian non-cooperation, such as initiatives at the United Nations, has met with tangible, serious responses such as cuts in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israeli intransigence, on the other hand, has prompted criticism at most.

Americans now face an unprecedented conundrum. Long-standing ally Israel, which also has considerable domestic political clout in the United States, opposes the consensus goal of a two-state solution. The PLO and the PA support it. Several administration officials are speaking about the need to “reassess” American relations with Israel, though it’s hard to imagine any significant readjustment of the sacrosanct “special relationship.”

Yet, like it or not, the United States will now have to decide whether our commitment to a two-state solution was an independent policy or always conditional on the understanding that it was also an Israeli aspiration. Alas, it’s all-too-easy to imagine an adjusted American position evolving over the next few years that at least de-prioritizes the US commitment to a Palestinian state. There are countless millions around the Middle East and the world whose investment in Palestinian rights and ending the occupation defines their worldview. What would be the effect on their perceptions if they came to believe—with good reason—that American rhetoric about supporting Palestinian statehood was always primarily contingent on Israel’s wishes and convenience, and might therefore be viewed as a cruel hoax?

The alternative would reassert American leadership in relations with both Israel and the Palestinians, and in the Middle East more broadly. Such options must include steps that clarify American expectations regarding a two-state outcome are non-negotiable, that are independent of Israel’s shifting positions and designed to send Israel and the world a clear message. And, at last, they must make it clear that Israel will pay a price for obstructing a two-state outcome.

Measures to penalize Israel for continued settlement activity in areas the United States believes must be part of a Palestinian state are politically difficult. However, if the United States is serious about salvaging a two-state solution, they will almost certainly be necessary and therefore possible. Measures such as support for UN Security Council resolutions reiterating the international demand for the creation of a Palestinian state or opposition to Israel’s illegal settlement activity—both of which the Obama administration has shied away from in the past—should be well within reach. There are many other ways in which the White House can act at once, even without Congressional support, to ensure that Israel feels the impact of American dismay.

This would also give the United States the opportunity to support, and politically and financially shore up, the PLO and the PA. That would send a clear message to both Israel and the Palestinian people about the American commitment to peace based on the creation of a Palestinian state, and strike a helpful political blow against Hamas and its patrons. The United States can also use that re-vamped relationship with Ramallah to press for Palestinian cooperation on peace and needed political and economic reforms by the PA. And it can help that process by increasing the US engagement with Palestinian small business and civil society, bypassing both Israeli obstacles and Palestinian red tape and potential corruption while strengthening the broader society in the West Bank.

The bottom line is that the Israelis, the Palestinians and the rest of the world will be waiting to see how the United States responds—practically, and not rhetorically—to Netanyahu’s rejection of the long-standing American policy goal. Our credibility is very much on the line. Netanyahu clearly did not mean it when he insisted he was for a two-state solution. Did we?

ISIL’s spread shows the power of its toxic brand

ISIL’s spread shows the power of its toxic brand


As it faces an increasing campaign by the international coalition assembled against it, ISIL is beginning to demonstrate a new means of menacing the region and the world. It is spreading its tentacles by winning pledges of allegiance from armed extremist groups far from its base of operations in Syria and Iraq.

In recent weeks, ISIL claimed responsibility for ghastly atrocities in far-flung areas. The massacre of at least 20 people at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis has been claimed by ISIL. Until now, the most dangerous group in Tunisia has been the Oqba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, which operates in areas adjacent to the Algerian border. It is aligned with Al Qaeda, and has concentrated its attacks on Tunisian security services, the military and politicians.

The Chaambi Mountains attack, in July 2014, was the deadliest single incident in recent Tunisian history until the Bardo museum massacre. Sixty members of the Brigade ambushed two Tunisian military checkpoints, killing 15 soldiers.

The other major terrorist group operating in Tunisia in recent years has been Ansar Al Sharia. Increasingly radicalised since the overthrow of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the group was finally labelled a terrorist organisation by the government in August 2013. It has been responsible for urban terrorism such as attacks on the US embassy and an art exhibit in 2012, and the assassinations of secular leaders Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in February and July 2013, respectively.

Whoever was responsible for the massacre at the Bardo Museum, it seems unlikely that it was an expression of integrated ISIL command and control. Instead, it appears that the museum attack was conducted by an existing terrorist group in Tunisia, now operating under ISIL’s black banner.

The whole point of ISIL’s cynical manoeuvre of declaring itself to be a caliphate, and its leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, to be the new caliph, was an attempt to assert authority. ISIL isn’t trying to win the hearts and minds of the general public. It knows it can’t do that. Instead, it is trying to win recruits and adherents among the radical fringe of violence extremists.

This is usually understood to involve recruiting foreign fighters. But as ISIL has come under increasing military, political and financial pressure from the coalition, the focus has begun to involve winning pledges of allegiance from existing violent radicals who “rebrand” themselves as ISIL.

This is meant to give the group the appearance of expansion, in order to offset the fact that it appears to be contained in Syria and slowly rolled back in Iraq. But it suddenly showed up in Libya, where last month it released a video purporting to show a gang of ISIL assassins beheading 21 Coptic Egyptian hostages on a Mediterranean beach.

ISIL has also claimed responsibility for two suicide bomb attacks at mosques used by Houthi militants during Friday prayers in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. They killed more than 140 people, including scores of children. The attack positions ISIL in Yemen, as it has tried to do in Syria and Iraq, to falsely pose as the defenders of the Sunni Muslim community against sectarian rivals.

The attack in Tunisia appears to be driven by local considerations, particularly insofar as it targeted foreign tourists and the economically crucial local tourism industry. The murder of the Egyptian hostages in Libya similarly seems to reflect, and have been inspired by, more local North African dynamics. Motivations appear unimportant. What counts is attaching the brand to spectacular acts of violence in new areas, and creating the impression that ISIL is an organisation on the move and on the rise.

It may be, at least in a certain level, a somewhat confused mess arising from the looseness of affiliations and lack of coherence regarding agendas, priorities and expectations. But it would appear that, increasingly, local fighters and militant organisations in many parts of the Arab world and beyond are finding irresistible the ISIL offer of instant rebranding by pledging allegiance.

The spectre of an organisation that could actually unite far-flung and disparate violent and radical extremists across the Muslim world constitutes an unprecedented potential new threat.

In that context, perhaps the most alarming of the recent new affiliates to ISIL is the reported pledge of allegiance supposedly issued by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in early March. To all appearances, Boko Haram has almost nothing in common with ISIL apart from violent and reductionist Sunni extremism. Indeed, its agenda appears deeply rooted in Nigeria’s complex colonial and postcolonial history. And, in the end, perhaps Shekau’s purported “bay’ah” to Al Baghdadi will prove purely rhetorical and practically meaningless.

But if, over time, ISIL could evolve from this kind of free-floating branding opportunity to a loose but structured system of affiliation drawing together many, if not most, radical and violent Islamists, that would be calamitous. Such an entity need not, and probably never could, become a centralised and integrated organisation.

But even a highly decentralised conglomeration would present a new set of security and political nightmares to the international community and, especially, mainstream Muslim societies.

Such a scenario is highly unlikely, of course. But it is the latest wrinkle in ISIL’s game plan against humanity.

The Specter of an Arab Israel

This week’s Israeli election was historic, but not for the reasons most pundits are saying. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party may have won the vote—and the headlines—but the real story was occuring beneath Netanyahu’s feet, where the political ground shifted dramatically.  It was no coincidence that at the eleventh hour Netanyahu warned his right-wing base that “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls” and that, in the final tally, Palestinian political power inside the Knesset surged to unprecedented levels. If political and demographic trends continue—and there is no separate Palestinian state, another Netanyahu pre-vote pledge—the 2015 election could well come to be seen as the moment that Israel began to confront the stark choice of becoming “either a non-Jewish democracy or Jewish non-democracy,” as Thomas L. Friedman put it on Wednesday.

It was, therefore, an election laden with ironies. At the same time as the vote tally all but ensured that a hard-line Zionist prime minister would continue his record-long tenure, a coalition of Palestinian-oriented parties became the third-largest bloc in Israel’s political landscape, with 14 seats in the new Knesset.

The coalition has been officially dubbed the “Joint List,” in order to emphasize that it is a forum for Jewish-Arab cooperation, rather than simply a vehicle for the political aspirations of Palestinian citizens of Israel. But, in fact, Israel’s Palestinian citizens are the primary constituency of the Joint List. Israel’s voters don’t vote directly for local candidates, as in the British parliamentary system. Instead, Israel employs a system of proportional representation in which the electorate votes for a grouping, usually of a party or set of parties, that has submitted a hierarchical list of members, beginning at number one and proceeding down the line.

Depending on how many votes a list receives, it is entitled to a proportionate number of seats in the Knesset, which are then assigned to the list according to the existing hierarchy. If a party earns nine seats, the first nine members on its list will become MKs, and so forth.

In January, the Hadash, United Arab List, Balad and Ta’al parties, along with the the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, merged their candidates into a single list under the Joint List rubric. Hadash, a far-left-wing grouping that includes Israel’s Communist Party members, goes furthest in representing the ideal of Jewish-Arab cooperation, and its leader, Ayman Odeh, has served as the overall head and chairman of the Joint List. Of the Joint List’s 14 seats, one will go to a Jewish MK: Dov Khenin, the leader of the communist members of Hadash. The rest will all be Palestinian citizens of Israel. In addition to four Arab MKs returned by “Zionist parties,” this means that 17 of the 120-member incoming Israeli Knesset will be Arab citizens of the state.

To be sure, the Joint List is a long way from representing real political power. The coalition attempts to unite leftists, Islamists, nationalists and others who share little in common apart from their ethnicity. The “Islamic Movement,” Israel’s Islamist party, is already divided between the southern branch that joined the List, and the northern branch that denounced the entire project. The incoming government represented by the powerful new right-wing Jewish majority under Netanyahu will undoubtedly have both a negative political and emotional impact on the List’s constituencies.

Still, the List has proven its ability to at least sustain the presence of Palestinians in the Knesset and, if it unites them, could strongly enhance their potential clout. Given the way political power is dispersed in Israel—where no party has ever actually won a majority of the Knesset and governments must always be based on coalitions—if the Arabs stick together and build on what they have already achieved, what has suddenly emerged as the third-largest bloc in Israel’s parliament won’t remain marginal or irrelevant into the future.

By playing their cards right, Israel’s Palestinian citizens can, at the very least, position themselves as potential kingmakers of the future of Israeli politics. This could happen sooner than people think, since the distribution of power in the Knesset has grown only more dispersed in recent elections, when the party or list that ended up forming a governing coalition won an average of only about 30 seats (the exact number that Likud won this time). If so, that makes it even more plausible that a Palestinian-joined coalition, representing a united front of Israel’s 18-percent Arab minority, could gain power and influence.

There was another irony of this election. Israel’s Arab citizens have struggled for decades as a political anomaly and under significant discriminatory and exclusionary measures. But it was precisely one of those recent initiatives from the ascendant Israeli right wing, a “Governance Bill,” passed in March, 2014, that gave rise to the Joint List. The law raised the threshold for Knesset membership from 2 percent to 3.25 percent of votes cast. It was widely perceived as primarily aimed at damaging, or even eliminating, Arab representation in the Knesset because Hadash and Balad would not have qualified under the new system. The response was for the Arab-oriented parties in Israel to band together in an unprecedented manner and actually strengthen their political profile.

All this represents an important reminder to Israelis about the contradictions inherent in a “democratic Jewish” state, given the presence of millions of disenfranchised non-citizens in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. If Israel’s Arab citizens can begin to mobilize political power through the ballot box, the long-term danger posed by an occupation that does not end is clarified. What if the Palestinians of the West Bank, and even Gaza, were to one day join the constituency for another version of a “Joint List”?

Perhaps that’s one reason that Netanyahu, by Thursday, already appeared to be walking back his election-eve pledge—which was plainly a sop to the extreme right wing— telling MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he’s still interested in “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”


Though they constitute about 18 percent of the Israeli public, Palestinian citizens of Israel are to be found throughout the country. They are primarily concentrated in the north, particularly the Galilee. These areas were either far from fighting in the 1947-48 war, or were not targets of concerted attacks by Jewish forces. Therefore, the Arabs in those areas did not flee and were not subjected to uprooting and expulsion.

The large majority of the 950,000 Arabs living in what became Israel in 1948 either fled or were displaced, but at the end of the war about 156,000 remained. They and their descendents are the Arab citizens of Israel. They lived under martial law until 1966, subject to a wide range of discriminatory laws and practices, including heavy travel restrictions, curfews, deportation and administrative detentions without due process. In the mid-60s, political and social space began to ease somewhat for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Martial law was lifted, although significant discrimination remained in certain sectors. Moreover, Israel’s conquest of the occupied territories in 1967 put this community in touch with Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Before that, the Arabs of Israel had been almost entirely cut off from the rest of the Arab world. Due to both Israeli and Arab restrictions, not only was travel restricted, but even basic mail between Israel and the Arab world was not available. Wealthier off families were able to meet in Europe and other third-party destinations, but for the most part the Arabs of Israel found themselves completely cut off from their brethren in the rest of the Arab world.

The late 1960s also saw the rise of Palestinian nationalism. The Palestinian community in Israel supplied the national movement with its iconic poet, in the late Mahmoud Darwish, but he had to live in exile in order to fulfill that role, until the Oslo agreements allowed him to return, at least to the West Bank. Much of Darwish’s literary, and all of his political, activity was in contravention of Israel’s laws, which have traditionally suppressed expressions of Palestinian nationalism.

In the 1970s and 80s, however, there were numerous efforts on the part of Israel’s Palestinian citizens to increase their participation in the Israeli political system and empower themselves. These ran parallel to, and often sat uneasily with, a simultaneously complementary and contradictory impulse to be drawn towards the broader Palestinian national movement. When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) began negotiating with Israel in the early 1990s, Chairman Yasser Arafat explicitly rejected the idea that issues involving Israel’s Palestinian citizens be drawn into the mix. He did not want to add further complications to the already difficult project of winning Palestinian statehood in the occupied territories.

This meant that, from the outset, the Palestinian community in Israel had an ambivalent relationship with the peace process.

On the one hand it represented their best hope for developing entirely new relationship with Jewish Israelis. Because Israel is an ethno-nationalist state dedicated to serving the interests of its Jewish citizens above all others, peace would not resolve all problems of discrimination against non-Jews in Israel. But the most severe problems facing Israel’s Arab citizens had always arisen from the fact that Israelis saw them as a potential fifth column in a conflict with Palestinians and other Arabs. If that conflict were resolved through the creation of a Palestinian state the question of a fifth column would not arise. Indeed, Israel’s Arabs could hope to be the country’s emissaries to the broader Arab world, and an asset to both rather than a liability to either.

On the other hand, as the peace process dragged on without resolving the conflict, not only were Palestinian citizens of Israel disillusioned, like so many others. They were also increasingly troubled that the gains made by Palestinians at the negotiating table would not address any of their long-standing concerns, and primarily addressed the problem of those living under occupation.

They began to seriously embrace Palestinian nationalism, as opposed to a project of communal empowerment within Israel, after an atrocity in October 2000, during the early days of the second intifada, when Israeli police killed 12Palestinian citizens of Israel, along with a Palestinian from Gaza, during a protest in support of the intifada. There had never been a similar incident involving Jewish citizens of Israel, and the experience solidified anger against the Israeli state and identification with the Palestinians living under occupation.

Tellingly, the primary response by the Palestinian citizens of Israel to the killings was a boycott of the 2001 Israeli election that helped Ariel Sharon defeat Ehud Barak and initiate Israel’s ongoing shift to the hawkish right on matters regarding security and the Palestinians.

In many ways, those who are citizens of Israel are a highly privileged segment of the Palestinian people, with much greater rights than those who are stateless people living under occupation or refugees. Yet they still face highly significant, and internationally unusual, levels of discrimination based on their ethnicity.

Most of these discriminatory realities arise from two primary features of Israeli life. First, in Israel, Jews and Arabs tend to live in their own areas. Some of the separation is codified through policies of the Jewish National Fund and other entities that control land and that either formally or informally make it virtually impossible for Palestinians to move into “Jewish” towns or neighborhoods. Given that communities live separately, it has been easy for the state to discriminate in terms of social spending on infrastructure, health, education and so forth.

Second, Israeli law distinguishes between citizenship (“Israeli”) and nationality (“Jewish,” “Arab,” and so forth). Some discrimination is based on designated “nationality,” giving preference to Jewish Israelis. Some of it derives from of the duties reserved to those who have performed National Service, which is true of almost all Jewish Israelis who are required to serve and not true of almost all Arabs who are not required—and in many cases not allowed—to perform such service, such as in the military.

In addition, a whole panoply of discrimination exists in Israel against Palestinian citizens, both formal and informal, that derives from the sense that this community is fundamentally disloyal to the state and sympathetic to its Arab enemies. Restrictions on Palestinian political participation in Israel have been eased over the decades, but in recent years, particularly since the return of. Netanyahu as prime minister, the Jewish right has been attempting to create new obstacles.

The “governance law” was a case in point, but so are proposed measures such as loyalty oaths, laws asserting or defining the “Jewish character” of the Israeli state, restrictions on the funding and activities of liberal or Arab NGOs, attempts to prohibit recognition of the Palestinian Nakba (“catastrophe”) of 1947-48 or speech advocating boycotts against Israel or Israeli settlements. Among the most extraordinary restrictions is a law that prohibits Palestinians from the occupied territories or elsewhere who marry Palestinian citizens of Israel from moving to the country to live with their spouses.

All of these realities are manifestations of a deeper conundrum arising from the fact that this is a community of Arabs, most of whom identify as Palestinians, living in a “Jewish state” that has for most of its history been at war with most Palestinians and other Arabs. Israel’s Palestinians have, therefore, been viewed with suspicion by both sides, and not just Israelis. Arabs, too, have had a difficult time processing the reality of the Palestinian community of Israeli citizens.

Complicating the matter further is the growing phenomenon that further separates the question of Palestinian citizens’ rights in Israel from other aspects of the Palestinian cause and question. Some key right-wing figures in Israel, including current President Ruven Rivlin, and longtime right-wing activist Moshe Ahrens, are among the most outspoken Jewish Israeli proponents of equal rights for Palestinians, but are also categorically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Neither man has explained precisely what his vision is for the Palestinians in the occupied territories, but both are on record as strong proponents of equality for Israel’s Arab citizens.

In reality, a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is surely essential for the long-term well-being of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Nothing else frees them from the stigma and suspicion that otherwise clouds the way in which they are regarded by their Jewish compatriots in Israel. And nothing can make them more useful or dynamic contributors to achieving a two-state solution, which remains the only identifiable means of practically and viably resolving the conflict, than for this community to empower themselves within the Israeli political system. Perhaps their strongest asset is the fact that they can vote in Israel, and therefore have a direct, rather than an indirect (as is the case with most Palestinians), means of impacting Israeli-decision-making.

As things stand there is an inherently self-defeating quality to this new, unified and more powerful political organization. Even when the Zionist Union and Likud were running neck and neck in the polls at 27 each and the Joint List was projected to come in third with 14 or 15 seats, no one had identified them as the logical kingmakers in the aftermath of the balloting. That role was always, and still is, assigned to Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party, which has a mere ten seats.

The simple fact is that an Arab political grouping like the Joint List would not be invited to join directly and formally with a ruling Israeli coalition government. Jewish Israelis would fear that the presence of a major Palestinian partner in a coalition government would undermine the credibility of that government. Israelis are simply not ready to accord their Arab citizens that much power. The Palestinian citizens of Israel, meanwhile, would almost certainly decline to join a coalition because of their objection to so much of Israel’s policies, particularly the occupation.

Even so, there have been countless Israeli politicians and parties that have categorically oppose the occupation and have nonetheless served in governments that persisted with it. They objected, but understood that they did not have the power, on their own, to end it. Arab parties in Israel are not yet ready to take that plunge. But if the List can sustain its coalition and continue to hold at least 14 seats or so in any given Knesset, over time its role will be difficult to ignore.

This is a new idea, one that everyone will have to get used to, especially as growth rates among Israeli citizens slightly favor Arab demographics over Jewish ones, 2.2 to 1.7 percent. Yet the deeper question is not the gradual development of a somewhat larger Arab minority within the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel. That question is, what of the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli rule but without the right to vote? If Netanyahu is correct, and Israel cannot and will not allow the creation of a Palestinian state, how long can it continue to forbid those millions from the right to participate in forming the government that rules them? If there is already, as the statistics suggest, a majority of non-Jews in the territories under direct Israeli control, and most of that constituency is disenfranchised and stateless, how long will that remain plausibly viable?

It’s easy enough to argue that the existing de facto “greater Israel” is already neither “Jewish” nor “democratic.” It’s not Jewish because it doesn’t have a Jewish majority already. And it’s not democratic because it denies millions of its permanent residents and de facto citizens the right to vote.

The performance of the Joint List should already be focusing Jewish Israeli attention on these questions. Because it raises the prospect not only of increased political power for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, but also the long-term potential of political power of those currently denied access to the ballot box. If this is a sobering prospect for Jewish Israelis, and it should be, the emergence of the Joint List itself begins to offer a way out. The List favors a two-state solution. So do the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. And so does a majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories. For all of Netanyahu’s ill-conceived bluster, there is still a way out. But Israelis have just had a small preview of what’s possible if that prospect isn’t pursued with seriousness and vigor. Whether it is the gradual accumulation of power by the Palestinian citizens of Israel working together as a determined minority in the de jure Israel—or even the specter of the potential clout of an Arab majority in the de facto Israel—the Joint List is undoubtedly a harbinger of things to come.

Israel’s tragic election

Netanyahu’s victory seems a devastating blow to hopes for peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures to supporters as reacts to exit poll figures in Israel

Anyone who is surprised by the outcome of yesterday’s Israeli election—a stunning victory, and arguably even mandate, for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—hasn’t been paying attention to political trends in Israel. But anyone who isn’t shocked at the results and their implications almost certainly doesn’t understand what is at stake and what a significant blow has been dealt to hopes for a better future.

The most important fact about the election outcome is that Israeli voters knew exactly what they were endorsing and had a real alternative, which they rejected. The campaign gave us Netanyahu at his most raw. He was explicitly anti-peace. He was overtly racist. And he used Israel’s position in American politics to cynically campaign for himself by exploiting the high honor of a speech before a joint session of Congress to insultingly confront an American president who is unpopular among Jewish Israelis.

It wasn’t in spite of these obnoxious positions that he won yesterday—it was because of them. There is no use in pretending otherwise. It’s probably unfair to assume that the majority of Israelis like all of these disturbing stances, or even any of them individually. It’s possible that the same majority that has given him this dramatic victory would have objected to each of them had there been a referendum on the questions.

Rather, it is the overall Netanyahu package that Israelis have embraced, and that includes a very dark side that was not only not hidden, but was actually highlighted, during the campaign. As the campaign became more desperate, indeed, Netanyahu’s voice became shriller and his profile darkened considerably. Given the disparity between polling results and the final outcome, and the fact that Israel imposes a polling blackout before voting begins, it’s hard not to think that a large group of Jewish Israelis decided at the last minute to continue with Netanyahu. If so, the Netanyahu that won their late affection was specifically one whose profile was crafted precisely to appeal to the worst instincts of the Israeli voters.

It was during this campaign that Netanyahu finally and forthrightly repudiated his 2009 Bar Ilan University speech in which he claimed to be endorsing a two-state solution. Netanyahu has now bluntly stated that he will not permit the creation of a Palestinian state under his premiership. This does not appear to have damaged his political viability in Israel. Indeed, quite to the contrary.

What will the United States do now that Netanyahu is so firmly on record opposing the bipartisan consensus American policy goal of a two-state solution? Any Palestinian leadership that rejects the goal of two states would undoubtedly be held to be out of compliance with the Quartet conditions, and would almost certainly face dramatic, if not drastic, retaliatory measures.

Given the double standards that are hardwired into the international mechanisms on Israeli and Palestinian issues, no one seriously expects the same standards to be applied to Israel, which is a sovereign state (among other major factors that inform such unfair disparities). But unless Netanyahu performs some kind of remarkable reversal on the issue that appears credible—a scenario that is very difficult to imagine even in theory—we will be faced with a new and dangerous complication in the US-Israel relationship. The next Israeli government will be led by a prime minister, Netanyahu, who overtly opposes the realization of the core American policy goal of a two-state solution.

It’s likely that American and Israeli leaders will try to finesse this disparity as much as possible, and even to pretend that it does not exist. But that’s going to be very difficult. Neither side is going to want to confront the other over this, but it’s likely that one of the two parties is going to have to shift on the question. It is, sadly, not impossible to imagine that the biggest change will eventually come on the American side, with the development of a policy attitude towards a two-state solution that deemphasizes its significance and seeks to change the subject as much as possible.

The only alternative is a confrontation between Israel and the United States over Palestinian statehood. For a very complex set of reasons—not the caricature “wag the dog” scenario posited by some cynics—this is unlikely to happen. Netanyahu has already demonstrated that he can “get away with” trashing US foreign policy before a joint session of Congress. It doesn’t appear that he paid any price at all for that monumental effrontery, or that he is likely to now, particularly given that it helped him get rather spectacularly reelected. Under such circumstances, he is also unlikely to face much of an American backlash over his repudiation of a two-state solution.

Netanyahu’s ugly and overtly racist appeal to Jewish Israeli voters on the grounds that “hordes” of Arabs were “descending” on polling booths, won’t gain much attention outside of Israel. And within the country, it certainly didn’t hurt him. It may actually have helped.

Those who see the performance of the United Arab List, or even the center-left Zionist Union coalition, as silver linings on dark clouds because they were better than might have been anticipated a few months ago are not wrong. These are both good things. But, given the enormous victory of Netanyahu, and the platform that he campaigned on—in other words, the persona and the politics that have just been roundly endorsed by the Israeli electorate—they are focusing on what amount to minor details.

The real story is not the reelection of the “bad, old Netanyahu,” but rather, it would certainly seem, the election of a far worse “new Netanyahu.” The Palestinians, the Americans and others will have to deal with the Israeli government this election has produced. Given the tone and tenor of the Netanyahu campaign, and the kind of politics that have triumphed in Israel, even simply a return to business as usual may prove a monumental challenge.

The status quo will live on, whichever way Israel votes

The status quo will live on, whichever way Israel votes


The unfolding Israeli election campaign has produced a series of unexpected developments. But these new forces and factors aren’t likely to produce any major transformations, at least in the short run.

Perhaps most dramatic is the development of the United Arab List. This umbrella grouping joins together a range of different Palestinian-orientated parties in Israel. It should provide the first platform allowing for a major turnout of Palestinian citizens of Israel at the polls.

Israel’s Palestinian citizens constitute about 18 per cent of the enfranchised public. Yet, for a range of reasons, this community has never mobilised to take advantage of the significant clout it could exercise through united voting. Last year, the Knesset passed a law significantly increasing the minimum votes required for a party to win a seat in parliament. This was widely viewed at the time as being aimed at reducing the political power of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Ironically, by prompting greater unity, the law may actually prove a turning point in helping Palestinian citizens of Israel focus on their political potential as an organised voting bloc. Still, there are major psychological, cultural and ethnic barriers to overcome, even if an unprecedented number of Palestinians vote for the List.

There’s no rational reason such a bloc should not be part of an Israeli governing coalition, at least in theory. Opposition to the occupation, even categorical opposition, has historically not prevented Jewish Israeli parties and politicians from joining governments. But we can be quite certain that, at least for now, the List will not be invited to join a new government after the March 17 election, and that it would decline if it were.

Nonetheless, the larger the turnout for the List, the more positive the experience for its voters is likely to be. The more seats it can muster, the more clout it will have. And, by propping up a centre-left Israeli government from outside its ranks, as was done during the era of Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian citizens could play a crucial role in engineering a change of government in Israel.

The second major surprise during this Israeli election cycle is the resurgence of the Israeli centre-left, and especially the “Zionist Union” coalition headed by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog.

No one seems to be more surprised at the apparent vulnerability of Benjamin Netanyahu than the prime minister himself. As things stand, he appears set to suffer a three or four seat deficit to the Zionist Union.

It was never clear why he moved to call early elections in November, only two years after the last election and without any evident necessity for doing so. What seemed puzzling at the time now increasingly looks like an inexplicable blunder.

Yet all is not lost for Mr Netanyahu and other defenders of the status quo. While these developments are unquestionably positive, they are also probably not sufficient to produce anything truly transformative in Israeli politics or policies, at least for the moment.

Even if Mr Netanyahu ends up with three or even four seats fewer than Mr Herzog, he could still retain the premiership. In 2009, Kadima had one seat more than Likud, but Mr Netanyahu was able to form a governing coalition while Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not. Even the current arithmetic still might favour Mr Netanyahu’s chances of compiling a majority over Mr Herzog’s.

Alternatively, a close result might allow Israeli president Reuven Rivlin to try to push Mr Herzog into a broad-based “national unity” government with Mr Netanyahu. Reports suggest that Mr Netanyahu would welcome such a development, which would greatly favour his beloved status quo policies. And keep him close to the heart of power.

As for the United Arab List, the formation of the bloc is merely the first step in a long series of necessary measures to actualise the political potential of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. The List will not only have to perform well, it will have to remain united after the election and not sink back into familiar rivalries and divisions.

Over the medium term, List leaders will have to convince the Palestinians in Israel of the indispensability of engagement in a political order that is still usually seen as inaccessible at best and hostile at worst, and that it is neither pointless nor treasonous to seek empowerment in the Israeli system.

But even if a centre-left coalition, with Palestinian support, were to establish the next Israeli government, would that signal a major change in Israeli policies? Some improvements are plausible. More restraint on settlement activity. A greater commitment to a two-state solution. More serious engagement with the Palestinian Authority. All of these are possible.

But the essential elements of Israeli policy are unlikely to change, because there is no consensus in Israel on what to do about the Palestinians and the occupation. Moreover, the resurgence of the centre-left in this election has been based on social and economic policies, not security or relations with the Palestinians.

This Israeli election campaign has unleashed some promising new factors in that country’s political scene. But they are going to have to develop their clout over time before they can truly begin transforming Israeli policies as well as politics.

What’s at stake in Tikrit?

Can an unlikely coalition defeat ISIS and create a new model?

Iraqi fighters of the government-controlled Popular Mobilization units flash the sign of victory as they take part in a military operation to take control of Tikrit, 160 kms north of Baghdad, from jihadists from ISIS on 11 March 2015. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

The unfolding battle over the strategically and symbolically crucial Iraqi city of Tikrit, most famous as the birthplace of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, should provide some tentative answers to a number of key questions regarding the future of Iraq and the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).This week, a coalition of Iraqi government forces, Shiite militias, and reportedly even some members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, entered the city in a major effort to oust ISIS forces. They have been joined by an unspecified number of local Sunni tribesmen in an unusual and uneasy alliance against ISIS—but one that makes it a potential model for future offensives. If, that is, the alliance can hold.

This is at least the third or fourth major effort to drive ISIS terrorists out of the city since they seized it in June of 2014. All previous attempts have been disastrous, and profoundly politically embarrassing and damaging, failures for Baghdad. But the current campaign looks much more serious, and consequently its outcome should help to begin to clarify several crucial issues.

First, what are the relative strengths of ISIS and pro-Iraqi government forces?

There’s no question that in the past efforts to rid Tikrit of IS, Iraqi troops were ill-prepared and simply not ready for the fight. And, again, some question whether the current initiative is also premature. But at the very least Iraqi forces ought to be in a position to perform much better than they have in the past. This is a real test for them, and one they absolutely cannot afford to fail. If the Iraqi troops do fail, or even struggle enormously, hopes that they can be developed into a potent and effective fighting force will be greatly undermined. Obviously, the most crucial question will be the ability of the alliance with Sunni fighters to survive well into the period after ISIS is ousted from the area.

Another important indicator will be the performance of ISIS fighters. Recent reports suggest that the organization has been fraying at several registers. They are allegedly short of money. Morale is suggested to be on the decline. Internal tensions are reportedly increasing. Whether, or to what extent, any of that is true, and, more importantly, whether it has any impact on battlefield performance, is about to be significantly tested.

If ISIS terrorists can subject attacking Iraqi forces to the kind of sustained resistance that confronted Kurdish fighters in the northern Syrian town of Kobane, it will strongly suggest that ISIS’s major strength is indeed its fanaticism. That would raise real question marks about the potential of ousting the extremists from larger Iraqi Sunni cities, Mosul in particular.

Indeed, the battle for Tikrit is almost universally acknowledged to be a dress rehearsal for the forthcoming struggle over Mosul. If ISIS can drag the offensive forces into an urban quagmire, or ensure that the campaign is in some way or another decidedly protracted, painful and bloody, confidence and enthusiasm about an offensive to retake Mosul—about which there are already significant public disputes—will be further eroded.

Second, what is the role of extremist Iraqi Shiite militias?

Many disturbing reports suggest that among the Iraqi forces is a large contingent of extremist Shiite militia members, particularly from the notorious Badr Brigade. These and other Iraqi Shiite militia forces have conducted a number of horrifying massacres of unarmed Sunni villagers in recent weeks. If they play a significant role in the current offensive, and particularly if the Sunni participation on the Iraqi government side is limited or nominal (the relative strength of such forces is the subject of competing rumors at present), it’s going to be difficult for the local Sunni Arab population in Tikrit not to regard the operation as more of a threat than a liberation. Again, the aftermath following the ouster of ISIS—assuming that it can be dispatched, that is—would be crucial in shaping these perceptions.

Indeed, some scenarios could potentially allow ISIS to yet again falsely pose as the champions and protectors of the local Sunni population against vicious sectarian rivals. Even if ISIS doesn’t succeed in making that case, and Tikrit falls to these pro-Baghdad forces, if they include a heavy presence of extremist Shiite militias, it may well prove difficult to prevent the aftermath of the liberation of the city from ISIS devolving into a series of confessional clashes.

Third, what is the role of Iran?

No one really disputes that Revolutionary Guards are present in Iraq and participating in the current offensive. Major General Qassem Soleimani, a senior Quds Force commander and, in effect, the coordinator of Iran’s major armed proxies outside of its borders, is also apparently not only in the area but also almost certainly giving orders. The question is not so much whether he is involved, but to what extent he is in control. Not only are the aforementioned pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militia fighters more likely to defer to his instructions, or his subordinates’, than anybody else’s, as military analyst Rick Francona has pointed out, when it comes to the airpower involved in this offensive: “The flag on the tail may now be Iraqi, but the aircraft—and pilots—are Iranian.”

American Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says he’s “very concerned” at the heavy representation of not only Shiite militias, but also Iranian fighters, in the battle for Tikrit. Gen. Martin Dempsey went further, saying that “…if what follows the Tikrit operation is not that, if there’s no reconstruction that follows it, if there’s no inclusivity that follows it, if there’s the movement of populations out of their homeland that follows it, then I think we’ve got a challenge in the campaign.” But Dempsey has also said that, under the right circumstances, an increasing Iranian role in Iraq “may be positive.”

Fourth, what is the role of the United States?

US allies in the region, particularly Arab Gulf states, warn that current American policies seem torn between two competing and incompatible impulses.

On the one hand, there is a recognition that, at heart, Iran’s interests are fundamentally inimical to those of the United States and its allies. This understanding recognizes that Iran is a hegemonic power using sectarian tensions, extremist proxies, the cultivation of chaos, and the promotion of terrorism to advance its interests.

On the other hand lies the desire within the Obama administration to develop a rapprochement with Iran to further a number of goals. Most obvious is the question of resolving disputes over Iran’s nuclear program. But it also extends to a potentially broader new Washington-Tehran understanding on issues such as Gulf security, especially regarding petroleum and securing the Straits of Hormuz. In theory, a new relationship could even potentially extend to the United States and Iran trying to establish a new Sunni-Shiite balance of power in the region that would be the basis for political resolutions of the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Even if a nuclear agreement were reached, it’s extremely unlikely that a broader rapprochement involving a new balance of power in the region, recognizing new and expanded Iranian spheres of influence and hegemony, would follow. But the fear among traditional American allies in the region is that merely the pursuit of this quixotic fantasy is already causing the United States to give Iran far too much leeway in Iraq and is the primary explanation for the American refusal to take a stronger stance insisting on regime change in Damascus.

Yet American deference to Iran regarding aspects of Iraq and Syria isn’t only explicable in terms of the fantasy of a broad new understanding between Washington and Tehran. In some cases at least, it could be attributed simply to a willingness on the part of the Obama administration to allow others to “lead from the front” as it pursues its hyper-cautious and risk-averse foreign policy.

As The New York Times recently noted, the lack of options and resources being committed to the campaign by the Obama administration has left the United States increasingly reliant on Iran and its allies for success in Iraq against ISIS. Under such circumstances, there might be no need for ISIS’s much-ballyhooed propaganda machine. The mere identity, and possibly the behavior, of the forces taking the field against it will be more than sufficient to do its recruiting for it. Yet to move beyond this equation would require the commitment of significant levels of resources, firepower, credibility and even manpower, apparently beyond anything this administration is presently willing to contemplate.

The new offensive in Tikrit is actually a very good case in point. The United States is not providing air cover, because it was not consulted about, and is not participating in, the offensive. If it fails, that would be a huge boon to ISIS, and clearly a blow to American interests. But if it succeeds in removing ISIS from the city, no matter what follows, the United States might be tempted to view the affair as essentially successful, and even potentially a model to be at least further winked and nodded at in the future. Unless there is a heartening containment of sectarian tensions in Tikrit in the aftermath of a liberation from ISIS, it can hardly be such a model.

When the dust settles in Tikrit, we ought to have a much clearer picture of all of these factors. It will tell us much about what to expect, and what not to expect, in the battle against ISIS in the coming months.

Israel’s new indifference to the occupation is toxic

Israel’s new indifference to the occupation is toxic


The most important thing about the Israeli prime minister’s speech before a joint session of the US Congress was what he didn’t say. Benjamin Netanyahu never uttered a word about the Palestinians.

This astonishing evasion has become the standard Jewish Israeli response to the existence of the Palestinian people and of their national movement. Palestinians have simply been written out of the equation in most facets of official and unofficial mainstream Jewish Israeli discourse. A number of leading Palestinians have complained that Israelis have become “blind” to them. It’s an apt metaphor. Israelis increasingly speak and, presumably, think about their national, strategic and security challenges as if there were not 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, 200,000 more in East Jerusalem and another 1.6 million in Gaza.

It’s a striking change because in the past, Israelis spoke openly, and almost obsessively, about the “Palestinian problem”. Those were times when the dimensions of the “problem” were, in every respect, much less challenging than they are now. Even when their discourse was characterised by rage, Israelis in the 1980s, 1990s and even the 2000s generally recognised that the Palestinians and the occupation were vital national security issues, and indeed existential ones.

In those decades, the Palestinian population was smaller, less well-organised, had fewer arms, and was more moderate and politically unified than today. The region was more stable and better integrated into the global system of order. All of these factors have deteriorated from any rational Israeli perspective. Yet the prevailing Israeli impulse is to simply refuse to acknowledge the Palestinian issue.

On January 7, I attended a lecture at the National Defense University in Washington, DC by the then-outgoing Israeli military chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz. He spoke for just over 25 minutes about Israel’s national security concerns. Like Mr Netanyahu, he did not mention Palestine, the Palestinians or the occupation at all. He referred to Gaza once or twice, and only in passing, simply as a zone of military operations. He devoted no time or thought whatsoever to Gaza or to any aspect of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

And this wilful, almost neurotic blindness isn’t restricted to Israeli political and military leaders. In January 2013, Israel held its last parliamentary elections, which saw the resurgence of the political centre and of the left, but which almost entirely excluded any serious debate or discussion about the Palestinians or the occupation.

Instead, the election focused on national service for religious Jews, economic indicators, crime rates, housing prices, and other social and economic issues. The current Israeli election campaign seems similarly oblivious.

Israeli society enjoys a luxury that should never be afforded to an occupying and colonial power ruling over a captive and disenfranchised people. They held an election as if the Palestinians and the occupation did not exist. And they did so primarily for two reasons. First, nobody had any new ideas. And, second and far more disturbingly, they simply could.

Israel’s dominance over the Palestinians has reached a stage where, when they want to, Israelis can actually completely ignore the reality of the Palestinian people and get away with it. And because there is no consensus at all among Jewish Israelis, and none of their parties has any serious new ideas about what to do about the Palestinians and the occupied territories, it’s easier to just ignore the question entirely.

This is why and how it was possible for Mr Netanyahu and Gen Gantz to come to Washington without mentioning the Palestinians or the occupation. But any Jewish Israeli who thinks about this reality seriously, with even the slightest hint of imagination, let alone empathy, will realise how dangerous such an attitude is.

I asked Gen Gantz how he would feel if he were Palestinian and listening to the head of the Israeli military talk about Israel’s strategic concerns without even mentioning Palestinians or the occupation. He responded with some rote recitation about the virtues of peace and the need for security. Frankly, what he said was no improvement on his silence.

But how do Israelis expect millions of Palestinians, in the long run, to react to living under occupation and/or siege while it is apparently regarded as so trivial it is not worth mentioning by the occupying society? Isn’t that a sure-fire formula for an explosion of frustration and outrage?

It’s apparent that Jewish Israeli society has come to regard the Palestinians as fundamentally irrelevant to their core concerns. But no people are likely to acquiesce in their own irrelevance. If this continues, the only real questions are how and when Palestinians will decide to reassert themselves in the Israeli consciousness.

Palestinians seem more angry and embittered than at any time since at least the second intifada. Any Israeli who might be wondering why need look no further for an explanation than their own leaders and society’s toxic indifference to the simple reality of the Palestinian people.