The policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the most extremist one in recent memories, are giving rise to serious fears. The idea that those policies might deal a deadly blow to the slimmest hope for peace in Palestine have been not limited to the Palestinians, suffering under occupation, or their Arab allies.
A few days before the official swearing in of the new government last week, the Israeli President Isaac Herzog summoned one of the new government’s most controversial ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir, appointed national security minister, to convey “voices from large sections of the nation and the Jewish world concerned about the incoming government.”
Ben-Gvir is a member of parliament best known for storming the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque at the head Jewish extremists. On the wall of his home is the picture of an Israeli terrorist who killed 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994. He was also barred from joining the Israeli army due to being convicted of supporting acts of terrorism against Palestinians living under occupation since 1948.
More than a hundred retired Israeli diplomats signed a letter to Netanyahu last week expressing their “profound concern” at the potential harm to Israel’s strategic relations, first and foremost with the United States, arising from the apparent policies of the incoming government.
Israel’s Ambassador to France, Yael German, resigned the day the new government was sworn in, accusing Netanyahu of forming a government that “includes representatives of parties whose extreme positions are expressed in its guidelines, in its policies, and in statements on legislation — illegitimate in my eyes — that it intends to pass.”
Topping those guidelines is a pledge that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop the settlement of all parts of the Land of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan and Judea and Samaria.”
Illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands have been the key reason why peace talks with the Palestinian Authority stall. Those settlements kill all hope of creating a Palestinian state as there will not be any more land to establish it on. It is not only Palestinians and Arabs who consider those settlements illegal, but nearly the entire world as reflected in UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.
The platform of the new cabinet also stated that, “The government will work to strengthen the status of [occupied] Jerusalem, act to increase Jewish immigration from all countries around the world,” and “act to recognise the (occupied Syrian) Golan Heights as a strategic region with broad development potential, and will lead a wave of settlement, development and promotion of initiatives.”
The fact that the guidelines fail to mention Palestinians by name even once is the tip of an iceberg of horrific promises that all point in one direction: Israel will certainly be heading towards a clash not just with Palestinians who have been suffering its racist occupation for decades, but also with close Arab neighbours who were among the first to sign peace treaties with the Jewish state.
Formalities aside, King Abdullah of Jordan said in a recent interview with CNN that he was “prepared to get into a conflict” if Israel crossed red lines and tried to change the status of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, over which Jordan has custodianship.
Palestinians and Arab neighbours have no illusions about Israel’s policies. Whether a left-wing, liberal or right-wing government is in office in Israel, the official Israeli policy has been to deny Palestinians their most basic human rights, topped by their right to self-determination and establishing their own independent state.
Even before the new government took office, with several extremist and convicted ministers granted top posts, 2022 was been the bloodiest year for Palestinians living under occupation in 16 years. More than 200 Palestinians, including 50 children, were killed by Israel in the occupied territories in 2022, the deadliest year since 2006.
But with ministers such as Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich responsible for security and illegal settlements in occupied Palestine, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to predict that more Palestinian blood will be shed, pushing Palestinians into a new, large-scale uprising or Intifada.
Ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist factions in Netanyahu’s government have scared even liberal Jews who live in the United States, considering that their views on who is Jewish are so extreme and fundamentalist.
Netanyahu, now on trial over corruption charges, also agreed to push through changes meant to overhaul the country’s legal system — specifically, a bill that would allow parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 lawmakers.
No wonder that only one day after the new extremist government took office, on Friday, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to weigh in on Israel’s occupation of Palestine, its annexation of Palestinian territories and the “legal status of the occupation”.
The resolution, titled “Israeli practices and settlement activities affecting the rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories” calls on the Hague-based ICJ to “render urgently an advisory opinion” on Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory”.
It also calls for an investigation into Israeli measures “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem” and says Israel has adopted “discriminatory legislation and measures”.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 5 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly