Bad to worse: On Benjamin Netanyahu’s return

Benjamin Netanyahu will quicken Israel’s fall into a repressive theocracy 

December 31, 2022 12:10 am | Updated January 06, 2023 07:36 pm IST

The return of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s Prime Minister for a sixth time marks a decisive shift in its domestic politics and its relationship with the Palestinians. If in the past his right-wing Likud party had formed diverse governing coalitions with centrist and relatively moderate parties, in the current six-party right-wing coalition, five are ultra-orthodox and far-right Jewish nationalist parties that make even Likud look moderate. The coalition agreement, a document that determines governing agendas, suggests that Mr. Netanyahu’s government would pursue radical right-wing policies, seeking to expand illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, remake the judicial system by handing more powers to Parliament over courts, and amend the Basic Law, removing hurdles for those with extremist views from contesting elections. Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right politician convicted for Jewish terror links and inciting racism in 2007, is the Security Minister, with powers over Israel’s police force. Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the ultranationalist Religious Zionism Party, and now the new Finance Minister, wants to fund more Jewish settlements. Some of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition members are also known for their anti-LGBT positions.

For Mr. Netanyahu and Likud, the formation of Israel’s most right-wing coalition is a natural progression of the politics they have followed. In the past, Mr. Netanyahu embraced ultra-orthodox and right-wing parties, pursued conservative agendas, walked back from peace and cracked down on the Palestinians, and deepened the occupation. It helped him become Israel’s longest serving PM. But the Netanyahu era also reshaped Israel’s politics, pushing it to the extreme right. The Prime Minister has dismissed criticism that his coalition would endanger Israel’s democracy. At the same time, he has projected himself as a tough Prime Minister who would implement the coalition’s agenda. “The Jewish people have an exclusive and indisputable right to the entire land of Israel,” he said on Wednesday, referring to historical Palestine and suggesting that settlements would continue unabated. If the Knesset passes judicial reforms, the government, with the support of 64 MPs in the 120-member Parliament, can override even Supreme Court rulings. Besides, parties such as the Shas, the United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism will influence the government’s decisions that could alter the state-religion balance in a country where over 20% of the population are minorities. As Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition seems determined to remake Israel’s politics internally and deepen the occupation and subjugation of the Palestinians externally, it could also quicken the country’s fall into an elected Jewish theocracy.

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