NETANYAHU’S LONG GAME

The Palestinians of illegally occupied Gaza are, once again,  being subjected to brutal crackdown by the Israeli government. As Palestinian people resist the occupation and violation of their basic human rights, Israel proceeds to beat, choke, detain, and kill them in the tens, hundreds, or thousands until they finally submit to the boot of the Israeli military or die in the attempt to avoid it.

On Monday, far-right, ultra-nationalist Israelis descended upon the city of Jerusalem to celebrate “Jerusalem Day,” a national holiday in Israel which marks its illegal annexation of the city of East Jerusalem during the 1967 war – a war during which Israel went on to occupy not only East Jerusalem, but also the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights, and Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

The march’s purpose is clearly first and foremost to provoke the Palestinians and establish Jewish-Israeli dominance over them; moreover, given the fact that they are escorted by the Israeli military and police, these far-right Israelis not only feel protected to do whatever they want, but empowered too.

Sure enough as many expected, groups of Israelis began gamging up on Palestinians in the city and destroying Palestinian property. Simultaneously, Israeli settlers attempted to storm the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Video footage of a settler deliberately ramming his car into Palestinian civilians in front of Israeli police officers emerged on social media, showing an Israeli police officer rushing to protect the same Israeli settler who attempted to murder innocent civilians.

As provocations by Israeli settlers and right-wing groups escalated, Palestinians in East Jerusalem marched in the streets as a show of resistance to the aggression. The response was a ferocious barrage of rubber bullets, tear gas, flash grenades, and overwhelming brute force inflicted by Israeli forces who proceeded to invade and wreck the Al-Aqsa Mosque with impunity.

Despite dozens of Palestinians being detained and hundreds of others being injured, the Palestinian people’s will did not break. In fact, Palestinians from across the region rose up. Palestinian citizens of Israel marched in the thousands across dozens of cities in Israel in solidarity with East Jerusalem. They were joined by Palestinians rising up in the West Bank and Gaza who also took to the streets. Needless to say, each march, protest, and act of resistance was met with the same form of merciless suppressive force.

This massive escalation of violence comes at a very convenient time for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and follows a very recognisable pattern of events and developments, which have helped the Israeli leader keep his grip on power, more than once

Then, as tensions showed no signs of easing, rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel by Hamas. Israel, as is the drill, responded with an incomprehensible blitz of airstrikes, slaughtering over 20 Palestinians civilians, of whom 9 were children. All in all, by the end of the day, nearly two-dozen Palestinians were killed and over 520 Palestinians were injured, with over 300 being hospitalised.

In a thought provoking analysis Naim Mousa, writing for Mondoweiss,  points out how many people might  assume that this recent violence  is just the latest in a series of  flare up of tensions in an unstable and violent region of the world. However, Mousa observes,  this massive escalation of violence has come at a very convenient time for the incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It follows a very recognisable pattern of events and developments which have helped the Israeli leader keep his grip on power.

It is Netanyahu’s go-to move for staying in power: plunge the region into war – or at the very least severe instability – to cause terror among the Israeli public and show that he is the only one who can save them during this “state of emergency.” However, what makes the situation this time especially noteworthy is the potentially irreversible effects it will have on Israel.

In the lead up to the 2021 elections, Netanyahu (left), fully embraced far-right supremacists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who head the far-right, ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist party. Ben-Gvir, a disciple of the Jewish extremist Meir Kahane and leader of the Kahanist movement which is outlawed as a terrorist group in Israel, has called for the expulsion of all the Israeli state’s Palestinian citizens and has a photograph of Baruch Goldstein the  Jewish religious extremist who massacred 29 and injured 125 Palestinian worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, hanging in his home.  Meanwhile, Smotrich has endorsed the separation of Palestinians and Jews and has called on the government to address the “problem” of the “rate of increase” of the Palestinian Bedouin population in Israel.

When the elections came, Ben-Gvir’s and Smotrich’s Religious Zionist party gained an impressive 6 seats in the parliament, giving them immense increased political power, given the divided nature of Israeli politics currently. However, even with Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s huge win in the elections, Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition and the mandate for the formation of government was handed to Netanyahu’s rival and opposition leader Yair Lapid.

This is critical for Netanyahu as his removal from power strips him of the legal immunity which has so far protected him from prosecution following his indictment in four different corruption and breach of trust cases. The primary reason that Israel has had four elections in only two years rests upon Netanyahu’s desperate attempts to hold on to power as Prime Minister and thus avoid prosecution. In fact, Netanyahu’s Likud Party attempted to rush to advance a legislative agenda, which would call for direct Prime Ministerial elections, an election Netanyahu would almost certainly win. It’s worth noting that this is precisely how Netanyahu rose to power the first time in the mid-1990s, when he called for – and won – the first ever direct Prime Ministerial election in Israel’s history. It seems he is now attempting to replicate his success from two-decades ago.

However, the deadline passed before Netanyahu and his Likud party could push through their legislative agenda which also included addressing the status of illegal Israeli settler outposts in the occupied West Bank. With his legislative agenda failing to materialize, Netanyahu turned to his oldest trick in the book: incite and provoke the Palestinians.

Following the rockets that were shot by Hamas, Israeli announced that it would be launching Operation Guardian of the Walls against the Gaza Strip. While it is unclear how long the operation will last for, it will almost certainly kill hundreds of innocent Gazan civilians and injure thousands in the coming days. However, what is clear is that Netanyahu will attempt to leverage the Israeli public’s fear in order to assert himself as the leader the country needs in this time of “crisis” and that he is the only candidate strong enough to face such a “threat.” Moreover, Netanyahu’s rival Lapid will have no choice but to use the same rhetoric so as not to appear weak; and as we’ve seen from Netanyahu’s challenger in the previous elections Benny Gantz, who began to echo Netanyahu’s fiery rhetoric and incitement against Palestinians, Jewish-Israelis will not view Lapid as much different from Netanyahu – which is what Lapid’s challenge to Netanyahu is almost entirely rested upon – and hence stick with the incumbent Prime Minister. As a result, Lapid and other anti-Netanyahu parties will likely bow to public pressure which may result in them joining Netanyahu in a unity government in the name of national security. If this happens, Netanyahu will likely hold to power and attempt to push a legislative agenda that will protect him from prosecution even after he retires from politics.

This edited article by Naim Mousa was originally published by Mondoweiss