Al-Jazeera / January 17, 2023
Only three weeks into office, the new Israeli government is planning to change the judicial system and wants to crack down further on Palestinians.
Occupied East Jerusalem – The new Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has already begun working on pushing through its far-right policies, after coming into office on December 29.
The proposed changes would severely impact both internal Israeli politics and policies towards Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The nationalist-religious government, said to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history, emerged after Netanyahu’s Likud and allied far-right parties won the most seats in parliamentary elections on November 1.
Several items at the top of the new government’s agenda are causing controversy among Israelis – with thousands turning out in protest against a plan to change the judiciary system and weaken the Supreme Court. Other plans include annexing the occupied West Bank, where the situation is already tense.
The provocative entry of the controversial far-right minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound early in January led to fears of an outbreak of violence at the occupied East Jerusalem holy site, although the incident passed without any escalation, despite Palestinian anger.
Here are the main developments since the new Israeli government took office:
Plans to change the judiciary
One week after his appointment as justice minister, Likud member of parliament Yariv Levin presented a controversial plan to increase government control over the judicial system and weaken the Supreme Court.
The plan, which was released as draft legislation last week, would significantly limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws and would allow the government a greater role in the appointment of Supreme Court judges.
Under the plan, ministers will be able to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of using independent professionals, among other changes.
Critics have condemned the proposed move as “regime change” and a “political coup”, with up to 10,000 Israelis protesting the proposal in a Tel Aviv demonstration last week.
Opponents are saying the plan would endanger Israel’s system of checks and balances and undermine democratic institutions by giving absolute power to the government.
They would also give the government more control over the legal system, just as Netanyahu continues his own fight against corruption charges, which he has been on trial for since 2020.
Banning Palestinian flags in public spaces
On January 9, Ben-Gvir ordered police to remove all Palestinian flags in occupied East Jerusalem, and inside Israel, calling the Palestinian national symbol an act of “terrorism”.
While Israeli civil law does not outlaw Palestinian flags, police and soldiers have the right to confiscate them in cases where “there is a threat to public order”.
Palestinian flags are already removed immediately in Jerusalem, as Israel claims both the occupied eastern part and the western part.
Ben-Gvir’s move, however, signals increasing restrictions on Palestinian expressions of identity, demonstrations and free speech in Israel.
UK-based rights group Amnesty International described the ban as Israel’s “latest attempt to silence Palestinians”.
“The farcical pretexts for this directive cannot mask the fact that Israeli authorities are growing increasingly ruthless in their attempts to crush all opposition to the apartheid system,” the group said in a statement.
Pledging to annex the occupied West Bank
In one of the many agreements signed before the government took office, Netanyahu promised the Religious Zionism party, one of his main coalition partners, to annex the occupied West Bank.
The agreement said the Jewish people “have a natural right over the Land of Israel”.
On December 28, the then-incoming Israeli government announced that its top priority was to “advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel” including the Galilee, the Naqab Desert (Negev), the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and the occupied West Bank, in a cloaked admission that it had no intention of allowing the creation of a Palestinian state.
Israeli authorities have already begun imposing stricter restrictions on Palestinian construction and have pushed ahead with home demolitions in Area C, the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli military and civil control.
Formally annexing the occupied West Bank would arguably put the final nail in the coffin for the international community-supported “two-state solution”.
Restricting the Palestinian Authority
Israeli officials have taken a series of punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs limited pockets of the occupied West Bank, in response to efforts to push for a criminal case against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) among other reasons.
Earlier in January, Israel revoked permits allowing entry into Israel for three officials high in Mahmoud Abbas’ PA government, including deputy chairman of the Fatah ruling party Mahmoud al-Alul, as well as Azzam al-Ahmad and Rawhi Fattouh, for visiting a recently released Palestinian prisoner in his hometown inside Israel.
Israel also suspended the entry into Israel permit of Palestinian foreign minister Riad Maliki.
On January 8, far-right Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich cut some $40m from the PA’s tax revenues, which make up a large part of the PA’s budget, over payments to families of Palestinians who have carried out attacks against Israelis.
‘I prefer Jewish murderers over Arab murderers’
Comments made by one member of Netanyahu’s parliamentary majority have been held up as evidence of the double standards being imposed on Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Hanoch Milwidsky, a politician from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said “crude tools” must be used against Palestinians who carry out attacks in which Israelis are killed, including the death penalty, stripping Palestinians in Israel of their Israeli citizenship and deporting them, and retaliating against the families of suspects.
The statement prompted a heated exchange with Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, who said Milwidsky’s proposal unfairly targeted Palestinians.
Tibi asked Milwidsky whether Israel would revoke the citizenship of Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, or Ami Popper, who killed seven Palestinians in 1990.
“I do not feel any need to justify myself for the fact that I, in the Jewish state, prefer Jews. Yes, Ahmad Tibi, I prefer Jewish murderers over Arab murderers,” Milwidsky said.
Members of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance, the third largest bloc in government, supported Milwidsky.
Limor Son Har-Melech, of the Jewish Power party, told Israeli media: “A Jew who kills an Arab needs to sit in prison until the end of his life. An Arab who kills a Jew needs to die”.