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Max Blumenthal says the election of Herzog, who represents the Ashkenazi elite, would be a dangerous prospect for Palestinians

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The Israeli elections will take place on March 17. The latest polls from Haaretz show Zionist Union ahead of Likud by four seats. The Zionist Union leader, Isaac Herzog, received the backing of former prime minister Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, as well as the ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan. In an attempt to draw voters away from right-wing parties, Prime Minister Netanyahu said if he is elected, his government will ensure that there is no future Palestinian state. Now joining us to discuss all of this is Max Blumenthal. He is the author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. Max, thank you so much for joining us. MAX BLUMENTHAL, AUTHOR, GOLIATH: LIFE AND LOATHING IN GREATER ISRAEL: Great to be with you. PERIES: So, Max, I gather from all of the demonstrations that are going on in Israel questioning the leadership of Netanyahu, that the Israeli public is having less appetite for the grandstanding internationally and want more of a focus on the issues that are going on in Israel. What’s your take on the narrowing leadership or the, sorry, narrowing gains that Herzog has over Netanyahu? BLUMENTHAL: Well, Israel is one of the countries that leads the OECD in inequality. Prices are just skyrocketing for basic goods. Rent is out of control. It’s very difficult for even middle-class people to live in core Israeli cities. And so that really favors Herzog, who comes out of the Labour Party, who is kind of pushing an agenda against inequality. There are many reasons why Netanyahu is flagging in the polls. One reason is that there is an element in Israeli society that sees the special relationship with the U.S. as an essential part of Israeli strategic deterrence. But that’s only part of the equation. There’s also the fact that Netanyahu’s sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson’s Israel HaYom newspaper, has eaten into the Israeli media and has played such a toxic role that the other Israeli papers are starting to actually cover Netanyahu in a very antagonistic way. There’s the fact that the Kulanu Party, which emerged from the Likud Party, is presenting a kind of softer right-wing alternative to Netanyahu. So that’s eating into Likud’s base. There’s the fact that the Jewish Home Party of Naftali Bennett is eating into Netanyahu’s right-wing base. And then there’s the fact that Netanyahu’s just been there forever, and people in Israel are simply tired of him. So all of these factors are combining to damage Netanyahu’s prospects. But I should be clear that none of this has to do with the occupation, none of it has to do with Palestinians. There was a 70,000 strong rally in Tel Aviv headlined by Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad and one of the so-called gatekeepers who appeared in the Oscar-nominated documentary. And this rally was not about ending the occupation. It was not about getting rid of the Separation Wall. It was just about replacing Netanyahu with a wiser leadership that will preside over the occupation in a sort of a softer, more sensitive fashion. PERIES: So, Max, if this Zionist party gets elected, they will obviously have to form some coalition, either with Likud Party or the Arab parties, to take up the government. So which one do you think they would choose if they win? BLUMENTHAL: Well, Isaac Herzog has been explicit about this. He has said that he will not enter into a coalition with the Joint Arab List. There will be no Arabs in his coalition. And this has been the case since Israel was founded: no Arab parties are allowed in the coalition. Rabin kind of dealt with Arab parties in a de facto sense, but none have been officially welcomed in the coalition. And Herzog and Tsipi Livni, who is his number two in the Zionist Union, both supported banning Haneen Zoabi of the Balad Party, one of the most visible Palestinian legislators in the Knesset, banning her from the Knesset. And she is part of the Arab List. So there’s no way that major parties within the Arab List would enter into a coalition with the Zionist Union. However, Herzog was also clear that he would enter into a coalition with Netanyahu and the Likud Party. And this is what’s likely to happen. And the result of kind of national unity governments or the Labor Party in government over the past decade has been war after war after war on Palestinian society. PERIES: And if Herzog forms a coalition with Likud, how do you think he will differentiate his foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran from what Netanyahu is currently doing? BLUMENTHAL: It’s likely that Herzog will be less antagonistic to the U.S. and not openly attack Barack Obama. By the way, the Likud Party is launching robo calls identifying Obama as Hussein Obama to Israeli voters. So we wouldn’t expect this from Herzog. I think what Herzog is going to do is try to reestablish the special relationship and repair relations with Washington with a Democratic-controlled executive. I mean, assuming Hillary Clinton is in the White House or a Democrat, Herzog will be the perfect person to get over the rancor that Netanyahu has caused. What we’re likely to see: John Kerry said that he wants to start peace talks again. However, the peace process has been all about process and not about peace, and Israel’s been able to build more settlements during the peace process periods than not during it. So it’s actually kind of a dangerous prospect for Palestinians living under occupation to have someone like Herzog in there. And I think what Kerry wants to do, what the U.S. would like to do, is to scrap Resolution 242, the UN resolution which calls for Israel to withdraw to 1949 armistice lines, or what Netanyahu has called Auschwitz lines. And by establishing new parameters on the peace process and making the major settlement blocs a permanent part of Israel, this is actually going to be one of Netanyahu’s greatest achievements, but it could be consolidated by a figure from the Labour Party like Herzog. And, by the way, I interviewed Herzog in 2013 about settlements, and he insists that the major settlement blocs surrounding Jerusalem, separating it from the West Bank, which keep growing into the West Bank, will be a permanent part of Israel, and he supports that. PERIES: Right. Now, Max, in an interview we had done with Shir Hever just last week, he said that he didn’t think Herzog wanted to lead, didn’t want to be prime minister, and is not prepared to do so. What’s your take on his potential leadership? BLUMENTHAL: Well, this is a figure without any charisma who represents the cream of the Ashkenazi elite, a very kind of narrow but influential minority within Jewish Israeli society. He’s not someone who commands the presence of Netanyahu. He’s someone who has been considered weak on security. So I agree with Shir’s analysis. I don’t know how it’s going to play out or who’s going to be prime minister, if there’ll be a rotating prime ministership like in the days of Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres. But as I said before, when the Labour Party is in government in Israel, it’s a recipe for war. It has been since 2002, when the Labor Party presided over the Defense Ministry, that it oversaw the razing of Jenin in 2006. The Labor Party controlled the Defense Ministry that oversaw the invasion of Southern Lebanon in 2008. The same thing: Ehud Barack was the Defense Minister when Israel initiated this devastating assault on the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead. And Barack was the defense minister when Israel attacked the Free Gaza flotilla, the Mavi Marmara. Herzog will be under enormous pressure, along with the Zionist Camp, to demonstrate his security credentials in an Israeli government. And I think that another war on the Gaza Strip is inevitable within the next year or two, because conditions there have never been worse. They’re unchanged. And an Israeli government, whoever’s there, will be under pressure to reoccupy Gaza, which will lead to a bloodbath like we’ve never seen before. So it’s an incredibly precarious situation politically with the instability in Israeli politics. And we have to consider the ramifications for Palestinians under occupation, and particularly in the Gaza Strip. PERIES: Now, that is one big absence, Max. The limited or almost no conversation about what really took place with the Operation Protective Edge and the number of Palestinians that were killed, numbering at 2,100. And we we have over–or almost 500 of them were children. There’s no discussion or talk about that at all. BLUMENTHAL: No. It’s completely off the radar. And you know it has been since the final phase of the war. You can–someone should really do kind of a word cloud of mentions of Gaza in mainstream media, because I suspect there would be a dramatic decline after the beheading of James Foley. He was beheaded sometime around August 16 or 17. And it was then that Gaza totally dropped off the map and Israel went ahead and destroyed major residential towers in Gaza City and office blocks, basically committing acts of state terror that were uncovered in the international media because the ISIS phenomenon started to peak. So there’s really no concern for the fact that, while international donors have pledged $5.3 billion to help rebuild the $8 billion of damage that Israel’s done to the Gaza Strip, only $300,000 have been delivered, that about 100,000 people are still enduring or at the tail end of one of the worst winters in Gaza’s history and are basically homeless and have no hope in sight. So that just–as I said before, it’s leading to radicalization on the ground and makes another war almost inevitable. PERIES: Max, as always, thank you for joining us and helping us refocus attention on issues that matter in Israel. BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.