By Emre Basaran
ISTANBUL (AA) - Politics has been at the forefront of the Israeli landscape and impacted every aspect of the country’s Jewish people and Palestinians alike. Since its inception in 1948, the country has repeatedly faced severe backlash for its treatment of its Arab minority and its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian Authority’s territories and blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Israel has historically prioritized security policies, citing the existence of Palestinian group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip. The 36th government, seen as a change in the country, saw a coalition between centrist-liberal parties Yesh Atid and Blue and White, social democrat Labor Party, left-wing Meretz, and right-wing parties and alliances Yisrael Beiteinu, New Hope, Yamina, and the Ra’am -- the United Arab List.
This government marked the first time in Israeli history that an Arab party came into power as part of a coalition in the country in which no single party managed to garner an absolute majority of seats in the Knesset that is home to the Israeli parliament.
The government led by the rotating prime ministers, Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid was perceived as a wind of change in Israel’s historically far-right-leaning politics after a total of 15 years with right-wing Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu as the prime minister, who held the post more than any other politician in the country’s history. After the coalition fell on June 30, 2022 and the consequent political atmosphere, Israel ultimately settled for yet another premiership of Netanyahu, who took the post on Dec. 29, 2022.
The veteran politician came back for a record sixth time at the helm of the country, only to create arguably the most far-right government Israel has ever seen.
In January, just a couple of days after the new ultranationalist government took office, Netanyahu’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took a controversial tour atop the compound that is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, that is sacred and revered in Islam as the Noble Sanctuary where the Muslim Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. In Judaism, the area is also revered as it was the location of the biblical Temples.
Amid fears that Israel might make a move to change the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is under the custodianship of the Jerusalem Waqf, the Jordanian-appointed organization responsible for controlling and managing the current Islamic edifices on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem that remains under Israeli occupation, which is internationally recognized as illegal.
Ben-Gvir’s tour of the area became a contentious issue as he is known for his far-right views, and because he was previously convicted in an Israeli court of ties to a racist organization based on anti-Arab hate. The far-right politician has long called for expanded access and rights for Jews on the hilltop, which would basically mean the violation of Jordanian custodianship over the sacred area. Even though Netanyahu claimed that Israeli government does not have any plans for a change in the status quo of the holy site, he also defended Ben-Gvir's visit, as the US, in addition to several Arab countries, rushed to warn that any unilateral changes to the way the religious site is run could spark violence.
In February, the Netanyahu government took another controversial step, proposing a series of changes to the judicial system and the balance of powers in Israel. Resulting in massive protests in the country, the proposal was seen as an intervention by the government into the independent judiciary.
The proposal purportedly seeks to curb the judiciary's influence over lawmaking and public policy by limiting the Supreme Court's power to exercise judicial review, granting the government control over judicial appointments and limiting the authority of government legal advisors.
If adopted, the reform would grant the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court rulings to revoke laws passed by the Knesset through reintroducing the legislation by a vote of over half of the lawmakers. The reform proposal has also been promoted by Netanyahu, who, previously, was officially indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes.
Support to protests against the judicial reform increasingly grew as military members also joined.
In a report published by the Guardian on Tuesday, all but three of the 40 reservist pilots in Israel’s elite 69 Squadron said they would not report for training.
Reservists, who play a pivotal role in Israeli military and serve over 60 days every year, rejected to return to service, saying they will not serve a “dictatorial regime.”
As protests raged on, the prime minister’s spouse Sara Netanyahu was stranded last Wednesday at a hair salon during anti-government protests in Israel.
Sara Netanyahu was later extracted by the police after hundreds of protesters surrounded the salon in Tel Aviv where she was getting her hair cut.
A recent approval by Knesset of a bill stipulates that a person who, intentionally or recklessly, causes the death of an Israeli citizen -- and when the act is carried out with racist or hateful motives and to harm Israel -- “must face the death penalty.”
As the country has received criticism about its judicial practices in its past, the bill getting its first approval by the Knesset last Wednesday was also internationally criticized with the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor calling last Thursday to "pressure Israel to prevent death penalty legislation against Palestinian detainees," stressing the need for it to respect international human rights treaties as the civilized world steers further away from the capital punishment.
The bill was presented by the far-right Jewish Power party, headed by Ben-Gvir and endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Even though the bill is yet to be ratified and needs to pass several more votes before it comes into force, it might remain a major cause of concern for the Palestinians and the international community alike.
While many predictions for Netanyahu-led Israel's future are made, practices and actions of the current far-right government might pose risks for the country that sits on several sociological and ethno-religious fault lines.