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"Bibi" is Back, and Not for the Better

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

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By Joseph Skinner

Israel’s (not so) new ruling coalition is catastrophic to Israeli interests. Just the next far-right coalition to take power in an advanced democracy, it poses a threat to key institutions and is damaging Israel’s foreign policy. The new ruling government might have a familiar name at the helm, but the pragmatism is gone, replaced with dogmatic rhetoric.

© The Japan Times

Israel’s new but familiar Prime Minister, Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, is disastrous for Israel. Netanyahu returned last month as Prime Minister of Israel, a role he had held for the previous twelve years until 2021. However, this time things have changed.

Netanyahu’s governing coalition is arguably the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. His cabinet positions have been filled with extremists demanding their share of power, and a say in Israel’s direction.

The direction it leads Israel could be disastrous and is already threatening to undermine its democracy and undo its foreign policy gains in recent years.

A Robust Middle Eastern Democracy

Israeli democracy has been holding firm. It is the judicial branch that has had commendable power in limiting the excesses of elected coalitions, and rightly so. It has allowed Israel to hold accountable powerful figures, convicting a former prime minister for corruption and putting a president in jail for sexual assault.

Meanwhile, Israel’s foreign policy has also been improving, especially with its Arab neighbours. Until 2020, Israel only had formal ties with two Muslim countries: Egypt and Jordan.

Other Muslim countries refused to recognise Israel, but with the signing of the Abraham accords in 2020, Israel normalised relations with Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and the UAE.

Israel’s ties to Arab nations and its acceptance of a two-state solution for Palestine are important for the US, and rejecting these jeopardises Israel’s relationship with its most important ally, accounting for 26 per cent of Israeli trade.

These boons to Israeli society and its interests are under threat by Netanyahu and the new coalition with which he has reattained power. While Netanyahu works to undermine Israel’s democracy with his far-right coalition happily supporting him, his coalition could, in turn, threaten to reverse recent foreign policy gains.

Tearing It All Down

Netanyahu once championed the judicial system’s independence, but it now poses him and his coalition members a problem. With its formidable power, the judiciary has been able to nullify the government's legislation due to ‘reasonableness’, an important factor for a country without a formal constitution.

It has reined in the excesses of elected governments and limited legislation that has been purely political, weighing public against political interests. This has been a thorn in the side of Israel’s extremist politicians, restraining Jewish settlements, including outlawing the building of Israeli outposts on private Palestinian land.

Most important, though, government members are under threat, such as senior minister Aryeh Deri who was disqualified from serving in government due to his recent conviction for tax fraud. The other government member under threat? Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing charges of bribery and fraud.

Provocation After Provocation

While Netanyahu is hard at work undermining Israel’s judicial system, members of his far-right coalition are doing the best they can to sabotage Israel’s foreign policy. This all hinges on Israel’s treatment of its Muslim minority. The new ties between Israel and Arab states are threatened if relations between Israel and Palestine are pushed.

And push it they have. New national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s first action in office was to pay a visit to the dome of the rock in Jerusalem, a holy site sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

The action is seen as an attempt to change the status of the site, giving Jewish worshippers more rights there. And predictably, this provoked threats of repercussions from Hamas, and condemnation from the Arab world.

Netanyahu Subjugated

But, when you have this personality paired with a finance minister who believes God’s commandments are the key to economic policy, and a prime minister and justice minister who are working to eviscerate the supreme court’s power, the consequences for Israel are clear.

In past coalitions, Netanyahu refrained from going after the judiciary, and always “ran populist campaigns, but once elected usually governed as a pragmatist.”.

This has now changed. After five election campaigns in four years, the circus show of Israeli politics has forced Netanyahu to enter a coalition without the centrist parties meaning he can no longer resist the demands of the far-right.

The Effects Are Not Felt… Yet

Surprisingly, however, Israel’s hostile policy towards Palestine, which has Netanyahu even promising that he will work towards annexing the West Bank, has received a muted response from its Arab neighbours. This is likely due to the strategic benefits to countries like Saudi Arabia. They see Israel as an important partner in the fight against Iran.

Israel has been lucky, as a major break with Arab states or an overt rejection of the two-state solution could cut off important defence and trade partnerships with the US, often seen as their guardian in the Middle East.

Though there has been a lack of consequences thus far, Netanyahu’s coalition has only had one month to show its character, and what it has shown is dangerous for Israel. Between appeasing far-right religious extremist parties and undermining its democracy, it has provoked its Muslim neighbours, straining key foreign relations. Netanyahu is not only dangerous to Palestine, but he is also dangerous to Israel itself.

Sources: the New York Times, the Economist, the Guardian, Haaretz, Middle East Institute

Written by Joseph Skinner

February 2023

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of MJPE or its Board. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the MJPE concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers.

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