Netanyahu Is Threat to Israeli Democracy, Stoking Conflict: Oxford Prof Yaacov Yadgar

By William J. Furney

With the reinstalment of political heavyweight Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu into the prime minister’s office in Israel comes a hard shift to the right, raising the spectre of ultranationalist policies and fears of an eruption of the violent cauldron surrounding the Jewish state and neighbouring Palestinians that has beset the region for decades.

The three-time leader is seeking to limit the powers of the judiciary, so the courts can’t challenge his legislation, thereby stripping judges of their vital independence and putting democracy at risk. At the same time, the newly installed government, a coalition with the Religious Zionist Party, is making bullish moves against the Palestinian Authority.

It amounts to what Yossi Klein Halevi, of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, says is “a betrayal of democracy” by Netanyahu. 

The prime minister, he writes in The Atlantic, “is a mortal danger to our internal cohesion and democratic legitimacy — a historic disgrace. Each day seems to bring some new, previously unimaginable violation of a moral and national red line. My ordinarily insatiable appetite for Israeli news has been reduced to skimming the headlines; the details are too painful.”

Netanyahu’s return to power comes as the 73-year-old Likud Party chairman is fighting corruption, fraud and trust charges in long-running cases in which he insists he is innocent. 

Legal issues aside that could result in a swift and untimely end to Bibi’s third reign, where is Israel heading under the new administration, what might its impact be in Palestine and around the Middle East and is the proposed two-state solution really viable? I asked Yaacov Yadgar, professor of Israel Studies at Oxford University in England, for his views. 

Israel Studies Professor Yaacov Yadgar of Oxford University.

Do you think the new government, under returning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is going too hard-right? It’s less than two weeks since he came back into office and already there are moves to limit the Supreme Court’s influence over parliament and greater military and political control over the West Bank and other Palestinian territories. Do you worry?

Since being sworn in, the government shows determination to follow on the coalition parties’ agenda, which is, by all measures, of the right and hard-right kind. It is seeking a re-configuration of the division of political powers — primarily, in this regard, weakening the judicial branch’s ability to review the executive’s actions. Many people in Israel and outside of it, including institutions like the Guardian editorial, have expressed their concern of what they view as the weakening of Israeli democracy.

What do you think Netanyahu Is trying to achieve? Might it be a reshaping of Israeli society, and if so, to what end?

Ari Shavit’s review of Netanyahu’s autobiography in today’s TLS gives a very good sense of what motivates Netanyahu. I would suggest you consult it. The bottom line is that Netanyahu is driven by a sense of history in which the State of Israel is the ultimate guarantor of the very existence of the Jewish people. 

What could be the ramifications of a hard-right Israeli government for the Palestinian Authority and the wider Muslim World?

It seems safe to assume that the Palestinian Authority will come under increasing pressure, and will find it difficult to continue working with the Israeli government. 

A two-state solution is becoming increasingly not feasible.

Professor Yaacov Yadgar

Did you think Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit in early January to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary was a hostile act to Palestinians?

It was an obvious political provocation, a charged symbolic act that is sure to press all the sensitive buttons — and was meant to do so. I guess you can say he meant it as a show of sovereignty and authority. 

What is your view of the proposed two-state solution? Is it the only workable option, or might there be something else that both sides could consider?

I think most observers would agree that a two-state solution is becoming increasingly not feasible, if it has ever been. There is a “one state” reality between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. The question is what will be the nature of this political entity. 

So what’s the best way forward for peace in the Middle East, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority? 

I would have to say that only God knows the answer to this question.

Do you think the problem is so intractable that it will never be resolved, at least in our lifetimes?

I do not pretend to know what the future holds. But it seems quite clear that on the Israeli side, a “management” of the conflict — as opposed to a solution to it — which would mean a perpetuation of the status quo, is increasingly seen as the best viable option. 

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