Bibi’s ‘crazy team’ set to cross all red lines

Benjamin Netanyahu
(File photo: Jordan News)
Benjamin Netanyahu

Osama Al Sharif

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, has until December 21 to form the most extreme government in the history of the country, complete with ultra-nationalists, religious Zionists and far right Cabinet members. اضافة اعلان

The Likud leader has no challenger, but if he fails to hammer together a coalition government before the deadline, Israel will find itself once more in political wilderness. Last November, voters took to the polls for a fifth time in four years in a bid to hand over a leader the 61 seats he needed to form a stable majority government.

The meteoric rise of the Religious Zionist (Tkuma) and neo-Kahanist Jewish Power has shaken up the Israeli political stage, throwing these far-right, once fringe, parties into the mainstream of Israeli politics. Together they have become the proverbial kingmaker, giving Netanyahu the necessary votes to form a coalition, but at a hefty price.

The head of the Likud already has the necessary votes to form his coalition, but negotiations continue over meeting the long list of demands that his new partners want. He has given Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of Jewish Power, and a racist and supremacist by the definition of the Israeli media, the critical national security portfolio, which controls the police and will be in charge of security in the occupied West Bank.

Ben-Gvir has vowed to relax all rules of engagement by the Israeli police and border guards when dealing with Palestinian protesters. An already inflamed situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will certainly get worse when he is in charge. That means more extrajudicial killing of Palestinians — more than what has already been happening since the beginning of this year. Almost 200 Palestinians have been gunned down by Israel in the West Bank so far.
This has been dubbed ‘the crazy team’ by the leftist Israeli media. Even the more conservative ones are appalled at how Netanyahu, who wants to pass a law in the Knesset giving him immunity from prosecution, is handing over real power to extremists whose agenda is open and clear.
To make things even worse for the Palestinians, Netanyahu agreed with Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich to hand him the finance ministry, on condition that Smotrich will appoint the next defense minister, a portfolio he originally wanted for himself. Under pressure from the Biden administration, Netanyahu rejected Smotrich’s demand for the defense position. Still both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, directly and indirectly, are now in a position to dictate policy in the West Bank.

This has been dubbed “the crazy team” by the leftist Israeli media. Even the more conservative ones are appalled at how Netanyahu, who wants to pass a law in the Knesset giving him immunity from prosecution, is handing over real power to extremists whose agenda is open and clear.

They want to legalize all settlements in the West Bank: a tent, a caravan and any Palestinian land Jewish settlers claim as theirs. They want to go as far as to annex most parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and they want to expel Palestinians and even Israeli Arabs who defy the occupation.  Ben-Gvir vowed to establish armed settler militias that will be above the law.

Israel’s military and intelligence establishments have warned that the new coalition will be a recipe for disaster. They warned that a new Palestinian Intifada could erupt at any moment. Centrist and leftist politicians also warned that Netanyahu’s outrageous submissiveness to the religious far right will spell the end of Israeli democracy and its secular foundations.  They warn of a misogynist, homophobic and openly racist government. Others likened it to an Israeli version of Daesh!

The leftist newspaper Haaretz described the incoming government as “radical, coercive and violent”, while outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid simply called it “crazy”.

But despite all the warnings, Netanyahu has no choice but to go ahead with putting together this most dangerous coalition with little concern for what it means for the future of Israel or the embattled Palestinians. So it is astounding to see that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken chose his words carefully when he addressed the J Street National Conference last week. He underlined the Biden administration’s commitment to a two-state solution, Israel’s security, and expanding the Abraham Accords. He added that “we fully respect the democratic choice of the Israeli people” and pledged “to gauge the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities”.

Israeli media reported last week that Washington had set two red lines for the incoming Netanyahu government. One is not to annex any parts of the West Bank, the other is not to change the existing status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque. It also said that Washington had warned that any escalation against the Palestinians would hamper its efforts to cooperate with Israel in dealing with the Iran nuclear deal!

Those two red lines will almost certainly be crossed by the next Israeli government. How Washington and other Western capitals will react when this is done is something that could be the beginning of a major shift in policies toward Israel; however, it is unlikely that this shift will occur. What is most likely is that Netanyahu will put Israel and the region on the path of a conflagration with unpredictable results. 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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