PeaceCast #244 Transcript: Peace Now's Dana Mills on Israel’s Political Crisis and the Occupation

Hadar Susskind  00:09

Hello, everybody, welcome to those of you who came in in the middle of the rambling, we are just getting started and taking a moment for everyone to join us. I'm Hadar Susskind. I'm the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, and I am thrilled to have you with us on this lovely Wednesday morning. I am extremely pleased to be joined today by my friend and colleague, Dana Mills. Dana is as you probably all know, at this point, and correct me if I get the title wrong, the Interim Executive Director of our friends and colleagues at Peace Now or Shalom Achshav. We've got a lot of things to talk about today. Dana, I think what I'd like to do is give us a little frame to start and then then I'll hand it over to you. But, you know, I think we're coming together to take a look at really broadly this political moment in Israel. And so sitting where we sit today, you know, we look back at the last year at the Bennett Lapid government, how they governed what it meant visa vie the occupation, visa vie relations or lack thereof, perhaps with with the Palestinian Authority with Palestinians broadly. And then we look, you know, currently at this moment of transition to a Lapid led government, but an interim government that's gonna go presumably until November 1st And those elections, you know, what are these four months going to look like what might Lapid do? What might he you know, be be open to, because I think he has an opportunity to do something pretty unique, which is not tell us about what his leadership could be, but rather actually show us because he will be Prime Minister. And then of course, we want to look forward to the election. I say look forward, maybe that's the wrong phrase. I don't know if anyone's really looking forward to the election, but we want to talk about it. We want to talk about the fifth election in three years, what's happening, changes in the parties who's coming, who's going and what we think. But before I turn it over to you for all of those pieces, I do just want to back up on the logistics, again, remind folks that this webinar is going to be recorded, we will share that recording after the fact. So if you love it so much, you want to watch it again, or if you want to share it with friends and colleagues, we will also turn it into an episode of PeaceCast our podcast, and we will have a transcript as well. So we will share all of those. And as we move through the conversation, we welcome your questions. The way to do so is to use the q&a button at the bottom of your screen. Please click on the q&a and type in the questions and we will take as many of those as we can. Thank you very much. And with that, I am going to hand it over to Dana, take it away.

Dana Mills  02:57

Okay, thank you all for joining and good afternoon from sunny in a very humid Tel Aviv. So I will start by saying that history repeats itself first as tragedy. Second as farce. And third is another version of Israeli election. I'm sure you had these discussions in the past. And I'll try my best to give a spotlight on what's very unique at this time. Because there have been very manifold elections, we can talk also about instability of the political system in Israel, and how that's related to the core work that Peace Now does every day. So I will talk first of all about this what was unique about this government what was bad about this government and why it's falling, it's really important to us at Shalom Achshav and at Americans for Peace Now, just over a year ago, what was then termed ironically, the government of change came together, which comprise a coalition very broad from the center, and even right Yamina which is called literally right wing. to I would say the liberal left so Meretz a party that has anti occupation activists, including two former executive directors of Peace Now, all sitting in one coalition. This is something that had never really in that way happened in Israel. And it signaled coming back into a discourse of political discourse. That was very different to 13 years and the Netanyahu government now regardless of one's political opinions around right versus left in terms of economics in terms of the occupation, etcetera. Netanyahu led to a very centralist a very authoritarian form of government, of course, the discourse around corruption, his trial is now ongoing, and taking attention from actual political issues because everyone is engaged in a political trial rather than talking about what's happening in the country. And suddenly we had this government that for nothing better even did its job. So there were ministers who looked at what their officers was men, women to do the was a budget for the first time in many years, there was some kind of feeling or normalcy. I should say that this government is historical for a very important reason to us, which is that it's the first time that a Palestinian party of those who consider themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel sat in a coalition. This is you know, it never happened before in Israel, it's really important. And that is Ra'am , so in terms of Israeli Palestinian relationships within the green line within the 1940 border, this was a very important watershed moment. Now this was like the short shrift of the good now we'll talk about the bad and then we'll end with the ugly which is the elections Peace Now I feel I am the Cassandra of the Israeli left where I come and say bad things and then they come and materialize but it's also our job to fight them and to make sure they don't happen. So your supportive Americans for Peace Now and Peace Now helps me to stop of all my bad fortune is coming through. And I should say when this government came into being we were mildly optimistic, a feeling that is quite unknown to us on the Israeli left. And we felt that we had partners we could work with, including two ministers from Meretz several ministers from the Labour Party, including a former activist of Peace Now, Omer Barlev was the minister of defense. And we thought in terms of settlement expansion in terms of internal security for Palestinians and Israelis in terms of just reducing the level of I should say structural violence, things will be better. However, we published not too long ago report that talked about the Its title was spoiler alert, A Government of Unequivocal Annexation. So we saw that this government in a very ironic and weird way managed to escalate trends around settlement building, whether it's building settlements in places that are very dangerous and detrimental for the two state solution, such as E one and E two. Expansion of outposts, illegal outposts, we're looking at just actually it's it was announced and this government is still sitting I should remind you, on the 20th of July, 10 New outposts are being founded in broad daylight. Now imagine that new illegal outposts are being founded and no one is doing anything about it. For us Peace Now usually, as you probably know, focus on settlement expansion. But in this report, we also looked at structural violence. Now I'm sure a lot of you watched with horror and shame, the funeral of shooting of AbuAkleh, really important figure both in international journalism for the Palestinian struggle, the violence that was executed in her funeral, let alone the actual killing that is now being disputed and discussed, was really shocking, regardless of any opinions around the occupation, etc. Similarly, very hard Ramadan, very violent in Jerusalem, a lot of violence around Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif, So places where we hope to see some stabilization or some retreat from violence on the ground, we did not see that. So I should say, whenever I spoke about this government, when it wasn't sitting, I kind of felt torn, because as an as an as an Israeli citizen, I was pleased to have a government that actually went to work. That was a novelty, it was a nice change away from totalitarianism away from populism, something, you know, you know, we struggled against for a while. But then again, when we looked at policies to do with the occupation, that actually became much, much worse on the ground. So for us Peace Now, our job was never more urgent to sort of shed light on these issues and to say, look, we might be happy that Netanyahu is not in office, we are, we might be happy that we're moving away from the government that we hadn't passed. Again, we are. And yet this is just not good enough. And the fear of that sort of right wing, just completely, I should say, well, there's the center left to a standstill. And what happened was that this government was founded on the agreement of political status, quote, meaning no changes to the right or left no peace talks, but not no annexation. And what happened was, we saw a lot of annexation de facto meaning on the ground settlement expansion, meaning taking places that are really important for the two state solution, while the left just didn't do anything. So we didn't see the left sort of trying to push the boundaries and say, I will go to Ramallah, I will, you know, we will push on our side, but we saw the right kind of pushing more to the right.

Hadar Susskind  09:22

And I want to ask one specific thing in this because I actually think it's one of the fundamental, perhaps the fundamental challenge that the, again, the sort of previous government faced, right, you said that they had this status quo doctrine that was specifically about Palestinians. Right. It wasn't status quo on everything overall Yeah. I think that there was a fundamental either disagreement or misunderstanding, I would say about what status quo meant, because you could look at status quo and say, well, that means no changes. So no changes on the one hand mean no big peace talk, but it also no changes would mean Oh, new settlements, right? No settlement expansion. No, you know evictions from homes, like status quo would mean we are not changing where things stand, which is I think was the was effective or the belief of folks on the left in the government and out. Whereas I think folks on the right again in the government now said status quo, and they looked at that as status quo of the Netanyahu policies is that we will continue doing exactly what we were doing, which is expelling people from their homes, expanding settlements, etc. And that fundamental misunderstanding, I think, is really key to how we got to where we are now.

Dana Mills  10:35

Exactly. So that's a really helpful point there. And I think, what we are facing and we all work together against the challenge of annexation when that was a thread that was ongoing. What we see now is a move from the usual annexation to de facto annexation, which means building which means expansion of settlements, which is expansion of Israeli law in certain areas. And there are various arguments that are being used around around it, whether it's natural growth, whether it's you know, people need more space for to live etcetera, etcetera. But in the end of the day, it is de facto annexation. And in reality, what happened was that the status quo was de facto annexation, meaning build more annex more, develop more evict more demolish more demolish demolitions will also appear under this government, rather than stopping what had been going on before. So I think it's really important for us and again, because we have this strange history of working against the usual annexation, to understand that annexation is still a threat. And it's actually I would say a more difficult threat, because it is something that happens on the ground, it needs a lot of monitoring, it needs interventions on a daily basis, rather than a big threat of annexation. So that's a really helpful intervention. Thank you for that. I do want to talk a little bit about how the government fell through, which is a really important part also of where we are politically and where this election is going to. So the really, I mean, Netanyahu did a lot of very bad things around Israeli society. But I think the worst thing that he did in terms of our joint agenda is to completely depoliticize the occupation. I mean, you can go through your daily life, you can read the papers, and you would hardly see anything to do with Palestinians human rights, you will hardly see anything to do with settlements, bringing issues to agenda to the agenda, it's really hard these days, whereas when he took office, that's not the case. So talking about the occupation, in itself is becoming much, much harder. And what happened in a really interesting way is that there is a thing called the regulations for Judea and Samaria, which is a whitewashed name of settlements in Palestine, I should say. And that idea is that settlers, of course, legally are not residents of Israel. I mean, your friends in DC, New York, wherever you're joining us from today, where Israelis live abroad, are not subjects of Israeli law. I lived in Oxford for 30 years, I was not the subject of Israeli law. However, settlers who live on the occupied West Bank have to be somehow made subjects of Israeli Law, otherwise, their subjects have no state, you know, because there's no Palestinian state yet. And so there are these emergency regulations that are extended on a regular basis, one of the biggest faults of the Israeli political system that leads to its instability is the fact that a lot of it is founded around emergency regulations. Some of them are inheritance from the British Mandate, you know, a lot of legal structures in the state itself are problematic. And this is one of them. And we got to the stage where if these regulations hadn't been extended, then basically all settlers would be citizens of no state. And it was actually a debate around that wore the government down and the lack of agreement and lack of ability to come to a consensus around that I mean, the government was working with a very small majority, as it is, has to be said, but it's fascinating that on the one hand,

Hadar Susskind  14:02

it was so small that there wasn't actually a majority at some point.  no, exactly.

Dana Mills  14:06

But I mean, it's hard enough to sort of bring the occupation to the agenda. And yet it was the occupation that brought the government down, and the inability to bring this to a vote to actually extend them. And it was this great fear that if they won't be extended, then what will happen here, and I mean, just an example of what it would mean, if those regulations would meet extended, there are several judges in the Supreme Court who are residents of settlements, by the way, they often sit on legal appeals that we file. Imagine what the implications are for personnel condition on settlement expansion, where the judge who sits in the case is essentially himself and our legal adviser, the really wonderful, Michal Sfard, said to me, Well, if the regulations are extended, then these are my next big cases postponed because the judges can't sit in the Supreme Court. So it goes from judges and Supreme Court to being able to go to really everything to do with and

Hadar Susskind  15:00

Just to edit that, they can't sit on the Supreme Court because they're not they wouldn't be citizens of the state.

Dana Mills  15:04

No, no, exactly, you know, in the same way that your Israeli neighbor in New York can't be a supreme court judge in Israel. So this is how the government fell apart, which I think is very symbolic of the kind of political rut we're in. And just to wrap up my comments, and to sort of segue into talking about the elections, one of the greatest ills that we need to handle here is really not talking about the core problems of the political crisis, which, you know, I can't really call it the crisis, because something that goes on for so long, it's not a crisis. But it's just the inability to bring to the surface, that the structural instabilities, the legally irregularities, all the kind of fundamental issues within the Israeli political system, that enable it to be an occupying power, we just marked 35 years of occupation, you know, temporary occupation, so called, and yet to try and function as a democracy, you know, Peace Now's slogan has been for a while, there's no such thing as democracy with an occupation. If you occupy a foreign people, military occupation, for so long, you cannot act as a democracy. And I think you can see the kind of shockwaves of that coming back. And sort of part of what we're seeing now is this, however, sadly, and this is kind of a good way to talk about the elections. Also, it's not that, you know, the political regulations, in Judea and Samaria or the occupation or violence towards Palestinians, is now taking front pages news. And it's not that it's becoming an issue that people are more concerned about, you know, the occupation continues to be an issue that is on the periphery of most people in Israel, as well as parties and sadly, which is, you know, why we're pushing really hard from outside of the parliament and from outside of the political class, to bring the occupation to the forefront of discussion, because we believe that again, there's no such thing as democracy with an occupation. Yeah.

Hadar Susskind  16:57

Before you move on to the next part. Two questions that come in that I just think you could perhaps answer quickly. So one, you mentioned this, you know, the extension of Israeli law over to settlers, it's generally referred to as the settlement law or by a lot of people as the apartheid law. One, can you just give people an update, sort of where that is? And where, where that stands? And then there's a question that came out of that also, asking if Palestinians in the occupied territories are also citizens of no state? Because you've talked about how if this was not reauthorized at this Jewish settlers would be citizens of no state? So can you take a minute on those two things before we move to the next piece?

Dana Mills  17:36

Okay, so the first part is less interesting. The second part is more interesting. The moment that the Knesset is dissolved, there is an automatic extension of the regulations. So instead, it's very symbolic of the Israeli political system, instead of debating something that is contentious, that is difficult, we'll do some kind of political maneuver, and then it will be this kind of sudden extension. And I mean, there's been all sorts of political maneuvers also to enable, obviously, the settlers to be able to vote in the election. So there's nothing really insightful and interesting there just again, a kind of political gymnastics, I should say, to to make things work for the settlers, which is a cool thing that we learned this government, the settler lobby can make things work for them, even though they're still a minority, a very small minority in Israeli society, they have really disproportionate power in the political system. Now, the question of Palestinians, which country are they citizens of? So of course, there's the Palestinian in authority. We know that last May when we saw a really terrible escalation here. One of the causes around it was the question of whether or not there'll be elections in the Palestinian Authority. Whether or not East Jerusalem says residents can vote in the elections. Those who live in East Jerusalem Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem are actually citizens of no state, they cannot vote for the Knesset. They cannot vote for the Palestinian Authority. So they are de facto and de jure annexed so when you look at what's happening in East Jerusalem, including evictions, demolition, etc. This is a microcosm of what could happen on a larger scale, if we progress in the way that we do. And what it means to hold people under occupation is really to take away from them the very basic political and civil rights means the right to vote means the right to stand for elections. The Palestinian authority is not a state, it's been recognized only by, you know, a very small number of states as a political state. And until Israel really moved towards this two state solution and recognized Palestine as state and it got, international recognition, including the US, Palestinians will not have any political rights which they currently do not have.

Hadar Susskind  19:59

Okay, So let's keep going now. I mean, do you want to go? I think, you know, we want to make sure we talk about sort of the current government. Actually, here's what I'd like to do that another question just popped up that I think is interesting, as we talk about these next few months with Lapid as Prime Minister, you know, somebody just asked said should Lapid be believed when he said today that there would be no new settlements under his government, especially. Right, especially given the fact that, you know, we've got 10, you know, illegal settlements. And just to be clear, that distinction of illegal is, you know, under international law, all settlements are illegal. When we refer to them as illegal settlements, we're talking about ones that are illegal, even under Israeli law. Yeah. So what would you say to the that question, particularly, but also about what we, you know, what we should be hoping for scared about thinking of, you know, over these next few months and Lapid's leadership?

Dana Mills  20:55

Okay, so I'm saying very gently, no, it is wrong to say that they were no new settlements. There was a 26% increase with the promotion of plans for 7292 housing units and settlements, which is compared to Nataniel 5784 units in the Netanyahu government. And this is an average between 2012 to 2020. In terms of tenders, the Bennett Lapid government issues 1550 housing units 62% Jump in construction starts which means kind of we can't we work with the center of the raw statistics data, which looks at actual beginning of building, the statistic goes on in terms of demolitions in terms of eviction. So in all relevant data, we see an increase, it's not true to say that this has to do with natural growth, again, when you compare to the Netanyahu government 62% increase is not natural growth.

Hadar Susskind  22:00

So can you clarify what tenders are.

Dana Mills  22:04

Yes, tenders is basically giving legal permission to begin buildings. So it's the first stage before starting a building plan, give your construction,

Hadar Susskind  22:16

The approval, but not the actual construction.


Dana Mills  22:17

Exactly, yeah. So you have different stages, you have the plan, then you have the tenders, and then you have the stops, which is seeing actually houses or beginning of houses. So in all these factors, we saw an increase, which is, you know, to say that nothing that had been said, is actually true. But in terms of what we can expect. And I think here, we need to be very cautious. But we can also be, you know, look into the future more optimistically. And say, this is the time to hold Lapid into account. And as you said, he is now a prime minister, he's no longer a replacement. He is no longer in waiting. He as a prime minister, anecdotally, as an interim Executive Director, I want to say to him, you can actually do things, you go into your job and you do your job. And I kind of wanted to write him a letter, maybe I will one day. So you know, he can't stall things any more. He can't say, oh, I'll do this in the next stage of the rotation excuses run out. In praise of Lapid, I should say. Lapid is an internationalist. He's a man who thinks globally. He knows many international leaders from his many years as a journalist, as a journalist. He thinks beyond, you know, this little area in which we live. And this makes a big difference when it comes to contention settlement plans, it makes a big difference when we talk about things such as settler violence, which also, by the way, with an increase on the government, and lack of accountability. So in terms of what he can do, he can actually show us what the government looks like when it holds the settler lobby to account. It can show us what it means for Israel to act as part of other nations. You know, you mentioned and I think it's a really important comment, all settlements are illegal according to international law, by the Geneva Convention, transferring civilian population is a violation of human rights and of international law. So you know, Lapid knows that he is a very well informed, well versed politician with many years of advocacy under his belt and he knows what will not fly he knows that the international community will not accept certain things, such as, for instance, the forced evictions from Masafer Yatta, that whole region in which entire villages are being displaced for a firing zone. He knows that he won, which was supposed to be discussed on the 18th of July now postponed to the 12th of September, the most detrimental plan for the two state solution connecting Jerusalem and Ramallah. He knows what the implications of that so it is really important to have him where he is and to have his agency you know, without thinking of have, oh, I will have to do this next month, and then I won't be in office anymore etc. Of course during election, election season has started in full force. And we have, you know, there's no hiding from it. And he thinks of his to his constituency. But it is to hope. And I do believe that he can actually shift a lot of people's thinking he's been well esteemed in Israeli society, because he managed to form this government, he actually is the man for this government together. Bennett was the first Naftali Bennett was the first in the rotation between the two. But he took over, as the man who formed the government actually, in an interesting way, took the back seat. And as I say, after 13 years of Netanyahu, having a politician who does not want to be in the spotlight, who does not want to give every single interview, who doesn't give an announcement on TV, you know, there was a long period where almost every evening for some random excuse, we had announcements from Netanyahu on TV at like 8pm. And suddenly, having someone who is not doing that became really a breath of fresh air. Now he can use the status as the normal politician, the man who's bringing back Israel into a framework of the rule of law, and talk about what it means to live in a country that abides by the rule of law.  And part of that is talking about the occupation, because it's not good enough to just pass a budget and talk about, you know, economic rehabilitation and fighting corruption and talking about democracy. If you're holding millions of people under military occupation, you cannot, you know, progress as a democracy. So he does have an opportunity, but it's a very big challenge at the same time.

Hadar Susskind  26:43

It is, and I think, you know, just to add a thought on that, you know, we put out some statements and we've been in touch with with Lapid and his folks. And I think, frankly, more importantly, from our seat with the US government, talking about the fact that he really has this opportunity. Now, you know, most of the time you go into an election. And you have, you know, people saying, well, this is what I will do, if I'm given the opportunity, if you elect me, and, you know, he's, he's in the chair, he doesn't have to tell us what he might do, he can show us. And, you know, both Lapid has stated repeatedly, including, you know, this week as his commitment to a two state solution, and he's talked about it, you know, he's talked about his belief in peace, and in needing to take steps toward that. So, you know, while I, being really honest, I wouldn't bet the mortgage, but I am, you know, hopeful that, you know, our voice here and your voice there, and so many others, and particularly, again, the American government voice with President Biden coming to town soon, you know, can help can help remind him that, A, that's his position and his party's position. But B that, you know, going into election season doesn't always mean you have to lean as far right as you possibly can. And like you said, he does care about what the US government thinks and what others think. So I think there is an opportunity here for us to all in our different capacities, raise our voices and encourage him to, I would, I would say, be his best self.

Dana Mills  28:14

Certainly, I agree with that. And we do feel and I have to say, again, I am torn as both a citizen of this country, and also an active occupation and pro peace activist, that this has not been a terrible year in everything that is to do with rehabilitation of political life. You know, my friend and comrade Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence talks about the process of De-Bi-Bi zation, of getting away from the Netanyahu years. And I think it will take time, I mean, as I can say, in this in this company, getting away from an authoritarian, populist right wing leader takes a while, and we're only we're after 12 or 13 years, depending on how you count. So, you know, this government has been important in many ways, but now's the time really, for us to push the thing that we feel is the most important and also the most absent at the same time, which is the occupation,

Hadar Susskind  29:10

I can't see everybody who's on here with us, obviously. But I'm willing to bet that a lot of people sitting in the US are shaking their heads right now going, oh, yeah,

Dana Mills  29:20

we know, I know, whenever I talk to my American friends, I kind of say, you know, you know how you felt for four years, then? Three times. So that's what we're dealing with. But I will say and this is a little bit of optimism, because I can't do this job without being a bit of an optimist that, you know, it is the civil society and the left more broadly that has continued fighting, that gives us hope, and gives us courage to continue. And for us elections, I should say, it's interesting because we care about politics, and it's interesting in terms of what we can and cannot do vis a vis different government offices. But for us, our daily work doesn't change because settlement construction continues and Palestinian human rights violations continue. So, you know, our job really doesn't change that dramatically. And we need all the help we can get now, you know, it doesn't change the fact that the election mean that it's easier for us. And it actually, it means that it's an opportunity, because now all politicians want to be reelected. And suddenly, they're interested in talking to a lot of organizations, including ourselves. So it's an opportunity also to raise the things that we care about very deeply and to bring them to public discourse. And so that's where we are in terms of that.

Hadar Susskind  30:34

that's a great segue, though, because you just said, I agree with everything you've said this whole time, except for one thing, which is just that all politicians want to be reelected. Because in fact, as we Naftali Bennett does not want to be elected, reelected. does not want to be reelected.

Dana Mills  30:52

So now I will being a politician myself I'll say not forever, you know, maybe now because they wouldn't be elected now. But in four years, they'll make a comeback. Yeah, I said, I'm an optimist. You know, this is how I keep going every day.

Hadar Susskind  31:11

Let's talk about what, what is, which is not everything yet. But what's happening? What are we seeing in terms of new faces coming and going? New parties, things, merging things moving? What's What's the feel on the ground there?


Dana Mills  31:25

So um, you know that always because we are a multi party system, which whenever you follow elections in other countries, I think, oh, that means it was not a good idea to put the system in that way. There are some very random parties. And my favorite, obviously, is the legalization of cannabis, which, you know, after this election, we all need it. Sorry. Sorry to be on the record on that. But I think actually, in terms of official party lines, we there are some talks about different mergers, etc. Mostly on the right, I should say, on the left, that last little bit of leadership struggles that I'll talk about in a second. But there haven't been sort of a new parties announced, it will be interesting to see what happens to Ra'am. That was a breakaway party from the joint list. Second, the coalition and actually sadly, lost a lot of its power, because it didn't have enough time to show its constituency what it could do. So it's one of those things when you look at public opinion surveys, Israeli citizens op sorry, Palestinian citizens of Israel, are deeply disappointed in Ra'am and Jewish Israeli say, oh, but it was great to have a Palestinian party. So it will be interesting to see what happens to them. That joint list is...

Hadar Susskind  32:31

Not so good that they're gonna vote for them. But so you know,

Dana Mills  32:36

the joint list isn't doing as well as it might have done because other left parties aren't doing very well, which is interesting to ask, Where are the left wing voters going? A lot of them are going to Lapid, as I mentioned, this admiration to him for being the politician who brought normalcy back. The Labour Party, as you probably will remember, is now headed by Merav Michaeli, but she now has a challenger who is the Secretary of the party, a man called Eran Hermoni, which is in all matters to do with occupation to the right of her Meretz, the party that is associated in some way or another, and many of its constituencies are also our constituencies. Meretz has suffered a very hard blow this election as leader and it's unheard of it's I don't know, if you already announced his he will leave but you know, his chances of being reelected, at least within the party, I think aren't great. He already has been challenged internally by Yair Golan, who is a general but very left wing General, who became famous by making explicitly left wing remarks while still being in the Army, something that is very rare here. And I should say, has been actually fairly decent and consistent on all things to do with occupation on our side. You know, he came with us, actually, to the protest, we had in February, and he supported some other issues we worked on. So everyone at some point works in Shalom Achshav, that's, you know, sometimes we tidy the office and we say, Oh, he was here. She was there. He was here. So that's what's happening on I should say, like the Social Democratic Left Issawi Frej was the Minister for Regional Cooperation, just mentioned yesterday that he's stepping down, actually, after I saw him on the fourth in the Fourth of July party in Jerusalem, and has asked Zehava Galon the queen of the Zionist left to return she so far has said she will not do so or at least will not do so in open primaries. You know, it might be that if she is asked directly, no one else challenges that she will decide to return I don't know. So things are shaking up on the left. I should say that the polls are not surprising that they show that the political stalemate will continue you know, we do see a shift a slight shift to the right. But it's not more dramatic than the previous election. And we know that polls very often here are slightly jaded. More than slightly. Our most heavy concern, I should say, is Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is far right. Terrorism enabler, racists follow the titles you'd like to choose. And the probability of him actually joining one of the governments being formed, which would be hugely dangerous for all of us really, who care about the rule of law. All of us, we don't really see a messianic, right wing country taking over this, you know, at worst, on the way to democracy at best a democracy in crisis, but something to do with a democracy that aspires to be a democracy. So him being a democracy is not a good thing. So it is dangerous on many levels. And I should say, you know, this is where I put myself on the side and I say, I am a Jewish white woman, if Itamar Ben-Gvir is elected, My life won't change. If I were a Palestinian woman, my life would become a living hell. So we have to remember that the stakes are very different for different people in this country, and especially those who cannot vote and are still implicated by different policies. That will be you know, no doubt legislated under the new government. So in terms of threats, he definitely is the biggest threat. Ayelet Shaked is doing consistently, decently, you know, she was in Naftali Bennett's party, but she has always been in the right wing signifier. She's an interesting woman, she comes from a secular home. She is very anti liberal, you know, in her opinions, she was in all her different positions, she managed to get a lot of anti liberal work done. So, you know, when I'm being asked who is scary for me, you know, obviously, Ben-Gvir is a man who will go and incite violence on the street. But I'm also very worried about Ayelet Shaked who quietly and efficiently can change things within government offices. And, you know, I tend to think that fascism isn't better when it's polite and well organized, it's actually more dangerous that way. So Ayelet Shaked another person to watch on the other side of the political map, very openly pro annexation very openly pro, you know, depriving Palestinians of their political rights and having two legal systems within one territory, which is the international law definition of apartheid. And she is openly for that. So you know, these are the kinds of people who are up for running in this next election.


Hadar Susskind  37:31

Two pieces, I have to ask about something else, because it's too depressing to think about Ben-Gvir and Shaked. Gadi Eisenkot. So new new name, right, coming in, what do we think where, where's he going to be? What's he going to do? And then also, you talked about some of the discussions on the right about parties. I know, there have been publicly discussions about Labour and Meretz running together, which again, publicly were sort of announced as we're not going to do that. But then my understanding is that there's still at least some conversation going on. So can you talk to us about Eisenkot? One, and then also sort of Labour and Meretz in that voting bloc?

Dana Mills  38:08

Yeah, I mean, to start with Eisenkot, you know, to be cynical, what we clearly need is another general because all the other ones worked really well for us. He is supposed to be different. I don't know. We'll see. I am a big believer. And as you said about Lapid, when he does the job to see how well he does, and Gantz was, which was supposed who was supposed to be a kind of left liberal general, was the minister of defense and was by far the worst we had worked with in a long time. And so with Eisenkot, it's unclear what his effect will be for us for peace. Now. It is rumored that he might be running with Gantz, which will probably strengthen Gantz. This is rumored that he's being caused by other parties. Lapid is, clearly also interested in you know, he will be quoted by the kind of center block, I doubt he will run with the a properly left party.

Hadar Susskind  38:59

So always love to add another general.

Dana Mills  39:02

Yeah, because we're missing them in politics. You know, I have to say, as a woman, also, I have to say, maybe Israel could do better in terms of democracy, when it doesn't look to a man who held a gun to be the person who saves it out of its political fate. There can't be an argument made there. But maybe that's a bit too radical. But one has to say that in terms of government of parties Joining Forces, yes or no, you know, the only thing I can say that is impossible in Israeli politics is saying that something is impossible in Israeli politics. So you know, the fact that certain parties say they won't join forces. We know that in the past that was in one of the many elections over the past five years, three years rather, there was a joint list that had very sadly Meretz and the Labour Party and Orly Levy, who then sadly segwayed back to the right and is now she kind of hops between parties. That didn't do them a lot of good luck. Electorally, which is I'm guessing something that they're thinking about now, very sadly, Meretz it looks like is on the verge of not passing. So you know, that's something that I'm sure people are thinking about in terms of joining forces with other parties. The Labour Party isn't doing that badly in the polls, but isn't doing brilliantly either. So the question is, who wins? Who loses? Touch? Unfication?

Hadar Susskind  40:22

Yes. Pardon the interruption There's a question that just goes perfectly with this. So, you know, one of the questions is, what are the chances of a truly Arab Jewish party will emerge as presumably from the factions of Meretz? And the joint list? And what do you think about that conceptually? So I mean, as we're talking about the different possible configurations. And just to note, you know, Meretz was an is, you know, had both Jewish and Arab members, does that make it truly an Arab Jewish party? I think that's a difficult position to argue for. So

Dana Mills  40:53

that's a great question. And thank you for asking us that. I think one has to vote. And again, when talking about this government, there were a lot of things that didn't work, but actually having a Palestinian party in the government, having a Palestinian leader speak openly in forums, you know, whether it's the Haaretz convention, whether it's other places where you have a voice from Palestinian Israeli society, that had been absent for as long as the country had lived, really, it was really transformative and very important. And I should say, again, as I said, in terms of polling, etc, just for Jewish people to hear a voice that is never heard, and to hear what it means to be a Palestinian citizens of Israel, I should say to that question, that is the hope of many of us that and it could be, you know, not to be too cynical, but not this election, but the next election or the one after the next. Because we know, you know, the country is deeply in this unstable situation,

Hadar Susskind  41:45

not in November, but like in March.

Dana Mills  41:48

next November, you know, like, next summer, I was just hoping not for summer election, because it's really too hot, you know, so I did the British winter election of 2019, I will not go and I went in the rain, I don't want to do the sun again, an election that will come up. And I think, you know, if I am a firm believer in the longer view of history, and when you think about processes and how they started, we had a government that had Palestinian citizens of Israel in it. And then you had other people who kind of were able to hear those voices. And then you had other Palestinian, politicians who were able to, you know, talk more openly about various issues. So the hope is that, again, what this question asks will happen at some point where it will not happen this election, I think, and if it happens, this election will happen in the same format that it happened now, which is, you know, it's kind of a bad vestige of identity politics to say, oh, we need a Palestinian come if you're pressing a woman even better, you know, that's what happened in Meretz was a woman who was Ghaida Zoabi, who was basically put in a place that was very high on the list without anyone really talking to her knowing what her opinions were and how she would vote to the future. So, you know, maybe just putting people in places because of identity isn't the way to change discourse in society. But at least that conversation has started, which is, again, a new moment for us. So that's a really important intervention.

Hadar Susskind  43:13

All right, I got two questions I want to throw, you know, so one, which we should probably start with first, because it's specific to this. Again, we mentioned the De-Bi-Bi fication of, of the government overall. And, you know, the important role that this government has played, obviously, as we've been talking about different parties and different leaders, different people in this election. You know, Netanyahu's running. He's, he's pushing, he's, I would say, back, I mean, unfortunately, he hasn't left yet. So, you know, what do you think about, you know, his his chances? And I would say, specifically, you know, he's under indictment for three charges of corruption. You know, and it's not a theoretical, I mean, we're not going to go down the rabbit hole of talking about the trial. But the trials going on, this is a thing, there is not a single voter in Israel, who doesn't know all of those facts. And yet he is, you know, polling at or very near the top. So what do we have to say about Netanyahu and the possibility of His return? Not what do we think about it? We know that but sort of, you know, looking at what the average Israeli voter thinks about it. So let's start with that. Okay, so

Dana Mills  44:23

Netanyahu, who has been a longtime player, obviously, and has changed the terms of discourse here. And I think actually the interesting processes that are happening and this is not me talking about from the Shalom Achshav point of view, but just in terms of political realpolitik is him being challenged within the Likud, because a lot of people within the Likud itself are realizing that he can be dangerous for the party, the indictments, at charges, you know, if he goes to prison, what happens with the party then? So you know, even within the party and his kind of longtime followers, there have been some disputes there have been challenges and sort of thinking, you know, there will be primaries whe know who will win the primaries, you know, sure as the sun rises in the east, etc, etc. But there are some challenges internally in terms of him being elected. So again, this goes back to the question of stalemate and to sort of remind that because we're talking about trying to form a coalition where the majority, actually in terms of the numbers, he won't have an overwhelming majority, he might have a majority of one or two, once again, we'll have an unstable government, there'll be some kind of political crisis, we'll go to an election again. So I can't see him coming back into like, another 13 years. But as I said, Nothing is impossible in Israeli politics. What is really important here, and I should say, this is something that we at Shalom Achshav have been working on is the change of discourse within Israeli society around Netanyahu. And you know, and especially the anti corruption and pro democracy protests that have been ongoing for the past three, four years, even, that had focused on him as a figure, but generally talking about the corruption of the system. No, we Shalom Achshav, are working very closely with central activists from that movement. And, you know, just tying together the two issues of occupation and corruption and talking about the kind of the close alignment, we look at other countries, such as South Africa, where again, the anti apartheid struggle, and the anti corruption struggle really went hand in hand, and the issue of corruption is still very much dominating the news there. So the ties between, you know, ruling over a different people and having a corrupt political system are very, very close tied. It might and it might not be that we'll see more anti Netanyahu protests, I know that that, you know, internal information that have been rearrangements and like people are getting ready for that, and depends on of course, on how well he does and what is his chance, according to the polls, etc. But why? What will he do in the future? how possible it is that he stays in his position? You know, everything is possible. And in terms of the indictments. And the fact that he's polling? Well, I mean, the the I have to say the media here is I lived, it's probably now just from my accent, I lived in the UK for 13 years where the media is very right wing. The media here is not as bad but it's still fairly, fairly biased. We do not have CNN or the New York Times sadly, we have Haaretz which is a very good newspaper, and yet isn't able to counter all the trends seen here. The main panelists on the Friday night News the most important news really customer of the week is amid Sega was a very lightning caster. And here's the most important political voice and in the system here. So this is a system that is very leaning to the right, that the media is very biased, and what it sort of brings about the discussion around the trial, and it's in itself, so sorry, you hear siren going through. Just like you're living in Tel Aviv. So, you know, the fact that he is doing still well is to do with also the media communicating, not all the things that it could communicate, I should say that Gaby Lasky, who was once executive director of Peace Now, my personal inspiration for many years great human rights lawyer tried to pass a law that would stop someone who is under indictment charges from running to office. And that was stopped, be surprised all act shocked and surprised and was not put forward in the outgoing Knesset. So there has been an attempt to stop that, structurally, but at the moment, there is no law that prohibits him from running.

Hadar Susskind  48:40

Okay, we've got I'm just looking at the time, I think we have time for one more topic that I want to make sure we get to and maybe we'll see some other questions. And, and that's the Biden visit I want to talk about a little bit. Obviously, President Biden is on his way to come see you. You know, he will, he will be there soon. Again, we mentioned it briefly. You know, we have been working closely with folks at the State Department and the administration here, you know, sharing our views and broader progressive views on this terms of what we want to see him raise with with Lapid with other political meter leaders. Other things we want to see them do. But I'm curious, you know, what do you think in terms of the Biden visit, do you think it is, is going to have you know, he's going to be received by Prime Minister Lapid, do you think there will be some political impact and that and how is it being, you know, thought about on the Israeli side?

Dana Mills  49:35

 So it's a very sensitive time for Biden, President Biden, obviously to come over because we're mid election. We're just beginning of an election campaign. And we know they will. This visit isn't about the occupation or the peace process. It's about basically a stopover on the way to Saudi. And it's about the Iran deal. So that issues likely that will be discussed have nothing to do with the topics that we work on. Nevertheless, obviously, it's an opportunity. We have Lapid, who, as you said, is a two stater sitting in government, and there is a possibility to challenge him and to say, you now have the power to stop all these terrible things from happening. I should say that the E one hearing was meant to be on the 18th of July and was conveniently pushed down the road to September, which means that there is awareness that this will be a time not to do things that are volatile. Now, the question is, from our point of view, not to just push those issues that are sensitive, during Biden visit to another time, which is not to do them at all, but this is what we're trying to do. I think this is a significant visit, because obviously, any visit of an American president is an important thing for us, I should say, you know, we all know of the special relationship between the US and Israel. And it's always very exciting moment for us. And, you know, we're also there is a feeling of camaraderie between everyone who went through the Biden campaign and seeing him elected after the years of Trump. And again, there are parallels between Lupid and Biden as the man who brings normalcy after a long and hard period. And I think that will probably resonate, you know, there might be even between them this kind of feeling of like, hey, what does it feel like to having to sort of clear up all of this, we know that also, President Biden is dealing with a lot of internal pressures. And I do want to send my sincere solidarity at this moment, you know, in light of really terrible news of mass shootings, as well as trying to reinstate Roe versus Wade. So a lot of internal issues that will be on his mind when he comes here and lots of what's going on here. What can I do with this place. But I do think it's an opportunity, again, we have two men who are in not a very dissimilar position in many ways. Who are committed to the same values, who are committed to a long term political resolution of the conflict and ending the occupation as a way to achieve it. So my hope is that at some point during the conversation, this will be brought up and that you know, that Lapid can be held to be accounted accountable. So that's kind of the hope around that, I think it'll be a very sensitive visit, because, again, President Biden can't be seen to endorse one candidate over another. And Lapid will be doing his own election campaign, it's already been resumed, from the right thing, you know, that Lapid will get this indefinite air time. And kind of, which is unfair. But there you go. So that's kind of where we stand around this visit. You know, it is important to say that in the past, when high ranking political figures had come here, and asked for certain things to happen, such as Secretary Clinton when asked to stop demolitions in East Jerusalem that happened previous during the Obama visits, I know other things had been requested and happen. So you know, it has happened in the past that high ranking political American officials, including the rank of President, were able to get things done. So we hope that will happen as well.

Hadar Susskind  53:10

And again, you know, without without digging into the details too much. That's certainly what we have been communicating to the administration here that they've got a moment they've got an opportunity. They have, frankly, a long list of policies that, you know, that this administration has, has espoused and said that they stand for promises, frankly, that they made in the election, many of which have not been fulfilled yet. So we are hopeful that while while I agree with you that this is ultimately a stopover on the way to Saudi Arabia, I'm hopeful that they will take this opportunity to, to move in a positive direction, right. It's not going to solve everything. It's not going to end the conflict. But it could do it could be a move in the positive direction. Dana as always, thank you for being with us and sharing your expertise and your analysis. And thank you everyone for joining us today. And we will hopefully see you all soon.