Benjamin Netanyahu Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: World Economic Forum / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Israel’s new government is actively seeking confrontation, and discarding the fictions of a peace process, argues John Clarke

In assessing the significance of the new Netanyahu government for Counterfire, Alex Snowdon was quite correct to challenge the view that it represents any fundamental change of course for Israel. As he suggested, this regime can best be seen as one that will intensify reactionary political factors that are already well established.

However, as Snowdon also pointed out: ‘The election’s outcome and the composition of the new government reflect a real shift rightwards.’ Netanyahu has brokered the ‘most right-wing government ever, with a cabinet that includes politicians politely referred to as ‘ultra-nationalist’.

Among these, the ‘most prominent is new national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has convictions for inciting anti-Palestinian racism and supporting terrorism.’ Ilan Pappe has suggested that the various far-right participants in the new government ‘arrived with pre-prepared legislation initiatives and policies: all of them, without any exception, are meant to allow an extreme right-wing government to dispense of whatever has remained of the charade called the Israeli democracy.’

The courts in Israel, despite pretensions of being impartial agents of the ‘rule of law’, are hardly defenders of the rights of Palestinians. However, it is striking that the Netanyahu government has placed a premium on limiting the threat of judicial interference, while it escalates the brutality with which it deals with the occupied population.

Justice minister, Yariv Levin, has announced plans that would allow a parliamentary vote to overturn decisions by Israel’s supreme court. Noa Sattath, director-general of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, described this move as ‘devastating’. She suggested that ‘by removing judicial oversight the plan could lead to curtailment of freedom to protest, harm the political representation of Israel’s Arab minority, heighten discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, lead to indefinite detention of asylum seekers and facilitate the permanent annexation of the occupied West Bank.’


Clearly, as this government moves forward with its attacks, an upsurge of Palestinian resistance is to be expected. It takes little imagination to appreciate that the far-right zealots that Netanyahu has assembled, far from drawing back from confrontation, will actively welcome it. In this regard, Ben-Gvir, in his post as national security minister, is ideally suited to the role of provocateur.

Though there were indications that even Netanyahu had reservations about the move, Ben-Gvir made a high-profile visit on 3 January to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. He was, of course, fully aware of the implications of his decision.

Though Israel has security control over the site, a Muslim waqf (religious endowment) has administered it since 1967. By longstanding agreement, only Muslim prayer is supposed to be allowed at the site, but right-wing Zionists have increasingly sought to challenge and overturn this understanding, always enjoying the protection of occupation forces as they do so. Ben-Gvir has chosen to play to that gallery and give comfort to those who seek to ‘demolish the Islamic structures in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and build a Jewish temple in their place.’

Ben-Gvir was at pains to ensure that his visit would promote a message of triumphalism. Though he threw in a perfunctory suggestion that the site should be open to all, he declared that: ‘The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel. Jews will ascend to the Temple Mount.’ Such language set the stamp on what the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry described as an ‘unprecedented provocation’.

In his efforts to rally the Israeli right and seek out confrontation with the Palestinians, the new national security minister is ready to test the limits of his own legal authority. Insisting that the flying of the Palestinian flag constitutes an ‘identification with terrorism’, he has ordered police to remove the flag if it is displayed in public. He issued a statement on 8 January declaring that: ‘It cannot be that lawbreakers will wave terrorist flags, incite and encourage terrorism.’

It has been pointed out that Ben-Gvir’s order would not stand up to a legal challenge and one Israeli lawyer argued that: ‘Someone has to go to court to get a statement that it’s an illegal order.’ However, it is likely that the minister isn’t particularly perturbed by such a prospect. The order was issued after Karim Younis raised the flag on the occasion of his being released after forty years in prison. The minister clearly wished to drive home the message that the security forces he directs will not tolerate such displays of defiance.

The issuing of the order also speaks to the ways in which the new government is only intensifying forms of oppression that were already established when it took office. ‘Israel’s police already have the power to take flags away in certain circumstances’, and the courts have granted them this power, if there is ‘a high probability that the raising of the flag will lead to a serious violation of public safety’.

In practice, of course, this means that the confiscation of flags occurs whenever police or occupation authorities wish to harass or intimidate gatherings of Palestinians. ‘They know it’s not legal to do this type of stuff – but the point is to create enough repressive measures so people stay silent.’ Obviously, Ben-Gvir’s order is a green light to Israeli security forces to throw caution to the winds and prevent Palestinians from displaying their flag regardless of any formal judicial ruling that acknowledges their rights.

The minister’s order is significant for another reason. Up until 1993, Israel did enforce a blanket ban on the displaying of the Palestinian flag and it was openly proclaimed to be a symbol of terrorism. With the signing of the Oslo Accords, however, the optics of the ‘peace process’ required a somewhat more conciliatory approach. Ben-Givr and the government of which he is part have no interest in preserving such pretensions. To them, the public display of a symbol of Palestinian nationhood is an intolerable act that must be crushed.

Uncertain future

The Netanyahu government expresses the rightward political trajectory that the Zionist state is on. The polite fictions of liberal democracy and the pursuit of peace are tiresome encumbrances for the people that sit around its cabinet table. Confrontation with the Palestinians isn’t for them a danger to be avoided or even a reluctant necessity. It is something they welcome, and the provocative conduct of Ben-Gvir is the clearest possible indication of this.

Though it is a uniformly right-wing formation, this government is hardly a cohesive operation. It is impossible to tell what tensions may break out within it or for how long it will hold onto power. Israel’s US-led imperialist sponsors are dismayed to have their ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ in the hands of crude fanatics and overt racists. Yet they will be loath to take any serious measures to restrain the new government, given the immense value they place on Israel as a ‘strategic asset’.

In the months ahead, as the horrifying agenda of Netanyahu’s coalition takes full effect, we may expect an intensified Palestinian struggle to take form. There will also be an international wave of revulsion and anger, as the sheer ugliness of this regime becomes fully apparent, and this can enormously strengthen movements of solidarity. For all its brutality and intransigence, the new Israeli government will find, like all its predecessors over many decades, that Palestinian resistance will outlive it.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

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