BY NAJLA M. SHAHWAN
JAN 28, 2023 – DAILY SABAH
Birds fly near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City as worshippers gather for Friday prayers on a cold, rainy day at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Israeli-occupied Jerusalem, Palestine, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo)
The new Israeli government has begun pushing far-right policies with illegal and punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority
Immediately after coming into office, the new Israeli government has begun working on pushing through its far-right policies by threatening to override both international law and Israel’s own domestic laws, stirring controversy and criticism over its unprecedented hardline policies.
The most “radical” government in the country’s history has gone far beyond what we have ever seen before, with an ambitious escalation of its settlement-building program and the annexation of the occupied West Bank.
According to the first guiding principle of the new Netanyahu government: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel,” including the occupied West Bank and promised to “advance and develop” settlements there. As part of the coalition agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to legalize the outposts retroactively and promised to annex the occupied West Bank while “choosing the timing and weighing all the State of Israel’s national and international interests.”
Although all Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, around 600,000 Israeli settlers live in about 140 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, while 100 additional outposts have been built without the Israeli government’s authorization across the West Bank.
The coalition deal also saw the appointment of West Bank settler and far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich to oversee the office responsible for approving settlement building and controls on aspects of Palestinians’ lives. For his part, Smotrich, an ultra-right-wing nationalist, has not hidden his aim that Israel reclaims control of all West Bank territories. Another settler and leader of the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has been appointed as national security minister with responsibility for the police.
Ben-Gvir was convicted of racism and supporting a terrorist organization before and he called for the expulsion of “disloyal” Arabs, shooting of Palestinians who threw stones at Israeli security forces, formal annexation of the West Bank, unconstrained access for Israeli Jews to the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and harder conditions for Palestinian prisoners. Previous governments have tried to dress up their illegal activities through a liberal outward approach, but this one is carrying out these acts step by step with evermore zeal and not even seeking to cover it up.
Just a few days after the new government was sworn in, Ben-Gvir visited the critically sensitive sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. A move Palestinians called a “deliberate provocation,” ignoring warnings from Israeli politicians that his appearance at the holy site would inflame tensions.
The compound has been managed by Muslims continuously, under a waqf (religious endowment), for hundreds of years. The Jordanian-funded waqf has continued to administer the site since 1967, while Israel has security control. Under a longstanding agreement, the status quo of the site only permits Muslim prayer, and visits from non-Muslims are only permitted at specific times.
As a site that carries religious and national significance, Palestinians are alert to any attempts to change the status quo of Al-Aqsa. This visit drew a strong backlash from the Muslim world, including Egypt and the Gulf states that have normalized relations with Israel and even warnings from the European Union and the United States. U.S. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that anything that jeopardized the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites was “unacceptable.” Türkiye condemned the visit as “provocative.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who has custodianship over Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, has also voiced concern and told the new government not to cross red lines. Furthermore, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “called on all to refrain from steps that could escalate tensions in and around the holy sites,” U.N. deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
Although the visit to the flashpoint site passed without incidents, it increased friction with the Israeli army in most parts of the occupied West Bank where the Israeli army, since the start of this year, launched large-scale raids, injuring dozens of civilians and killing 17 Palestinians, including children.
In another illegal measure, the new Israeli government has taken punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli security cabinet decided to cut around $39.6 million from the tax money the Israeli government collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and freeze building permits in Area C, which is under full Israeli control in the occupied West Bank.
The decision came after the Palestinian Authority approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague for an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s 55-year occupation of the Palestinian territories. The punitive steps were taken as a “response to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to wage political and legal war against the State of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Mideast War and Palestinians, who see the land as part of their future state, turned to the ICJ to ask for its opinion on the legality of Israel’s actions in the West Bank.
On their part, over 90 nations have declared in a signed statement that Israel must rescind the sanctions it levied against the Palestinian Authority. “We express our deep concern regarding the Israeli government’s decision to impose punitive measures against the Palestinian people, leadership and civil society following the request by the General Assembly of an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice,” the nations said in the statement they signed. In another provocative step, Ben-Gvir instructed the Israeli police to confiscate Palestinian flags presented in public, although the Palestinian flag is not banned under Israeli law.
Two-state solution not wanted
Netanyahu’s coalition partners reject the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – the internationally backed formula for peace that envisages an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as their shared capital. In reality, Ben-Gvir and other settlers in the new government share the same goals as Netanyahu besides many of Israel’s self-proclaimed centrist and left-wing politicians.
Throughout his long-time in power, Netanyahu remained firmly wedded to the status quo with limited Palestinian autonomy under Israeli rule and never accepted a two-state solution in good faith. In the run-up to the 2015 Israeli elections, he himself declared: “If I am elected, no Palestinian state will emerge on my watch.”
He was a man of his word when he was reelected. He has now been elected once again and made the ideological pillars of the new administration very clear in a tweet in Hebrew: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel.”
“The government will promote and develop a settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel – in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria,” he added, asserting absolute Jewish sovereignty over the entire West Bank, with no room for Palestinian statehood – as Israeli politicians want, as Netanyahu himself wants and as the U.S. administration does not want to know.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers
Categories: Arab World, Asia, Israel, Middle East, Palestine
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