Khaled Amayreh in occupied East Jerusalem shudders at the drift to fascism in Israeli politics
With Israeli Jewish society drifting towards right-wing extremism, especially with regard to the Palestinian issue, Israeli political parties contesting the upcoming elections, slated to take place on 10 February, are radicalising the tone of their public discourse in the hope of wooing as many potential voters as possible to their respective agendas.
The Kadima and Labour parties, erstwhile coalition partners, are escalating their rhetoric against the Palestinians, with ministers and former ministers calling for the resumption of assassinations of Palestinians.
For example, Shaul Mofaz, widely considered a certified war criminal, has been urging the Israeli government to launch devastating land and air attacks on Gaza, regardless of the political and moral price Israel may have to pay.
Mofaz, who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent Palestinians in his capacity as both chief of staff and defence minister, suggested this week that the Israeli army ought to carry out ruthless operations in Gaza in order to defeat Hamas which he termed a "key strategic threat".
Tzipi Livni, Kadima leader, reportedly has Mofaz in mind for the defence portfolio in case Kadima emerges as winner in the elections and she succeeds in forming the next Israeli government.
Interestingly, acting Defence Minister Ehud Barak has been conspicuously less bellicose. This week, Barak called for preserving the fragile truce with Hamas despite "the provocations", an allusion to the firing of pathetic homemade projectiles on Jewish border settlements near Gaza in retaliation for deadly Israeli attacks that have so far killed more than a dozen Palestinians.
Barak, his aides argue, is not interested in making a big conflagration in Gaza prior to the inauguration of the Obama administration in the White House on 20 January because this might leave a bad impression on the new president. Moreover, Barak and Livni seem to calculate that an outbreak of deadly violence in southern Israel would seriously undermine the Israeli campaign to press the West to force Iran to end or suspend its nuclear programme.
Israel, which is widely believed to possess a huge arsenal of nuclear bombs and warheads and delivery systems, has been saying that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities will not be ruled out.
Apart from sporadic statements by Kadima leaders, including an unprecedented remark by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which he said Israel would have to return to the 1967 borders, much of the action has been taking place in the right camp, where the Likud is regaining its former status as Israel's number one political party. In recent days, a number of former Likud leaders, who had either left politics or switched to other parties, have decided to return to their former home.
The returnees include such renowned figures as Benyamin Begin, the son of former Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin and Dan Merridor, a former minister of justice. Begin is viewed as embodying honesty and integrity in politics, while the latter is seen as representing political moderation, characters that would be a valuable asset to a government formed by a notoriously dishonest and pugnacious Benyamin Netanyahu.
However, two more hawks are also joining Likud. The first is Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff, who is also widely viewed as a certified war criminal, not only by Palestinians, but also by human rights organisations around the world. Yaalon has been warned against entering several European countries, including Britain and Spain, lest he be arrested for his role in the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians.
Yaalon's tenure as chief of staff of the Israeli army 2002- 2005 was marked by numerous acts of almost pornographic murder of civilians in both Gaza and the West Bank, including the bombing and extermination of many Palestinian families as well as the deliberate targeting of children and other civilians. Yaalon is also a leading proponent of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, with or without American backing.
Speaking in occupied Jerusalem this week, Yaalon was quoted as saying that he decided to join the Likud "because I can no longer remain on the sidelines during such a critical time in Israel." Yaalon was against the Israeli army redeployment from the Gaza Strip and is an ardent supporter of Jewish colonisation in the West Bank. With regard to the peace process, he believes Palestinians would have to spend many years "educating themselves about peace" during which time Israel would create more settlements in the West Bank.
Nonetheless, the most dangerous and problematic right- winger, dubbed by some Israeli intellectuals in Israel as the Hitler of Israeli politics, is Moshe Feiglin, who advocates the ethnic cleansing or extermination of non-Jews in Israel-Palestine Old Testament-style.
Feiglin is very popular within Likud and there are serious concerns in Israel and within Likud itself that he would be elected as the number two man in the party.
This prospect is reportedly causing a lot of unease to Likud leader Netanyahu who is worried that the character of Feiglin would have a decidedly negative impact on the Likud image, especially if the party formed the next government, as widely expected.
Feiglin advocates the idea of manhigut Yedhudit or "the Jewish leadership". According to this concept, Israel would have to adopt four steps towards resolving the Arab Israeli conflict once and for all:
First, induced Arab emigration from both Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Needless to say, "induced emigration" is effectively a mere euphemism for genocidal ethnic cleansing.
Second, Israel would have to reconquer and tightly control every part of the occupied territories and place non-Jewish inhabitants under a harsh military occupation until they can no longer endure the persecution, which then would force them to leave.
Third, Israel should resume intensive Judaisation of the territories, including the destruction of Christian and Muslim holy places.
And, fourth, Israel should dislodge itself from the peace process since this process is incompatible with the rules and teachings of the Torah and Talmud.
Feiglin also openly advocates an all-out war on Islam for the purpose of eradicating the religion and its estimated 1.5 billion followers. Feiglin is viewed as a fascist figure even by traditional Likud hardliners. A few years ago, Limor Livnat, a former minister of education, called him "a foreign weed, his blood is not our blood, his flesh is not our flesh". One Israeli journalist has compared the ascendancy of Feiglin as the number two man within Likud, conceivably succeeding Netanyahu as prime minister, to the ascendancy of Adolph Hitler to power in Germany, nearly 80 years ago.
What is more worrying still is that the current Likud head Netanyahu seems quite helpless as to what he could do to neutralise Feiglin and his many supporters within the Likud. When Netanyahu was asked about Feiglin last week, he reportedly said ,"I can't do anything about him."
However, observers in Israel speculate that Netanyahu would seek to appease Feiglin by undertaking to stop the peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has been alluding to this for weeks, saying that he believes in a peace that is based on economic prosperity, not territorial concessions, a euphemism for keeping the occupation intact.
Now the big question is how the Barack Obama administration will relate to an Israeli government run by the likes of Feiglin and a further radicalised Netanyahu who has the heart and mind of Feiglin, but the tongue of an eloquent public relations officer.