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Has the Sword of Jerusalem uprising slain Netanyahu?

June 7, 2021 at 3:24 pm

An Israeli woman with a mask of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lies down on the ground during a protest in support of a unity government to oust Netanyahu from office on May 31, 2021 in Tel Aviv, Israel [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a viable coalition government and so was forced to call the fourth election in under two years, which was held in March. Another stalemate resulted, not least because the other right-wing parties don’t want him to stay in his position. This is unprecedented and exposes the splits within the structure of the occupying state itself as political disputes are transformed into personal grudges.

Netanyahu dreamed of going down in history as the most prominent of Israeli leaders, perhaps even more so than the founders of the Zionist project such as David Ben Gurion. His strategy is simple and is based on the Zionist vision of Israel across all of Palestine and a large part of the surrounding Arab countries. The annexation of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, is still on his agenda, something that Ben-Gurion could not achieve.

His political opponents have different ideas, though, and have united solely around their mutual distrust of the prime minister. His fight for political survival may be followed by a legal battle to save himself from going to prison on corruption charges.

If he does go, Netanyahu won’t be missed by the Arab world or in Israel, where protests against him have been held over the past year, despite all of his gains for Israel, including changes to the constitution, laws that affirm the Jewish nature of the state and legalise settlements (in the face of international law), and America’s recognition of Jerusalem as its unified capital. The US moved its embassy to Jerusalem during Netanyahu’s premiership and accepted the annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights; both acts remain illegal under international law. He also signed normalisation agreements with some Arab countries, gaining a lot of money for the Israeli treasury which helped to pay off the budget deficit due to the coronavirus pandemic. His popularity fell dramatically due to the indictments for corruption and fraud, which made him the first prime minister to face a criminal trial during his time in office.

READ: Netanyahu is fuelling tension in Jerusalem to thwart new government

Is it only corruption that has brought Netanyahu down, though, or are there other reasons? In my opinion, his failure to come out of the military offensive against the civilians in the Gaza Strip with a clear victory hastened his end, even though he launched the assault with that intention so that he could hinder the formation of a government headed by his rival, Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party. Lapid was tasked by the Israeli president to form a government after Netanyahu’s failure to do so.

The most recent attack on Gaza was meant to divert attention from his personal and political difficulties. However, things do not always go to plan, and he was surprised by the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance, especially its missiles, which reached deep into occupied Palestine. The much-feted Iron Dome missile defence system was no deterrent.

In short, Netanyahu waged an all-out offensive for eleven days and nights without achieving any of his goals or reaching any of the resistance leaders. He was forced to declare an unconditional ceasefire. Seeing Israeli settlers fleeing to air-raid shelters, and the closure of Ben Gurion Airport, clearly increased public anger against him. This was not only a serious blow to him but also a golden opportunity for his political opponents, which they seized.

The likely incoming government will be headed initially by the far-right Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party. He is considered to be the leader of the settlers in Israel, as he supports the construction of settlements and completely rejects any freeze on them. He also calls for military, not political, solutions in Gaza.

Bennett has a clear right-wing political agenda. He was Netanyahu’s protégé before turning against his mentor. While demanding full civil and political rights for all Jewish citizens of Israel, his open racism precludes him from supporting equal rights for Palestinians. He supports the concept of Greater Israel, which goes beyond the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, which makes him a fierce opponent of a Palestinian state. He is more racist and more nationalist than his teacher Netanyahu.

So how can such a hateful racist ally himself with a Palestinian Islamist party, and join hands with its leader, Mansour Abbas, whom he described as a “brave leader”, in a move unprecedented in Israel since its establishment in 1948? This has caused astonishment and outrage among most of their respective electoral bases and supporters of right-wing parties in general, as well as among Palestinians at home and abroad.

Israel is carrying out war crimes against worshippers at Al Aqsa Mosque - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel is carrying out war crimes against worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The negotiation between Bennett and Abbas took a long time, and each tried to get more promises to present to their supporters to justify this strange alliance. From the beginning, though, they agreed on a clear goal: to get rid of “King Bibi” Netanyahu. Having the United Arab List onboard has, apparently, been the decisive factor in the formation of the latest coalition government. “For decades, Arab Israelis [Palestinian citizens] have been without any influence,” said Palestinian Knesset member Walid Taha. “Now, everyone knows that we’re the deciding votes as far as politics goes.”

This is arguably going to be the only “gain” from this alliance for the Palestinians. It is a pyrrhic victory, though. I and many others think it is a mistake to ally with this extreme right-wing coalition, which basically denies the existence of the Palestinian people and harbours hostility and hatred for them.

There was a need for change, which is the slogan of the new government. However, what change do we expect from a racist right-wing government, even if it is adorned with an Arab party that it flaunts before the world with pride in its false democracy? Will Mansour Abbas be able to prevent any new aggression on Gaza; stop the occupation forces from attacking Al-Aqsa Mosque and the worshippers therein; guarantee that the residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood can stay in their homes, and repeal the 2017 law which threatens to demolish tens of thousands of homes in the Arab communities in Israel? Moreover, will Naftali Bennett keep his promises and allocate $16 billion in additional budgets for development and infrastructure in the Arab areas, and ensure that three of the Bedouin villages that Israel has long refused to recognise will be granted legal status? Will Abbas be able to keep his promises to his voters on the ground?

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The list of questions is long, and the path ahead is difficult, but he has opted to go down this route so must, for his own credibility, bring about change in the government. Abbas will know for sure that if Bennett does anything against the Palestinians, inside Israel or in the other occupied territories, he must shoulder some of the blame.

In any case, I don’t think that the “government for change” will survive very long. Mansour Abbas is “the terrorist” in many Israeli minds at the heart of the Israeli government, so how long will the Zionist public and settlers accept him being there? In the meantime, the veteran Likud leader will do all within his power to disrupt the government and bring it down. With such a shaky coalition, that may not be very difficult. The Sword of Jerusalem uprising may not have slain him, and if he escapes a prison sentence we might not have heard the last of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israeli politics.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.