From the January-February 2023 issue of News & Letters
by Eugene Walker
For the sixth time Benjamin Netanyahu has become Prime Minister of Israel. This time he returned to power by bargaining for a government of the most extreme right: an ultranationalist, ultra-Orthodox coalition.
Not only are a number of cabinet members rabidly anti-Arab/anti-Palestinian and now have direct power to implement some of their racist policies, but other ultra-Orthodox members are intent on moving Israel toward a more theocratic state. This is a frightening situation not alone for the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian population, but also for the Israel Jewish population who do not share these extremist views.
TRASHING A TWO-STATE SOLUTION
The coalition has been explicit in what it intends to try and implement. It has declared the “exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel” for the Jewish people, and with that, pledged to bolster Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Thus any possibility for a two-state solution, of a Palestinian state, is excluded.
Netanyahu’s appointment of two ultranationalists—Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich—to posts dealing with the occupied territories and with West Bank settlements shows the provocative direction of the new government in relation to Palestinians.
Just two days after taking office, Israel’s new minister of national security Ben-Gvir made a visit to a Jerusalem holy site, which previously sparked demonstrations and violent confrontations between Palestinians and the Israel police and military. Ben-Gvir is from the Jewish Power party, and now has oversight over the police and authority to control additional forces, including the Border Police unit that works in the occupied West Bank.
Smotrich, who favors annexation of the West Bank and is from the Religious Zionist Party, will serve as minister for agencies that are responsible for construction of settlements in the West Bank.
Besides the coalition having power over the security force and for administering occupied territories, a third area where the extreme right wing under Netanyahu is seeking far-reaching changes is the judiciary. Historically, the Israeli Supreme Court has acted somewhat as a break against extremist polices. But Netanyahu, for both personal (his indictment for corruption) and political reasons, wants to change the law so that the Israeli Knesset can, by a simple majority vote, overrule the Court, thus eliminating an important democratic guard rail.
MOVING FROM OCCUPATION TO ANNEXATION
Moving from the ultranationalist side of Netanyahu’s coalition, what has he promised the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim? As The New York Times reported, he “has promised ultra-Orthodox leaders a new, separate city for Haredim where the Haredi lifestyle would guide planning. He has agreed to increase funding for Haredi seminary students and provide access to government jobs without university degrees. And he has pledged a wide range of government handouts for the Haredi school system.”
It has been 55 years since Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories began. The new governing junta seeks to move from occupation to annexation. It seeks to force Israel toward a theocratic state.
These are dangerous threats to the Palestinian and secular Israelis, indeed to the existence of Israel. Already the first demonstrations by Israelis have taken place. Palestinian protests are sure to erupt. Is it only an illusion or just pure romanticism to see the possibility for a new, cautious unity?