Far-right anti-Palestinian party joins proposed Netanyahu coalition in Israel

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset (Gil Cohen-Magen - AFP)

Ben Lynfield

The Guardian  /  December 22, 2022

Agreements with parties to support Likud in power could regularize illegal settlements in occupied territories.

Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed that an extremist anti-Palestinian party will join his new coalition as he prepares to return as prime minister for what would be the most rightwing government in Israel’s history.

The agreement, which further heightens the powers of Itamar Ben-Gvir, the firebrand head of the Jewish Power party and incoming national security minister, came hours after Netanyahu informed the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, that he had succeeded in forming a government. It is due to be sworn in by 2 January.

Before that, his Likud party signed an agreement with the ultranationalist Religious Zionist party, headed by Bezalel Smotrich, a messianic settler given wide powers over the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, including home demolitions and water access.

In addition to steps to promote Orthodox and nationalist interpretations of Judaism inside Israel, that agreement, according to party members, aims at regularizing illegal settler outposts and transferring jurisdiction over settlers from military administrators to civilian ministries. This would legally place settlers and Palestinians under entirely different systems and strengthen charges that Israel is running an apartheid regime.

Smotrich, like Ben-Gvir and Likud politicians, supports an overhaul of the judiciary that would curb the supreme court and other checks and balances. Such changes might pave the way for the cancellation of corruption proceedings against Netanyahu that could land him in prison, so he has an incentive to placate his partners.

But Netanyahu is not only motivated by avoiding jail, in the view of Alon Liel, a former director general of the Israeli foreign ministry and a founder of the fledgling All Its Citizens party, which promotes Jewish-Palestinian cooperation. “Of course he is trying to avoid going to jail, but he also wants to advance his political agenda,” Liel said. He added that this includes destroying any remaining possibilities for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and making Israel immune to any external threat.

Ben-Gvir, who was convicted of supporting terrorism and inciting racism and is a disciple of the late, virulently anti-Palestinian rabbi Meir Kahane, campaigned on pledges to expel “disloyal” citizens, “restore order and governance” focusing on Palestinian areas, and loosen restraints on open-fire regulations for security forces. In their current form, army shooting practices already cause many unnecessary Palestinian deaths, according to rights groups.

Ben-Gvir, backed by the Likud speaker of the Knesset, Yariv Levin, recently introduced a bill that provides for blanket immunity of soldiers for causing deaths or injuries “in the framework of fulfilling their tasks in operational activity”.

He said the framework agreement with Likud marks a fulfilment of campaign pledges. “Just as we promised the public, we have done everything to form a government that is fully right wing, that will restore order and pride to the nation of Israel, and back up soldiers and police in their important missions.”

The agreement between Likud and Jewish Power also calls for the elimination of a ban on running for parliament for those guilty of “inciting racism”, which would pave the way for extremist associates of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich to be freer in their use of hate speech and allow the parties to expand their pool of candidates.

Thus far the opposition has been unable to keep up with the frantic pace with which Netanyahu and his allies are reshaping Israel’s governmental architecture. “Ben-Gvir and Smotrich were able to form the most extremist government in the history of the state,” lamented the outgoing prime minister, Yair Lapid, a centrist due to take over as opposition leader.

The outgoing finance minister, Avigdor Lieberman, termed the coalition a “government of darkness” that could lead Israel to being a state of halacha, or strict Jewish law.

Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem