Beyond hopelessness.

THE likely restoration of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister has stirred some angst among a few long-standing friends of Israel, not because of his abrasive personality, toxic ideology or the unresolved corruption charges against him, but because he can only return to power at the helm of the most extreme-right coalition his country has thus far experienced.

That's quite an achievement in the Israeli context, given its history of right-wing governments stretching back to the genesis of its nationhood. As far as the dispossessed Palestinians are concerned, there are few grounds for nostalgia relating to the era when the Labour Party was the dominant political force and the myth of a two-state solution was sustained by rhetoric that bore little relation to what was happening on the ground.

Back then, though, the question of Palestinian rights was at least part of the mainstream political discourse. Of late it has effectively disappeared from the agenda. That does not mean the status quo is acceptable to the lately dominant forces in Israel.

The most prominent among Netanyahu's latest allies are the Jewish Power Party's Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, brought together by Netanyahu to form the third largest force in the Israeli Knesset. The parliament is now almost bereft of potentially moderating influences. The relatively left-wing Meretz was expected to fall short of the threshold for representation, with Labour reduced to four seats. The marginalisation stretches to an assortment of Arab parties.

Israel reminds us that things can always get worse.

Of course, Palestinians in the occupied territories don't have a vote in Israel - and their supposedly autonomous administration, effectively a handmaiden to the military occupiers, keeps postponing its own elections because Mahmoud Abbas rightly fears being replaced by someone who might not meekly kowtow to the Palestinian Authority's Israeli overlords.

Some Palestinian commentators have lately reiterated the mantra that Israeli election results don't matter to those living under occupation, because their situation won't improve. That's true as far as it goes - but there's always the possibility that conditions could deteriorate.

For instance, the party platform of Ben-Gvir vows to establish 'sovereignty over all parts of Eretz Israel liberated in the Six-Day War and the settlement of the enemies of Israel in the Arab countries that surround our small land'...

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