Political Crisis in Israel and Netanyahu’s Strategies
Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer
The recent crises in Israel manifest clear tensions on Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to maintain political balance and the deepening divisions within his government. Judicial reforms, although heavily favored by the extreme right wing, faced significant resistance from the security establishment, resulting in setbacks and attempts to halt legislation by members of the Likud Party. This led to resignations and efforts to marginalize those from the extreme right wing. This public rupture undermines the tensions generated by the lavish rewards given to the extreme right-wing arm. These rewards have significantly fragmented military command in Israel: the Coordination of Governmental Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and control of naval administration on the western coast, including oversight of illegal constructions, settlement planning, and construction, have been assigned to the Ministry of Defense and Treasury Minister BezalelSmotrich, while the control of the police and border patrols on the western coast, traditionally under the supervision of the military, is entrusted to Between Guard. The establishment of a privatized militia further exacerbates these tensions for Between-Guard. Benjamin Netanyahu has so far been successful in maintaining party discipline, but cracks are becoming evident within the party alliance. The latest threats of withdrawal from the alliance have prompted calls for his replacement by Likud Party officials, signaling increasing paralysis among the extreme right-wing and ruling factions.
In the month of April presented exclusive challenges for the Israeli Prime Minister, as it coincides with the potential for clashes between Israelis and Palestinians due to the simultaneous occurrence of Passover and Ramadan. Israel’s security establishment expressed concern over the intentions of Hezbollah, Iran, and Hamas to act against Israel, possibly simultaneously. Additionally, right-wing demonstrations against Netanyahu took place during National Memorial Day and Independence Day, accompanied by increasing criticism of his policies and conduct in Washington.
Amidst these circumstances, a conflict emerged between Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog this month. During the parliamentary recess, Netanyahu made efforts to ease tensions, reduce security concerns, and improve relations with the United States. He publicly declared Israel’s non-involvement to diminish the strength of the protest movement, emphasizing his command and responsible leadership during the crisis moment. In response to public backlash against the ruling coalition’s aggressive legislative agenda, he announced the termination of judicial reforms. Netanyahu acknowledged that the original form of judicial reforms, including the contentious issue of curtailing the powers of the Supreme Court and nullifying its decisions, would not be accepted. He also initiated discussions on revisiting the laws that exempt the ultra-Orthodox community from military service and additional benefits, recognizing their increased power during the initial months of his government.
To address American and domestic criticism, Netanyahu began highlighting the ongoing negotiations under President Isaac Herzog’s supervision and issued messages of compromise and agreement. Interviews with American media portrayed a somewhat optimistic image of the country’s situation. Defense Minister Yves Gallant retracted his initial announcement to remove Netanyahu from office and indicated that Gilen, a member of the far-right Likud party, would not be appointed Consul General in New York. Netanyahu also took the step of removing his son Yair from social media platforms after he repeatedly posted inflammatory messages online. Furthermore, several government ministers, especially those who had not served in the military, abandoned their plans to deliver speeches at National Memorial Day ceremonies due to demands from bereaved families who recognized the politically charged nature of these events.
In order to prevent escalations between Israelis and Palestinians during Ramadan, the Israeli government involved the Palestinian Authority in regional security conferences led by the United States, before shifting the focus towards Gaza in May. During the final days of Ramadan, the Israeli police were ordered to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque once again, and entry for non-Muslims into the compound was prohibited. Israel responded with restraint to the initial rocket fire from Gaza to prevent further escalation of violence. The government pledged to request a delay in the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in the West Bank, due to humanitarian concerns. However, throughout the month of April, Netanyahu’s administration did not reflect a change in its actions and policies; instead, it pursued similar objectives through a different approach. This approach, characterized by a gradual process of judicial reexamination, carries the potential to significantly undermine Israeli democracy. Similar warnings have been issued by Poland’s allies, who have experienced a gradual erosion of democratic institutions.
All of these developments align with Netanyahu’s previous modus operandi in the Palestinian context. After making a dramatic declaration to annex Palestinian territories and facing pressure from domestic and international sources, Netanyahu decided to abandon his initial plan in 2020. However, instead of fully retracting it, he cleverly shifted towards a de facto annexation process that ultimately serves the same purpose.
In the month of May, with the resumption of the Knesset after the recess, Netanyahu pursued a different agenda, which included securing approval of the budget, as required by law by the end of the month, and initiating attacks against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. While discussions regarding judicial reform continued at President Isaac Herzog’s residence, no substantial progress was being made, and Netanyahu diverted public attention away from it and towards his comfort zone.
However, during the current session of the Knesset, which will continue until the end of July, there is a possibility of resuming the process of enacting anti-democratic legislation at varying speeds, and rhetoric against pro-democracy protests is once again emerging from the parliament. The pro-democracy movement, which represents the podium of democracy, shows no signs of retreating. In April, it successfully maintained its momentum, kept people on the streets, and demonstrated its impact. In the first week of May, the movement declared a national day of disturbance and protest to advocate for equality within Israel. Even during the war with Gaza, the protest movement managed to sustain its activities, taking necessary security precautions. After several weeks of relative domestic silence, two rival camps in Israel are once again prepared to intensify their struggle for the country’s identity and fundamental values.
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