Foreign Policy

Past the Israeli elections: Israel on the point of a bleak period

The Israelis are now on the threshold of a new era characterized by the collapse of the country's legal system, the political crisis and social instability.

IPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must channel the spirit of Houdini as he continues to plan his escape from one of the most intricate political dilemmas in Israel's history.

It's no secret that Netanyahu's political behavior is shaped almost entirely by his desire to survive in office as long as possible to avoid a possible prison sentence. But how long will the Israeli refugee artist survive after an appointment has already been made for his trial?

After months of negotiating with the country's political elite on the one hand and asking for its own right-wing constituency on the other, Netanyahu has not created the necessary dynamics that would make him immune to law enforcement and secure his position at the top of Israeli politics.

After failing to form a government after the April elections, Netanyahu has masterfully linked his fate as prime minister to all of Israel's internal and external affairs.

However, there is little evidence that Netanyahu's diplomatic and financial conquests have led to the intended results of increasing his support among ordinary Israelis, especially since Benny Gantz, leader of the Kahol Lavan Party (blue and white), continues to venture to the right and Slowly undermines Netanyahu's support in all facets of Israeli society. The September elections showed that Israeli voters see Gantz as being able to overcome Netanyahu's various political benefits.

Israelis are scheduled to return to voting booths on March 2 to vote in the third general election in less than a year. In this short period of time, Gantz has managed to repeatedly change his personality to behave like a right-wing politician, while still presenting himself as a centrist who is ready to deal with the left to build a future government coalition.

Knowing that the noose had tightened around his neck since the first election in April, Netanyahu reached for Washington to publish his so-called “Deal of the Century”.

Indeed, the “Middle East Plan” was prematurely unveiled to offer the desperate Israeli leader one last lifeline that would help him win his multiple battles with one decisive blow.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned for Netanyahu.

The story should go on as such: the Donald Trump government would unveil the plan that would give Israel everything and give nothing to the Palestinians; Netanyahu would, of course, fully appreciate his greatest achievement in office and then annex all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank in addition to the entire Jordan Valley.

However, this has not happened. On February 4, Netanyahu overturned its earlier decision to annex much of the West Bank ahead of the planned elections. Instead, he told an election rally that such annexation would depend on his victory in the upcoming elections.

While many media have thought without evidence that the postponement of the annexation is a direct result of a request from Washington, the real reason is probably related to Netanyahu's own political problems at home.

Netanyahu must be aware that the "Deal of the Century" and the annexation of the West Bank maps are his last hope for a comfortable election victory, immunity, and avoiding prison sentences for corruption.

But what if Netanyahu annexes parts of the West Bank but doesn't win the elections? In this scenario, the contested Israeli leader would no longer have any leeway and no political advantage for a future plea.

This explains the sudden standstill in Netanyahu's annexation plan, especially since the prime minister recently presented the annexation in the form of a political barter at a campaign rally.

"If we win, we will expand sovereignty over all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria," said Netanyahu regarding the annexation of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

As a consolation prize and to avoid angry reactions from the country's right-wing constituency, especially the politically well-organized Jewish settlers, Netanyahu announced on February 20 that he would revive a long-standing plan to build 3,000 new houses for illegal Jewish settlers East Jerusalem.

"Today I approved the construction of 3,000 houses for Jews in Givat Hamatos," Reuters reported. Another 2,000 houses are said to be built in the illegal settlement of Har Homa.

These steps are particularly important, as such a construction will completely isolate the Palestinian city of Bethlehem from occupied East Jerusalem, thereby nullifying any hope of Palestinian territorial proximity in a future state.

Netanyahu's opponents in the opposition, government, and the Supreme Court are of course wary of Netanyahu's gimmicks.

While Gantz often responds to Netanyahu's opportunistic moves by improving his own political position to match or even exceed his opponent's position, support for the Prime Minister in the Knesset is at best lukewarm. In fact, on January 28, Netanyahu was forced to withdraw his immunity application, knowing that the application would not receive the necessary support.

In the meantime, legal proceedings regarding the Netanyahu corruption cases continue unabated.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Justice, Netanyahu will be required to participate in his trial at the Jerusalem District Court, also as prime minister, regardless of what happens in the March 2 election. A three-judge panel will hear the case in which Netanyahu would have to split his time between running Israeli affairs and countering allegations of his own corruption.

This is new territory for Israel. Never before in the history of Israel has the ruling elite faced such legal and political dilemmas.

With Israel continuing to operate without a constitution, and this is the first time that a seated prime minister has been brought to justice, the Supreme Court is the only agency able to interpret the country's laws to advance the trial. But that is also problematic.

Ayelet Shaked, the controversial – and often vulgar – former Justice Minister is already trying to reduce this likelihood by openly warning the country's Supreme Court judges that any involvement in the political process would be "tantamount to a coup".

The Israelis are now at the beginning of a new era characterized by the collapse of the country's legal system, the ongoing political crisis and infinite social instability.

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