What Do You Think Will Be the Outcome of the Hard Rightward Drift in Israeli Politics?
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Joshua Leifer | Contributing editor at Jewish Currents, editorial board member of Dissent
If and when Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government is sworn in—and in Israeli politics there can always be last-minute surprises—Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line will be the first to feel the impact. In the occupied West Bank, the rightwing administration will likely deal even more harshly with the recent upsurge in Palestinian armed resistance. Moreover, with ten of the 64 members of the Knesset living in Jewish settlements, the interests of the settlers, who have called for the Israeli army to crush the young militants in Nablus and Jenin, will be well-represented. Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the leaders of the second-largest bloc in the likely coalition, campaigned, in part, on the promise to give Israeli forces a “freer hand” in suppressing demonstrations in both “Israel proper” and in the Occupied Territories. Among his party’s demands in the coalition negotiations is a change in the Israeli police’s rules of engagement to legally permit the greater use of lethal force.
At the political-institutional level, the first priority of Netanyahu’s coalition partners is to eliminate the balance of powers between the legislature and the judiciary by passing a court-override bill that would enable the Knesset to repass any law struck down by the Supreme Court, which many on the right view as overly protective of the rights of non-Jewish minorities and an obstacle to the right’s maximalist agenda on territory. The passage of such a measure would turn Israel’s nominally liberal ethnocracy within the Green Line into a more unabashedly illiberal regime. It would also be the prelude for more ambitious efforts to clamp down on dissent—measures the Supreme Court would otherwise likely designate as contravening Israel’s basic laws, such as the outright banning of Palestinian-Arab parties in the Knesset, the deportation of Palestinian and Israeli anti-occupation activists, and the prohibition on flying the Palestinian flag.
Other likely policy outcomes run the gamut of the wishlists of the far-right and Orthodox parties: increased state-investment in settlement construction and preparation for annexation of parts of the West Bank; increased funding for religious yeshivot and religious nationalist educational institutions; and, potentially, the rollback of certain gains made by LGBTQ groups, as well as intensified attacks on the status of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
There are few indications this rightwing government will face any meaningful international consequences, even were it to embark on its quasi-revolutionary reconfiguration of the Israeli state. World leaders, including France’s President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, have already congratulated Netanyahu on his return to power. However, within the already factious realm of intracommunal Jewish politics, there is little doubt that the next Netanyahu government will deepen the divisions between unconditional supporters of Israel and opponents of the current regime.
Diana Buttu | Palestinian lawyer, fellow at DAWN, Democracy for the Arab World Now
The recent election in Israel, the fifth in three years, was simplistically described as being one between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu camps, with the implication for the uninitiated that the “anti” camp was a progressive bloc compared with the “pro” camp. The reality is that this election was not about Benjamin Netanyahu at all, but rather about the increased erasure of Palestinians and the rise of fascism in Israel.
Palestinians have grown accustomed to being the punching bags of Israeli politicians who flex their muscles to obtain more votes. We saw this with the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, who threatened to “chop off the heads” of disloyal Palestinians and who advocated for Palestinians to be transferred (a euphemism for ethnic cleansing) in order to address the “demographic threat” that we the Palestinians pose. We also saw this with Naftali Bennett, who commented that he had “killed many Arabs,” and with Ayelet Shaked, who called Palestinian mothers “snakes.” All of this laid the foundation for the rise of Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has indicated that his hero is Baruch Goldstein, the man who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers as they prayed in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron.
This rise of fascism will undoubtedly mean that this next government will pursue policies for which we Palestinians pay the price. The far-right parties are demanding, and we will see, increased settlement expansion, more racist legislation against Palestinians in Israel, and of course more attacks on Palestinians. But while all of this is happening, Israelis will continue to be preoccupied with whether the religious groups are obtaining more financial benefits or whether there are more religious restrictions. The incongruity will continue between the lives of Israelis and the devastating impact of their electoral choices on Palestinians—which has deepened over the years—as will the preoccupation with “getting Netanyahu out,” rather than addressing the elephant in the room: Israel’s racist and colonial designs.
Yara Asi | Assistant professor of global health management and informations at the University of Central Florida, Fulbright scholar in the West Bank, visiting scholar at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, nonresident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C.
Even the most casual observer of Israeli politics will recognize that this most recent election was not surprising. In many ways, it was a manifestation in elected politics of what Israeli policies had already been heading toward after the Oslo process began in the mid-1990s, and a confirmation that there is no critical mass within Israeli politics, or the voting public, that believes in an independent Palestinian state or in equal rights for Palestinians within a single state. While some Israeli politicians have at least attempted to rhetorically affirm some of these principles, their policies never matched.
Because Israeli policy has long operated through controlling the Occupied Territories without taking responsibility for them, continuing settlement expansion, entrenching restrictions on Palestinian movement, and providing impunity for extrajudicial violence, it is unlikely that policy toward Palestinians will change significantly in the near term. If anything, there will be increased support for these practices and renewed discussion of annexation and even expulsion.
The only real question is how the international community responds. Thus far, the track record on holding Israel accountable for violations of international humanitarian law, or even many external states’ stated positions on issues such as settlements, has been abysmal. Without the cover of rhetorically moderate politicians, how will the international community justify the actions of this new Israeli government, let alone military and diplomatic support for it? Without handling the approach to Israel differently, it is going to be harder to speak the language of human rights and warn of growing repressive governance in other parts of the world.
If the international response is, predictably, muted, I expect the rightward drift will harden, with worrying outcomes not just for Palestinians but for other marginalized populations around the world, as the mirage of global concern about human rights continues to dissipate.
Shaul Magid | Professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, author of Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical (Princeton University Press, 2021)
This election will likely be an inflection point for Israel, not only regarding its hard rightwing policies but also the increased power of the Orthodox sector. It is difficult at this point to see Israel pulling back to a more moderate or liberal position given the present will of the electorate. What has gone unnoticed is the fact that the only real leftwing party, Meretz, did not even make it into the Knesset. The Knesset has no leftwing voice whatsoever.
In terms of immediate outcomes, the two-state solution will finally be put to rest. No one can responsibly talk about that as a live option anymore. Settlements will increase rapidly, including financial incentives to move there, and land in the West Bank will move slowly toward annexation. The Green Line will disappear; it largely already has. In short, the occupation as we know it will end.
It is not clear to me what American Jews, who are largely liberal-minded, will do. Will they continue to support an Israel that no longer represents their values, which is likely, or will they begin to distance themselves from Israel? Christian Zionists will most probably increase their support for this new government, politically and financially. The U.S. government will also likely continue to support Israel, whatever it chooses to do. What will the Palestinians do? Unclear. They are being pushed further into a corner and their options are diminishing.
I think this turn will continue rightward before it either moderates or bottoms out. This is not an aberration, but has been coming for a long time. It is no longer only the settlers. The mainstream Israeli population has largely chosen to buy the settler narrative. Without external intervention, land expropriation will increase and the everyday lives of Palestinians will become exponentially worse. The Israeli electorate has chosen, and it is in no mood to compromise and has little incentive to do so.
Marwan Muasher | Vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The result of the Israeli Knesset elections points in a clear and unequivocal direction: The Arab-Israeli conflict has entered a new and permanent phase, shifting from the futile attempts of the past to bring about a two-state solution. Moving forward, Palestinians, and indeed the whole world, will have to deal not with what shape a possible diplomatic solution might take, but with the issue of Palestinian rights, and more starkly for the international community, the looming issue of apartheid.
If there were any previous hopes of miraculously reviving a peace process that might diplomatically end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such hopes have been dealt a mortal blow. Any emerging Israeli governing coalition now will most probably have Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud at the left of all other coalition members, and will include people such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who, in an unhidden racist manner and against Israeli law, are openly calling for the mass transfer of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The apartheid scenario is no longer a looming future problem. It is an existing reality, sanctioned either openly or implicitly by the Israeli government. By paying lip service to the peace process in recent years and ignoring Israel’s continued settlement activity and discriminatory laws against Palestinians, the international community, some argue, bears a measure of responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves today.
In the future, the question that needs to be asked is whether the international community will maintain its ineffective position of supporting a dead peace process and whether it will continue to find ways to ignore Israel’s racism and assume a business-as-usual attitude toward the Israeli government, or whether it will seriously revise its approach to the conflict in a way that would acknowledge Palestinian political and human rights.
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