Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University. She is the author of “Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.”
Last week, Israelis elected Benjamin Netanyahu to a fifth term as prime minister despite a pending indictment against him in three corruption cases. His alleged criminal transgressions seem to pale in comparison with the pact Netanyahu engineered with the overtly racist and facist Jewish Power. Members of the party, composed of followers of the extremist Meir Kahane, whose Kach party is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, will likely assume senior positions in Netanyahu’s next government. Together with the nation-state law passed last summer, a constitutional amendment declaring Israel a state of Jews — not of its citizens — and which makes Jewish settlement a government priority, Israelis could not be more clear: They have once again chosen racism and apartheid.
Even Netanyahu’s opposition does not present an alternative to this right-wing agenda. The Blue and White party, which is led by retired general Benny Gantz and describes itself as “centrist,” does not support the creation of a Palestinian state or Palestinian rights in any part of historic Palestine, refusing to even sit with parties that represent Palestinian citizens of Israel in a coalition government. In launching his campaign, Gantz boasted that he bombed parts of the besieged Gaza Strip “back to the stone age” in ads that featured a rising tally of Palestinian casualties.
As a matter of course, elections excluded the approximately 6 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip whom Israel governs by military rule, denying them the right to vote as well as the right to be sovereign in their own homeland. This formula is so normalized among Israelis that it never even came up during the campaign. Neither Netanyahu nor the Blue and White platform offered a viable future for Palestinians precisely because the bulk of Israel’s voting base is increasingly right-leaning in regards to Jewish-Israeli entitlements and the use of military force to beat Palestinians into submission.
The reality on the ground today is dismal. In the waning days of the campaign, Netanyahu vowed to annex the West Bank in a final blow to the two-state solution. President Trump’s embrace of Netanyahu has only emboldened the right further. Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closed the PLO office in Washington, ended aid to Palestinian refugees and for key humanitarian projects in the West Bank, and most recently recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Young Palestinians, born and raised in the era of the Oslo Accords and Israel’s repeated wars in Gaza, are increasingly disillusioned with the two-state solution. They are cynical about all Palestinian national leadership from Fatah to Hamas and are seeking alternative futures. It was young people who launched the Great March of Return, the largest popular convergence in Gaza to demand freedom and the right to return of Palestinian refugees.
Young Palestinians have been the driving force of new political efforts such as the Palestinian Youth Movement, which connects Palestinians ages 18 to 35 across a global diaspora with the aim of reconstituting a national politics of resistance. Young Palestinians are also the primary advocates of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that sidesteps political negotiations and makes rights-based claims for equality, the return of refugees and the end of occupation of Arab lands. Far from destitution, the grim status quo is fueling a politics of hope among Palestinian youths in particular.
This hope echoes a similar trend in the United States, where young people are driving an unprecedented shift in U.S. politics on the Middle East, and Palestinian freedom has been steadily incorporated into a progressive agenda. Trump’s embrace of Netanyahu is making ever clearer to a U.S. public that the reactionary right embodied by Trump is the normalized state of affairs in Israel. The Trump-Netanyahu alliance is on full display in the concerted and hypocritical attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who, in her advocacy on behalf of all marginalized communities, has illuminated the negative impact that U.S. unconditional support for Israel has on Palestinians.
Social movements such as Black Lives Matter and events like the Women’s March, driven by a similar base, have affirmed Palestinian freedom as part of their platforms. Polls indicate that since Trump took office two years ago, more Americans are less inclined to sympathize with Israel over Palestinians, while a majority of Democrats say they would support sanctions or stronger action against Israel due to settlement construction.
Netanyahu’s electoral victory is without doubt another painful turn in the chapter of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. But if current trends in the United States and Palestine are an indicator, a new generation of activists and young people is offering grounds for hope. Our responsibility is to follow their lead as they attempt to dismantle structures of racism and oppression across the globe, and to help them build another world based on justice and dignity for all.
While it seems as though the situation for Palestinians on the ground has never been worse, the possibilities of change in the United States and among Palestinian youths have never been so encouraging.