Senin, 17 Mei 2021

How Israel’s Gaza conflict allowed PM Benjamin Netanyahu to stay in power -

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting on three fronts: A stoush with Arab-Israelis, a political brawl that has left his country paralysed – and a court battle over charges of corruption.

But as his forces stomp on Palestine and Hamas, his rule suddenly seems untouchable.

Less than a week ago, Netanyahu’s career was on the rocks.

A diverse collection of competing political parties finally found something to agree upon: the controversial PM’s time was up.

Elections earlier this year again failed to deliver a clear majority. Or even a cluster of related factions big enough to form a loose alliance.

Israel’s government remains paralysed.

Caretaker Prime Minister Netanyahu was refusing to step down.

And opposing politicians were just days away from agreeing on a new coalition.

Then came forced evictions of Israeli Arabs. Then ultra-Orthodox parades through holy sites began shouting “death to Arabs”. Then Israeli police stormed Al Aqsa mosque.

Then Hamas started firing rockets.

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Now, the leader of a right-wing party pivotal to the challenge on Netanyahu’s power – and the man tipped to take the top job – has declared the move to be “off the table”.


Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (New Right) party supports Jewish-Israeli settlements within territories allocated to Palestine under a 1948 UN mandate.

But his unlikely coalition of Netanyahu opponents included an Islamist Arab-Israeli party.

And the sudden surge in civil unrest has made such an alliance untenable.

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Provocative acts

Left-wing critics within Israel are suspicious. They believe the current turmoil is simply too convenient.

Especially given the circumstances which sparked it.

Israeli police provocatively closed a historic gateway leading to the Islamic holy site of Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan celebrations earlier this month. The chief of police is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud political party.

Then came the forced expulsion of Palestinians and Arab-Israelis from their homes in East Jerusalem to allow Jewish-Israelis to move in. Mandated as being under Palestinian control by the UN and annexed by Israel in 1980, this historic sector has long been a hotbed of ethnic unrest.

Then came the provocative marches by the far-right Zionist Party – an ally of Likud. Among its ranks were followers of assassinated extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane (listed as a terrorist in the 1980s) who chanted “Death to Arabs” and assaulted all those they encountered – including Arab Israeli citizens.

Police responded to rock-throwing counter-protests with stun grenades and a raid on the Al Aqsa mosque itself.

Now, after a week of retaliatory rocket attacks and counter-strikes by Israeli artillery and aircraft, 197 Palestinians and 10 Israelis are dead.

“Given the current emergency situation in the mixed cities in Israel, the change of government … would not be able to deal with the situation,” Bennett reportedly told colleagues.

Political Immunity

Netanyahu has cause to cling on to power as long as possible.

He’s facing multiple corruption charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Convictions could lead to 10-year jail terms.

He denies all charges.

But witnesses are currently testifying before the courts.

Allegations include regular supplies of exotic cigars and rare champagne being gifted by lobbying businessmen Arnon Milchan and James Packer. Netanyahu says these gifts, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, were simply tokens of friendship.

Another case centres on Netanyahu’s dealings with a local media mogul, Arnon Mozes, allegedly exchanging beneficial regulatory support for favourable news coverage.

The third case also centres on media dealings, this time the telecommunications company Bezeq and the Walla news service. Controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch is accused of “exerting substantial and continuing pressure” on the organisation to avert its critical analysis of Netanyahu’s government. In return, Netanyahu is accused of using “his powers and authorities as a public servant to promote matters in accordance with Mr Elovitch’s wishes”.

Netanyahu’s attempts to fend off these legal challenges through new political immunity legislation have so far failed to pass Israel’s paralysed parliament.

Recent elections have been cast as referendums on his tarnished career. He’s been staring down months of mass demonstrations against him.

Commentators say a successful coronavirus vaccination effort has kept Netanyahu in power.

But Netanyahu is having to forge some questionable alliances to keep within sight of power.

“With 30 seats, Netanyahu’s Likud party retains its status as the biggest in Israel,” writes Monash University researcher Ran Porat.

“Problematically, a small but essential element of this bloc is the extreme-right racist party Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish power”) and the anti-LGBTQI faction Noam.”

Unholy Alliance

Netanyahu has been caretaker Prime Minister for more than two years. Election after election has failed to produce a result. All attempts to form anti-Likud coalitions have failed.

This time, however, it was getting close.

Centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid would have shared power with Bennett under arrangements in the final stages of being thrashed out. Then the crisis flared.

“Netanyahu has always thrived in environments of uncertainty, of chaos and crisis,” Keevoon Global Research pollster and former Netanyahu aide Mitchell Barak told the Wall Street Journal.

“He basically goes from crisis to crisis.”

Lapid has lashed out at his erstwhile ally on national television.

“Bennett is wrong … change isn’t done when it’s convenient. It’s done when the path is the right one,” Lapid said.

“I have no intention of giving up. I will keep turning every stone to form a government.”

For Netanyahu to form government, he needs just two defectors from his opponents.

He has less than a fortnight to secure their votes.

“This means there will now be weeks of daunting coalition negotiations between parties chained to pre-election promises not to share a government with a particular party or prime minister – specifically, Israel’s longest-serving leader, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu,” says Porat.

If he fails, the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – faces its fifth election in two years.

“Bennett defecting back to Netanyahu is extremely significant because he split the opposition. But we shouldn’t pretend Netanyahu is in a great political position,” Walla News chief political correspondent Tal Shalev told Foreign Policy.

“There is a lot of criticism and anger, especially so long as the fighting continues.”

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

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2021-05-17 12:57:18Z

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