10/25/2022, 11.56
GATEWAY TO THE EAST
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Israeli activist: Netanyahu, an uncertain vote and the two-state solution

by Dario Salvi

On the eve of the elections scheduled for 1 November, Gadi Baltiansky, director general of the Geneva Initiative, applauds Lapid's speech at the UN that revived the central issue of the Palestinian question. The status quo is "negative", the ruling class seems to be "waking up slowly" to the issues raised by the outgoing premier. Doubts about the participation of the Arab electorate. New violence in the West Bank, more victims and injuries.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Despite living "in the land of the prophets" it is impossible "to make a prediction" on the outcome of the November 1 general elections in Israel; nevertheless in these weeks of campaigning, thanks in part to Lapid's speech at the UN, there has been renewed talk of "the two-state solution". In this interview with AsiaNews, Gadi Baltiansky, former spokesperson for former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and director general of the Geneva Initiative (a joint Israeli-Palestinian project to end the conflict), analyses the current uncertain framework at risk of further institutional paralysis. The "constant" element in this continuous recourse to the ballot box, he explains, is "the controversy" surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants to return to power, but risks not being able to form a solid majority in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, even if he wins at the ballot box.

This figure of contention (and the corruption trial in which he is accused) that, in recent years, has obscured "substantial and important issues" such as the Palestinian question. This is why outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid is to be credited with having relaunched the issue, bringing about "an important change" on the strategic level and receiving in return an "increase in approval" in the polls. "Politicians," he observes, "seem to be waking up, albeit very slowly, to the issues raised by Lapid: the majority of Israelis understand that the status quo is bad [...] and want to hear a clear vision and project. Also because the alternative is the continuous spiral of violence, with new victims: the latest today, with a toll of six Palestinians killed and 21 wounded in a series of Israeli army raids in Nablus and other areas of the West Bank. Operations that risk exacerbating tension even further, especially among young people exasperated by the economic crisis and the occupation of land at the hands of hundreds of thousands of settlers. 'The two-state solution,' recalls our interlocutor, 'enjoys a clear plurality and majority'.

Below is the interview with Gadi Baltiansky, Director General Geneva Initiative:

Israel is heading for its fifth vote in three years. With what prospects are voters heading to the polls?

The number of elections is of course frustrating on a national level, and reflects continuous political instability as well as deep divides within Israeli society. There’s no guarantee that the results of the upcoming elections will be more conclusive or longer-lasting than any of the previous rounds. The one constant issue for voters throughout the past few years has been the centrality of a very simple and incredibly divisive political question: support or opposition to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prioritization of this issue above all others means that substantive questions, such as party policies regarding the Palestinian issue, often take a back seat. 

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, during a speech at the United Nations, brought the two-state solution back into focus: how much was said about it in the election campaign?

The Prime Minister’s speech at the General Assembly marks an important strategic shift. Instead of avoiding or paying passing lip-service to the two-state solution, which has been the strategy of choice for the Israeli center for years, Lapid highlighted his support for the two-state solution in a press briefing to the Israeli public before the speech. During an election season, this decision cannot be separated from the political context, and actually Lapid's numbers went up in the polls following the speech.  Politicians seem to be slowly waking up to the fact that Lapid cited in his speech: most Israelis understand the status-quo is bad for Israel,  support a two-state solution and want to hear a clear vision which prevents a binational state [or one State - ed]. 

What support does the two-state solution have in Israel today? Is there, at least at the level of the people, a desire for a real dialogue to achieve the goal or at least discuss it seriously?

In the Geneva Initiative last public opinion poll (June 2022), 51% of Israelis support restarting negotiations for a two-state solution and 39% oppose it.  When asked to choose between different policy approaches to the conflict, the two-state solution enjoys a clear plurality. The next most popular option is a one-state solution without equal rights for all citizens (18% support). Considering how little progress there has been towards peace in the last 15 years, it’s actually astonishing how high support has remained. The opponents have failed to offer a viable alternative that provides a better, secure future for Israelis, so people come back to the only real solution on the table. 

One week before the vote, what are the central issues for the electorate and what 'weight' will the Arab vote have?

Israeli electoral discourse at the movement is very focused on specific political personalities:  Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, or ultra-right politician, previously convicted in terrorism, Itamar Ben Gvir. Personal support or antipathy for particular political actors is playing a much more noticeable role than questions of policy. That said, the conflict is always an issue in our elections, whether it’s framed as a question of security, democracy, or just used to spark fear and hatred. The other electoral issues are pretty standard: cost of living, the economy, crime. Arab voter turnout (20% of the population with predicted representation in the Parliament of about 6-7%) will be pivotal in deciding the election results, which is one of the reasons we are hearing increased discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the two-state solution among parties that are interested in encouraging the population to vote.

Finally, what type of nation will emerge from the polls and what will the impact be on the Palestinian people?

Although I live in the land of the prophets, I'm not one.  What is clear is that the next government can’t continue the decade-long policy of attempting to manage the conflict, without progressing towards a solution, and expect the security situation to remain stable. Palestinians also prefer the two-state solution over any other option, but this preference is decreasing noticeably over time. Responsible Israeli leadership needs to ask tough questions about the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. For that, we need a measure of political stability and vision. It’s not clear that the upcoming elections will provide this; but the challenges posed by a Palestinian population that feels increasing despair about their own national dreams aren’t going to wait quietly, either.  In any scenario, the role of the International Community in promoting moral values, international law, strategic interests and the friendship with the Israeli and Palestinian people can be pivotal in bringing peace and security to the Middle East.

GATEWAY TO THE EAST  IS THE ASIANEWS NEWSLETTER DEDICATED TO THE MIDDLE EAST. TO RECEIVE A WEEKLY UPDATE EVERY TUESDAY, CLICK HERE.

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