“The following article was published in Chartist magazine in September, before the recent fighting in southern Israel and Gaza. Because of this it does not deal with the situation that has developed from the Hamas insurgency which began on the morning of 7th September. Its discussion of the political crisis in the ruling elites of Israel is still of value in establishing some of the context for the present phase of the conflict. We will return to the issue in the period ahead and resume our core argument that peace across the region will not be achieved until the injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people has been addressed and resolved.”
Mike Heiser looks at the ongoing resistance to occupation and deeper authoritarian rule by the extreme right Israeli government
Israeli society has been living through an exceptionally difficult period since the return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu at the head of a coalition made up of nationalists, ultra-nationalists and religious parties.
The attempts to change the law so that the Knesset (Parliament) can override the Supreme Court has provoked six months of protests from the whole of Israeli civil society that did not vote for Netanyahu. However, at the end of July 2023 the Parliament passed the first of the laws which the protestors were trying to resist. It is not clear what the future of the protests is; reservists are now threatening to disobey call-up orders and a general strike is in the offing.
These laws would allow the Parliament to override the Supreme Court which would no longer be able to set a test of ‘reasonableness’. The protestors fear that the religious/nationalist coalition could proceed to override civil society, as has happened in countries like Hungary, Poland or Turkey and that they will be powerless to resist an increasingly authoritarian state.
Meanwhile the confrontations in Jenin in June 2023 are only the latest in the struggle against the occupation which has been going on since 1967 and which could flare up again. In Jenin the Israeli army invaded a refugee camp within the area which is supposed to be under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, which was set up following the Oslo agreements.
Oslo was produced by the first Intifada in the occupied territories, pressure from the outside at the time of the Kuwait war and a willingness, it appeared, both in Israeli and in Palestinian society, to make compromise. That optimism seems a long way away. The obstacles to a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict have only increased in the twenty years since the Oslo agreement. Israeli politics has moved to the right since the 1990s when the Labour Party and allies such as Meretz, further to the left, had almost half the seats in the Knesset. Today’s Labour Party is reduced to four seats and Meretz, due to a law which sets a threshold of 3.25% of total votes cast to qualify for parliamentary seats, is out of the Knesset altogether.
Some of Netanyahu’s coalition would like to put an end to the Palestinian autonomy once and for all. Itamar Ben Gvir, the Minister for National Security, has a long record of advocating ‘transfer’ of the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and provocative actions such as organizing marches in Palestinian areas.
To his left, Netanyahu is facing two oppositions, the Palestinians fighting against the occupation and for civil rights and the Israeli left fighting to preserve what it sees as the institutions of Israeli civil society. Could the two fronts unite into one opposition with a single programme or will the Israeli right continue to divide and rule?
The protests have been about the Supreme Court, not about the occupation or civil rights for Palestinians. This may explain why Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or within pre-67 Israel, have tended to see the protests as an internal matter within Israeli Jewish society. A 2021 study by David Kretzmer and Roan Yael (The occupation of justice: the supreme court of Israel and the occupied territories), considering the impact of the Supreme Court on the occupation concluded that while the court’s actions had enabled individual remedies, it has largely served to legitimate government policies and practices in the occupied territories.
The international recognised two state solution, which Oslo pointed towards, with an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, seems to be a long way from the facts on the ground. Instead of a two state solution the reality is one state and two besieged statelets. Although support for a single democratic state in all of Israel and Palestine has increased both within Palestinian and Israeli society (although it is a tiny minority of the latter), it is hard to see a politically feasible way of bringing it about. Oslo, for all its faults, had the effect of moving Israeli society to the Left in that it promised a way towards a more peaceful future.
Can the protest movement become a democracy movement which addresses the lack of civil rights for Palestinians and the discrimination they face both in the Occupied Territories and within 1967 Israel? And can diaspora Jewish communities, which on the whole have supported the protest movement, get behind a movement to change Israeli society, challenging the outdated and rose-tinted view of Israel which still persists within some Jewish institutions. In the 1990s, at the time of Oslo, there was an optimism that change was possible. Now it seems a long way away.