Israel teeters on the edge of the abyss

The fifth Israeli elections in three years has now seen the return of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the defeat of incumbent Yair Lapid, on a platform of hatred toward Palestinians, marking a dangerous turn for the country. 

Israel has become more polarized, with the extreme right increasingly vocal and gaining a stronger foothold in society. Democratic norms, or what was left of them, have been further eroded. And now, perhaps unsurprisingly, Bibi’s allies are talking about changing the law to block his corruption trial. 

It should be noted that the previous government failed because of differences over settlement policy in the occupied West Bank, the relationship between state and religion, and the rights of the Palestinian/Arab minority. It is unlikely the incoming administration will fare much better in dealing effectively with these issues. 

Netanyahu’s victory means that the prospects for peace or reaching a settlement are increasingly dim. Even before the elections, Israel’s leaders showed little goodwill. Despite Lapid’s conciliatory UN speech and posturing, expansion of the settlements has continued unabated. 

In addition, Tel Aviv continues, in the face of world condemnation, with the illegal practice of collective punishment and the demolition of homes. How can a country claim it is democratic while resorting to those undemocratic means to punish people? Where is the respect for private property which is a fundamental tenet of democracy and the rule of law? 

This shift in Israeli society is an existential threat to the country and likely to create further divisions. Israel has always been revered in the West, especially in the US, for being a beacon of democracy in a sea of “authoritarian regimes.” This perception is at greater risk than ever with the rise of the far right, and fringe players like the divisive Itamar Ben Gvir now becoming more mainstream. The question now facing all Israelis is whether this is the country they want. 

Netanyahu has been quite determined to block any attempts at seeing the creation of a Palestinian state. How this is translated into policy is yet to be seen. His record is indicative of the direction he will take, which includes overseeing the passing of the citizenship law that discriminates against Palestinians living in Israel. This was another step in turning Israel into an apartheid state. If Netanyahu’s campaign promises are realized, then there will be no place for liberals who believe in coexisting with Palestinians. 

In a video that showed Zionist zealots calling for the death of Palestinians, one extremist shouted that Arab countries will no longer help Palestinians. The irony here is that while some Arab countries are looking at Israel as a counterbalance to Iran, an increasing number of Western countries are repulsed by the changes the country is witnessing. This includes the transgressions of the Israel Defense Forces which have becoming increasingly difficult to conceal. 

Lapid had been the only chance for Israel to stem this rightwing shift in society. Despite the ideological differences between the various factions that formed the Lapid/Naftali Bennet government, the inclusion of Arab ministers had great significance and was the beginning of the path toward reconciliation and peace. 

Unfortunately, the elections have shown that the Israeli electorate is more driven by ideology than rational thought. According to a peace activist, those “crazy fascists” hate liberals as much as they hate Palestinians. We will now have to see how this belligerent narrative will affect social cohesion inside Israel. 

Netanyahu would want to deliver on his promises to please his allies and stay in power. This will mean putting in place discriminatory policies against the Palestinian citizens of Israel. This will not only marginalize these citizens but also the liberals who do not want to be part of such a project. Netanyahu will be mistaken if he thinks he can bank on the support of Arab countries, because normalization can be revoked as has happened with Mauritania. 

For Netanyahu and his ilk, social cohesion and creating a sustainable system is never going to be an overriding concern. He will remain a fearmonger that wants to collect as many votes as possible to remain in power.

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

This Arab country normalized relations with Israel in 1999 but cut diplomatic ties 10 years later following the assault on Gaza. So Netanyahu cannot take Arab acquiescence for granted and think he has a free hand with the Palestinians. This would be a very perilous policy to follow. However, for Netanyahu and his ilk, social cohesion and creating a sustainable system is never going to be an overriding concern. He will remain a fearmonger that wants to collect as many votes as possible to remain in power. 

It should be said that Netanyahu’s win and the extreme right’s rise to power has not come as a surprise. This current situation is part of a trend that has been taking shape over the past 10 years. It is also a consequence of the failure of the left to find a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian impasse. Despite Lapid’s “conciliatory” narrative no real attention nor effort was made to reach a solution. In actual fact, the past year has seen the most violent clashes since 2015. It is obviously another disappointment for those who want to see a two-state solution and peace in the region. 

Those who are cheering today for Netanyahu should realize that Israel has taken another step toward the abyss, and are now teetering precariously on the edge. 

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

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