Israel’s Far-Right Paves the Way for Netanyahu’s Return & Signals a Dismal Future for Palestine
By: Norah Soufraji/ Arab America Contributing Writer
The Return of Netanyahu
Israel’s recent elections saw the return of Benjamin Netanyahu, bolstered by a coalition of far right political parties. Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party, who is currently fighting charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Israel’s courts, will now form a government while cooperating with radical parties which openly espouse Jewish supremacy, anti-democracy, anti-Arab, and homophobic policies. These recent developments in Israel’s political scene will likely prove to have dismal consequences for the Palestinian people in the region and abroad.
After a stalemate period which resulted in five elections in a span of four years, Netanyahu can now claim victory with an absolute majority in the Knesset. Netanyahu’s bloc now holds 64 out of the 120 parliamentary seats. Turnout for this election was higher than expected with a record 70%, far exceeding levels often seen in countries such as the United States. With an uncontested absolute majority, Netanyahu’s coalition will be able to pass laws with ease. Interestingly, the Religious Zionism contingent which is composed of the Jewish Power, National Union, and Noam parties have agreed to revisit the criminal code which Netanyahu is on trial for violating. It is clear that Netanyahu has found success in co-opting the surge of support for far-right sentiment currently permeating Israeli society. But let’s take a look at the parties which made Netanyahu’s return a reality.
Far-Right in the Mainstream
Netanyahu, hardly a moderate himself, will now have to satisfy the needs of those who supported him, chief among them, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Ben-Gvir, is by all accounts an extremist and known for violence and anti-Arab racism. Before entering politics, he was known to proudly display a portrait of Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who was responsible for the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre, where 29 Palestinians were murdered and 125 wounded in a mosque in Hebron. He also was a member of the Kach political party which is now considered a terrorist organization by both the United States and Israel. A trained lawyer, Ben-Gvir, has often represented himself in court while facing criminal charges which include hate speech, inciting violence against Arabs, and membership of a terrorist organization. In 2021, he was caught on video pulling a gun on an unarmed Arab security guard after a parking dispute and also was present during clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank where he encouraged police to shoot Palestinian residents. In fact, he reportedly frequently visits Palestinian towns, armed with a gun, with the sole purpose of inciting violence between Palestinians and Israelis. As part of the Knesset, Ben-Gvir has repeatedly called for the expulsion of the Arab-Israeli citizens of Israel which make up 20% of the Israeli population. He currently has ambitions to be Minister of Police in Netanyahu’s forthcoming government.
Another key figure in Netanyahu’s bid for power has been Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party. Smotrich, like Ben-Gvir, is notoriously anti-Arab and openly homophobic but has nonetheless been embraced by the Israeli electorate. In 2006, he was a lead organizer of the “beast parade” a protest of Gay Pride in Israel. He has referred to himself as a “proud homophobe” and tweeted in April 2018 that the 17-year-old imprisoned Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi “should have gotten a bullet, at least in the kneecap”
Since 2019, Smotrich has been advocating for the Israeli Ministry of Justice to adopt a strict religious Torah justice system and has spent much of his time in the Knesset advocating for further Israeli legislation to annex Palestinian lands. He also openly announced that developers in Israel should be prohibited from selling homes to Arabs stating, “Anyone who wants to protect the Jewish people and opposes mixed marriages is not a racist. Whoever wants to let Jews live a Jewish life without non-Jews is not a racist” and “I believe in God’s words. I prefer that Jews make a living and wouldn’t sell a house to Arabs”.
While the movement towards the radical right is not new in Israel, this latest election has resulted in the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. The voices of moderate and left-wing Israelis will be stifled, and Arab-Israelis will be ignored more than ever before. For Palestinians in Jerusalem, the Occupied West Bank, and Gaza, there has never been much to hope for from the Israeli government. However, the brazen open racism and extremism which has propelled figures such as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir (once considered a terrorist by Israel itself), to be key figures in the upcoming government, can only insure that there will be escalations of violence and aggression against the occupied Palestinians.
According to the United Nations, this has been the most violent year in the West Bank since 2005. 130 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year with October being the most bloody month so far. Although Israeli raids continued throughout the tenure of the supposedly more moderate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the future of Israeli and Palestinian relations may prove more dismal in the coming months. With the backing of extremist racist parties, it would not be surprising if Netanyahu’s new government were to adopt further hardline policies. Issues such as the Israeli settlements in occupied territories which the United Nations and International Court deem as illegal, will likely worsen. Additionally, extreme use of force will continue to be normalized with further restrictions on Palestinians expected.
Time will tell to what extent Netanyahu will prop up the dangerous ideologues he has used to insure his return to power. Regardless, it may prove too late to prevent political isolation on the world stage, even if he wants to.
Check out Arab America’s blog here!