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Who really sets the Israeli government's agenda?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the cabinet meeting [GPO - Anadolu Agency]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the cabinet meeting [GPO - Anadolu Agency]

At least 30 Palestinians, including three children, have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank this month alone. A number of the killings were recorded on video, and at least one was killed for no reason at all, other being a Palestinian. Unusually, the Israeli army acknowledged that its soldiers killed father of five Ahmad Hassan Kahlah, 45, at a military checkpoint even though he did not pose a threat. His son Qussay was with him in their car on the way to work at a construction site; he witnessed his father being beaten brutally by Israeli soldiers before two bullets were fired into his neck at close range.

Twenty-five years ago, Khairy Alkam was returning home when he was stabbed to death by an Israeli settler in a Jerusalem street. Last night, his 21-year-old grandson, also Khairy Alkam, killed seven Israel settlers in occupied Jerusalem only one day after Israeli occupation forces killed ten Palestinians in Jenin. Was this just a coincidence? Israelis should know better.

Today, they have more reasons to demonstrate against Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government, not least because it can't fulfil its promise to bring more security to Israel. On the contrary, the more violence that it uses against the Palestinians results in more violent responses, with more killings on both sides. The so-called peace process, meanwhile, is dead and buried, and is not going to be resurrected on Netanyahu's latest watch. His agenda is to take everything and give nothing.

Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Amman last Tuesday and met with Jordan's King Abdullah II, his first foreign visit since he returned as prime minister. He had planned to go to the UAE on his first trip, but that was cancelled after his far-right National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, made a provocative visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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The Israeli prime minister is said to have pledged to maintain the status quo at the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa. According to the Royal Court, "The King reaffirmed Jordan's steadfast support for the two-state solution, which guarantees the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel in peace and security." He also made clear the need to maintain calm and end all violence in Jerusalem.

Palestinians rise up again to defend Jenin camp from Israeli aggression - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Palestinians rise up again to defend Jenin camp from Israeli aggression – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The Prime Minister's Office in Israel issued a terse four-line statement which seems to suggest something completely different. "The two leaders discussed regional issues, especially strategic, security and economic cooperation between Israel and Jordan, which contributes to regional stability. They also praised the long-standing friendship and partnership between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom."

No mention was made of Al-Aqsa Mosque or the status quo. Nothing was mentioned about the peace process or the Palestinians, let alone a two-state solution. Just praise for the "long-standing friendship and partnership".

While the statement from Amman reflected Jordanian concerns about losing custodianship of the holy places in Jerusalem, and the desire to end the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution, Israel's government seems to care little about such issues. It clearly aims to convince everyone in Israel and abroad that they have nothing to worry when it comes to Israel's relations with Arab countries.

Israeli media, though, came closer to the Jordanian narrative. Kan11 TV reported Jordanian and Israeli concerns about increased violence in the West Bank during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, due to begin in March. The Tel Aviv university think tank, INSS, used its annual strategic report to propose a committee of Israelis, Jordanians and the Palestinian Authority to contain expected clashes in the holy month, which coincides with the Jewish Passover festival, during which Israeli settlers have made a habit in recent years to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The role of the UAE's Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in arranging the meeting between the King Abdullah and Netanyahu was highlighted by the media. The intention was to bridge the gap between the two men prior to the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Middle East. As we have seen with other US officials who have visited Israel recently, Blinken does not seem to be very happy with the current Israeli government and its plans.

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The Europeans have also expressed their displeasure. A delegation of 35 European diplomats visited Al-Aqsa Mosque on 17 January after Israeli occupation police held up the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali, at the entrance of the mosque compound. The diplomats' move is understood as a sign of support for Jordanian custodianship over the holy places in occupied Jerusalem.

The day after Netanyahu's visit to Amman, Ben-Gvir vowed to continue storming into Al-Aqsa Mosque. He told a local news outlet that he did not know what was discussed in the Amman meeting, and he manages his own policy "not that of the Jordanian government."

Before leaving office, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned the Israeli public, "Be on your guard against a dangerous, extreme and irresponsible government with a weak prime minister who lost control of it even before he was sworn in."

So who is really setting the Israeli government agenda: Netanyahu or Ben-Gvir? If Ben-Gvir is capable of diverting Israel's foreign policy and affecting essential foreign support; resetting relations with the Palestinian Authority; challenging the status quo in Al-Aqsa Mosque; and setting Israeli security priorities, then what power is left for Netanyahu to exercise?

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

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