Israel’s government looks headed for collapse. Questions of the occupation of Palestine—and the very existence of the Israeli state itself—are at the heart of the crisis.
Right wing prime minister Naftali Bennett is in deep trouble after failing to uphold a crucial law governing settlements in the occupied West Bank. The “Judea and Samaria law”—using the name Israel uses to imply the West Bank should belong to it—extends Israeli civilian law to its citizens in West Bank settlements.
It’s a cornerstone of Israel’s apartheid system as it privileges Israeli settlers over West Bank Palestinians, who live under military rule. Every Israeli government—and most Israeli parties—have voted to renew this law every five years ever since Israel invaded and occupied the West Bank in 1967.
But Bennett’s minority government narrowly lost the renewal vote on its first reading on Monday. If it loses a further vote on 1 July, more than 475,000 Israelis in West Bank settlements will live under the same military law as Palestinians.
For most Israeli politicians, this had nothing to do with principle or opposition to settlements. Only two members of Bennett’s coalition rebelled against the vote—a member of the “left wing” Meretz party, and the Arab party Ra’am.
But the bill would have passed if it wasn’t for the viciously right wing opposition led by former prime minister, racist warmonger Binyamin Netanyahu.As prime minister, Netanyahu championed settlements in the West Bank. He doesn’t want to end them—but to prove that Bennett’s government can’t manage the occupation.
That’s a fundamental question that strikes at the very existence of the Israeli state—and is at the root of Israel’s political crisis. Israel’s settlement building campaign is designed to claim Palestinian land—with a view to eventually annexing it—and deny Palestinians the hope of any kind of state.
But annexing Palestinian land also means more Palestinians living inside Israel’s border. The prospect of this is an existential crisis for a state premised on maintaining a clear ethnic majority over Arabs.
Every Israeli government has to face up to this contradiction—and none of them have found an answer. Bennett’s coalition government replaced Netanyahu a year ago this month. It ended a two-year-long stalemate in which four elections had failed to produce a government.
The one thing that every party in Bennett’s coalition agree on—“left” and right—is that Netanyahu could no longer manage the occupation. He is bogged down in multiple corruption scandals. But—more importantly—last year’s Palestinian revolt had rocked Israeli society.
Yet those parties are also split on how to manage the occupation and preserve Israel as a “Jewish” state. Some of them are so-called “centrist” or “left” parties who think a commitment to some sort of Palestinian state is the best way to keep Arabs out of Israel.
Others—such as Bennett—want to annexe the whole of the West Bank. They are also divided on what Israel’s “Jewish identity” should mean. Some are secular and want to end privileges enjoyed by Israel’s orthodox minority—others are deeply religious.
That means Bennett’s coalition is fragile and vulnerable to splits over seemingly inconsequential issues. It lost its majority in April when religious conservative Idit Silman quit Bennett’s coalition over whether hospitals should allow leavened bread products in their facilities during Passover.
The only near certainty is that any outcome will likely mean intensified repression of Palestinians. Bennett and Netanyahu are committed to never letting go of Palestinian land. Their answer is to do their best—through settlement building and violent repression—to force Palestinians into ever smaller enclaves.
Israeli mainstream politics once denied the crisis had anything to do with the occupation—now the truth is coming to the fore. It’s about a racist state that can’t exist without oppressing Palestinians.
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