Israel’s Cabinet lurches even further rightward

Israel’s Cabinet lurches even further rightward

A week is a long time in Israeli politics. First, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s truce with the Palestinian faction Hamas in Gaza. Then Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett unsuccessfully demanded the post of defense minister, which Netanyahu insisted on taking for himself. 

To discourage Bennett and others from jumping ship, Netanyahu has pledged to shift his Cabinet even further rightward, knowing that new elections would imperil the continued existence of the most rightwing governing coalition in Israel’s history.

This renewed lurch to the right is bad news for the region. There are indications that Netanyahu is envisaging a bloody series of incursions into Palestinian territories. There has been a flurry of evictions of Palestinians and demolitions of East Jerusalem homes, with renewed momentum for legalization of West Bank land seizures. 

Recent days have seen an acceleration of anti-Palestinian measures by Israel’s Supreme Court, including rejecting an appeal against eviction by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and rejection of a petition against measures by a settler organization to evict some 700 Palestinians from their homes. 

A commentary in Israeli newspaper Haaretz called these measures a “rubber stamp for injustice,” saying such measures represent the conclusion of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s “conservative and reactionary” revolution of Israel’s legal system.  

Also last week, bulldozers destroyed a street of shops in Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, depriving dozens of families of their livelihoods. Shuafat was established before Israel’s 1967 occupation, yet in 50 years not a single building permit has been issued for the camp, leaving the area vulnerable to frequent Israeli demolitions. This new demolition is understood to be the largest since the camp’s establishment.

Furthermore, Netanyahu has his eyes on Syria’s occupied Golan Heights, lobbying US President Donald Trump to recognize Israel’s annexation of the region. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, recently changed America’s traditional position of abstaining in an annual UN vote on the Golan’s status. Haley implied that atrocities by the Syrian regime justified handing the territory to Israel in perpetuity.

The Arab world must play the central role in seeking peace, but only by standing firm on Palestinian rights. 

Baria Alamuddin

Netanyahu coaxed Trump into eliminating funding for 5.5 million registered Palestinian refugees supported by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon and elsewhere endure a miserable existence in cramped, unsanitary conditions, prevented from working or integrating. In Syria, huge numbers of Palestinians have been caught up in the horrors of the war. 

In 1948, it made political sense for Palestinians in these states to remain apart, in readiness for a return to their homeland. But it is a scandal to find them frozen in the same miserable limbo 70 years later — a nation whose entire lives have been put uselessly on hold. 

Netanyahu and his US allies now seek to abolish their right to return to their homeland by denying that these refugees even exist. The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is at the forefront of this denial campaign, describing Palestine’s diaspora as “refugees who never spent a day of their lives in Israel.”

This steady grind of eviction and dispossession looks set to continue. This is how Netanyahu has consistently behaved while in office, and when Israeli elections eventually do take place next November, he is poised to cling to power for a fifth term. A fresh democratic mandate would afford him a thin claim to immunity from prosecution, given the perfect storm of corruption cases encircling him. 

This includes large kickbacks allegedly received by close aides in a $2 billion submarine deal. Netanyahu’s minister responsible for law enforcement, Aryeh Deri, has been indicted on fraud and money-laundering charges. Astonishingly, Deri’s previous term as interior minister ended with him receiving a three-year jail sentence in 2000 for similar offenses, yet Netanyahu allows this incorrigible and unrepentant criminal to remain in his post.

I have always vocally supported peace efforts, yet in today’s climate there is no peace to be had. If senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner’s peace plan sees the light of day, America will pile pressure on the Arab world to compel the Palestinians to accept whatever scraps are scornfully tossed in their direction. Yet whatever financial sweeteners and outright bribes are offered (with Arab Gulf states expected to pay the bill), this is a vision for “peace” through dispossession. 

We know that Kushner’s plan will hand East Jerusalem and perhaps the Golan to Israel, abolish the right of return and legitimize sprawling settlement blocs that dice the West Bank into ribbons. The plan will feature glossy language about offering the Palestinians a lasting peace, yet this is akin to the “eternal peace” offered to a terminally ill patient when the doctor finally turns off the life-support machine.

Real peace is only attained when nations receive justice and recognition of their rights. Real peace is not just something signed off by leaders; it must find sympathy with the peoples themselves: Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot fault Oman’s motivations in seeking dialogue, yet such unilateral initiatives legitimize Netanyahu’s efforts to murder the Palestinian cause. 

Moderate US Jews fear that the current trajectory is disastrously shortsighted, exacerbating regional tensions for cheap political gain. They are also appalled by the surge in anti-Semitism fueled by Trump’s xenophobic policies, exemplified by the Pennsylvania synagogue mass shooting by a far-right extremist. After unsustainably handing Netanyahu everything he demands, they fear a post-Trump backlash. 

The Arab world must play the central role in seeking peace, but only by standing firm on Palestinian rights. Whether on East Jerusalem, the Golan, refugees or land thefts, Netanyahu and Trump must understand that by tossing such tasty morsels of raw meat to insatiable extreme-right allies, this dismemberment of the Palestinian nation can never be wrapped up and sold to the Arab world as a recipe for peace.

  • Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
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