As the most right-wing government in Israel’s history takes shape, it is becoming increasingly clear that some of the most radical figures in Israeli politics today are set to be rewarded with key roles and the enactment of extremist policies that are in direct conflict with US interests and values, and with the founding principles of Israeli democracy.
This week, presumptive incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to appoint convicted terror supporter Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power Party as head of a renamed and expanded “National Security Ministry” which will oversee not only Israel’s internal police, but will take over control of the border police force in the West Bank from Israel’s army. Just last month, Ben-Gvir brandished a gun in an occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood, shouting for police to open fire on Palestinian protestors who live there — now he will be in charge of those police forces. Extremists are being positioned to undermine Israel’s much-cherished pluralism, with Avi Maoz, known for his anti-LGBT activism and denial of the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Judaism, set to be a deputy minister in charge of a new authority responsible for Jewish identity.
Netanyahu is also negotiating with various coalition factions to undertake a set of policy changes that amount to de facto Israeli annexation of the Palestinian territory. The legalization of many settlement outposts, transferring authority for the Civil Administration of the occupied territories to a new far-right settlement movement minister operating within the Ministry of Defense and the aforementioned transfer of border police operating in the West Bank to an internal-facing ministry constitute late-stage steps in the process of actually governing the territories as part of Israel. It would solidify an undemocratic governance system in which West Bank Palestinians, physically separated from Israelis and each other in grossly underserved communities, have virtually no rights, no vote for the overriding authority that controls their lives and face pervasive discriminatory treatment.
In the weeks since the election, Israel’s right wing has been emboldened, with vicious attacks by settlers, including a wave of violence against Palestinians in Hebron that have been widely described in Israel as a “pogrom.” Some of these attacks have been aided and abetted by Israeli military units, with Israeli soldiers in one instance being held on suspicion of throwing an explosive device at a Palestinian family’s home. Demolitions of Palestinian homes and community property are ramping up, as Israel’s military declares further swaths of the occupied West Bank off limits to Palestinians and their supporters protesting such forced displacement.
Make no mistake: we are at the precipice of a crisis in Israel’s relationship with not just the United States, but with democratic norms, international law and Diaspora Jews. With the incoming Israeli government negotiating these commitments with its constituent parts right now, the United States government must not delay in making clear its views on the threats posed by these moves — and take steps to counter them.
First, the Biden Administration should reiterate the long-held, traditionally bipartisan US positions that will be directly challenged by the incoming Israeli government. These include:
The Biden Administration should also take a number of concrete steps to give meaningful weight to these positions, including: