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Israeli Elections and the Rise of the Right

The three top candidates to become Israel's new PM vied with each other to see who could be tougher -- more aggressively anti-Palestinian.

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And any government so created, whether ostensibly a broad "national unity" front or a government of the acknowledged right-wing alone, will almost certainly be too unstable to engage in any serious diplomatic process, regardless of the desires of its leadership.

On the other hand, such a government will almost certainly agree on further aggression against Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. War will provide a much greater point of unity than peace. Whoever leads it, Israel's new government will spell a massive headache for Obama.

But from the vantage point of justice rather than diplomatic convenience, a return of Netanyahu as prime minister, even with a visible role for Lieberman, may not be such a bad option. Netanyahu's abrasive rhetoric is far more honest in depicting actual Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

The carefully anodyne words of Livni to her pal, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the myth of Barak's "generous offer" to the Palestinians at Camp David: these never reflected reality on the ground.

There, settlement expansion in the West Bank, isolation and impoverishment for Gaza, a policy of Judaization of Arab Jerusalem and discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel remained -- and remains -- unchanged despite Israeli (and American) political shifts.  

This more diplomatic language, however, did make it much easier for the United States -- at the administration level, for members of Congress, for local and state officials -- to claim, and maybe even believe, that Israel was at least trying to ameliorate the conflict.  

The discourse of negotiations and two states made it far easier to continue providing $3 billion a year in military aid, despite Israel's violations of Washington's own Arms Export Control Act.  

The discussion of peace processes and road maps made it much easier to continue protecting Israel at the U.N., where U.S. vetoes insured that Israel would never be held accountable for its war crimes. It made it much easier to believe that Israel attacked Gaza in December 2008 to stop Hamas rocket fire (when even the former head of the Mossad publicly admitted that if that were really the reason, "opening the border crossings would have ensured such quiet for a generation."

The discourse was always diplomatic. But it was never true.  

Perhaps now, the harsh authenticity and brutal illegality of the Israeli occupation will have to be recognized. Maybe that aggressive Likudnik rhetoric will present exactly the kind of opportunity Obama might be seeking.

Maybe the Israeli elections, despite the horrifying consolidation of racism and militarism they reflect, will provide exactly the kind of political cover Middle East envoy George Mitchell and others in the Obama administration will need if they are to respond to popular mobilization against the occupation and the U.S. public's demand -- especially in the aftermath of the Gaza massacre -- for "change we can believe in" for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Phyllis Bennis, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, serves on the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer ( Interlink Publishing ).

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