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The Rise Of The Israeli Right: A Detriment To The Palestinian Cause And The Outlook For The Future

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Deep Dive Article

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The return of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister swept away the compromise, tolerance, diversity, and pragmatism of the coalition led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu, a controversial figure in Israel and beyond, dubbed by many a “populist,” is the longest-tenured Prime Minister in the state of Israel’s short history. After the election in November 2022, Netanyahu entered into a rather shaky coalition with far-right, Anti-Arab, ultranationalist ideologues, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. The former is now the Minister of National Security and the latter, Finance Minister. Ben-Gvir has a portrait in his house of Israeli-American terrorist, Baruch Goldstein, responsible for the massacre of 29 Palestinians in 1994. Smotrich is a long-standing denier of the existence of Palestinian people and an advocate of the separation of Arab and Jewish mothers in maternity care. It is not a good look.

In a short period, the present Israeli government dubbed the most far-right in Israel’s history, has ignited passionate opposition and one of the largest protests in the nation’s history over judicial reforms. If implemented, these reforms would reportedly undermine the separation of powers and move Israel closer to an autocracy. Under pressure from Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu has also pursued the creation of a National Guard and amendments to the law governing the independence of the Israeli Police. These actions have prompted significant concern regarding the government’s intention surrounding the centralisation of law enforcement powers in the hands of the government, a move seen as the government’s way to further consolidate its grip on power.

Controversial comments were made by Smotrich during a visit to Paris, where he depicted his vision of the Greater Land of Israel, which encompassed the whole of Mandatory Palestine and the Emirate of Transjordan. This statement drew severe condemnation from the Jordanian government, prompting the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify that “Israel is committed to the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan (and)…. recognizes the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” In terms of the government’s stance towards the Palestinians, Netanyahu, previously a supporter of the two-state solution, immediately put this to bed. His government’s agenda declared that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel,” as well as committing to more settlements in the West Bank, to the pleasure of influential right-wing figures within the establishment.

Despite being in power for only six months, Netanyahu’s fragile coalition has faced an overwhelming amount of criticism from across the political spectrum over their controversial policy positions. These critiques highlight the government's contentious approach and raise concerns about its impact on Israeli society and the prospects for peace in the region.

The prevalence of right-wing movements in today's world is a widespread phenomenon that is not unique to Israel. The controversial discourse surrounding immigration in the United Kingdom, championed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, indicates a shift to further right-wing views among influential members of the ruling Conservative Party. Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, a staunch defender of the conservative values of God, family and country, has been associated with far-right leanings. Marine Le Pen's leadership of France's largest opposition party has attracted accusations of far-right, nationalist tendencies. India's government, led by Narendra Modi, has faced growing controversy due to its Hindu supremacist ideology (Hindutva) and anti-Muslim rhetoric. In Sweden since December 2022, the Sweden Democrats, the biggest party in the world with Nazi roots, which maintains a nativist agenda, became the dominant faction in Sweden’s right-wing governing bloc, espousing significant influence over policy. Furthermore, in Germany, the Alternative Für Deutschland, an anti-Islam, anti-immigration party, continues to garner substantial support across a wide electoral base.

The critical enquiry then centres around how Israel, a champion of progressive attitudes towards LGBT rights and a place where diversity and freedom are cherished, has become a breeding ground of far-right phenomena. The emergence of this phenomenon is not entirely unprecedented, as hard-line, right-wing ideologies have long been present in Israel.

Enter Menachem Begin, the Likud party leader in the 1970s, who advocated for the expansion of Israel's territory into the West Bank, supporting the concept of a Greater Israel. Later in the 1990s, when the Oslo Accords were introduced as a significant peace initiative, providing a framework for Palestinian statehood, were met with widespread protests. Many individuals within the right-wing movement went as far as comparing the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Hitler and accusing him of betraying the nation and the Jewish people. Ultimately, far-right extremist, Yigal Amir, disgusted at the Oslo Accords, which promised the return of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians assassinated Rabin.

The end of the twentieth century into the twenty-first century marked a turning point as the settlement construction escalated, and the Likud party remained in power for an extended period, which further fuelled the rise of right-wing sentiments. The views expressed by figures like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who hold far-right positions, are not uncommon among the Israeli populace. The increasing popularity of these ideologies underscores a shift within the nation's political landscape, raising questions about the factors contributing to the growing support for far-right ideologies in a country that has championed liberal attitudes, embraced diversity, and valued freedom, in the modern era.

The consequences of far-right figures implementing their promises, passing laws, and engaging in anti-Palestinian rhetoric will most likely be borne by the Palestinian people. Currently living under an enduring and seemingly never-ending military occupation, they face numerous security restrictions and limited freedom of movement. On top of this, Palestinians are constantly witnessing the gradual disappearance of their ancestral homeland due to the expansion of settlements. During Netanyahu's short time in power, Palestinians have witnessed attacks on their sacred sites, such as Al-Aqsa, settlers in the West Bank targeting the town of Huwara, and a resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, as well as Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The road to progress seems distant, a resolution even further, and the possibility of another conflict between Hamas-governed Gaza and Israel remains high. Meanwhile, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) at the helm is facing growing scrutiny, with allegations of corruption and questions about their legitimacy in office. These concerns are epitomised by the fact that 77% of Palestinians are calling for the resignation of the PLO Chairman, Abbas.

One pressing question we must raise pertains to the future trajectory of the situation at hand. The Rabin era, marked by compromise, consensus, and negotiation appears to have dissipated. Rabin in the 1990s ventured into exceptionally audacious endeavours for peaceful co-existence and harmony, surpassing the efforts of any previous Israeli leader. With Netanyahu’s resumption as Prime Minister, propped up by divisive and ultranationalist figures, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, the pursuit of peace and progress with the Palestinians does not look likely from an Israeli perspective. On the other side of the border, Hamas remains steadfast in its non-recognition of Israel’s existence, committed to armed resistance and the persistent aspiration of reclaiming the land “from the river to the sea.” On a human level, the divisive discourse and demonisation of the other employed by both sides will inevitably impede progress. While presenting proposals is commendable, an examination of the ingrained hatred that has been systematically instilled and presently persists among Palestinians and Israelis, reveals an inescapable outcome: the conflict will endure indefinitely.


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