What future for Israel: chaotic, catastrophic, or constructive?

Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government of fascists and fanatics has brought Israel to a historic crossroads in just 100 days.

Demonstrators wear masks and wave Israeli flags during a protest
Demonstrators wear masks and wave Israeli flags during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 28, 2023 [File: Oded Balilty/AP Photo]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first 100 days in office have been a total disaster, putting Israel at a historic crossroads and opening the way to a number of future scenarios, ranging from the chaotic to the catastrophic.

Since announcing his new government of fascists and fanatics at the end of 2022, the smug Israeli leader has seen his popularity tank, his agenda implode, and his policies in tatters.

He who has long boasted of bringing Israel prosperity and security has provoked the country’s military and business leaders to rebel against his government, along with vast sectors of the media and academia.

Israel’s allies have also turned against him, with US President Joe Biden publicly scolding him and his new regional friends refusing to see him. Even the Saudi leadership which initially showed some promise eventually decided to normalise relations with Iran instead of Israel, to the detriment of Netanyahu’s regional agenda; one that aims to improve Israel’s Arab relations at the expense of Palestinian rights.

All this, coupled with unprecedented public opposition and weeks of mounting street pressure, have weakened Netanyahu’s grip on power and forced him to delay his cornerstone legislative agenda; a move that disappointed his coalition partners without satisfying his political detractors who insist Netanyahu scrap his illiberal “reforms” altogether.

In the process, Netanyahu has alienated his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, whom he sort of fired (then unfired) for speaking out against the “reform”, and angered his justice minister, Yariv Levin, who is the main architect of the new judiciary agenda, all the while empowering his fanatic and fascist ministers of finance and national security, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich exploited the crisis to extract concessions from the prime minister, including the formation of a “national guard” to function as their private militia of fascist enthusiasts against the Palestinian minority in Israel, which they view as the enemy within. They also pushed for further expansion of the illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories and a greater crackdown on Palestinians in Jerusalem and beyond, all of which have led to greater deterioration of the security situation.

Netanyahu’s mishandling of the judicial overhaul has also alarmed Israel’s attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, who said Netanyahu is “breaking the law” by ignoring a clear conflict of interest over his ongoing trial for corruption and getting directly involved in his government’s judicial overhaul plan.

But this is the very point of Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul – to put his person and interest above the law; to place his government and its agenda above the Supreme Court; to create the conditions for himself to rule as a sovereign president or as a powerful autocrat, Putin style. In other words, his future depends on it.

So, do not expect Netanyahu to give up or give in; not when his political base considers him “king”, his party leadership believes him to be indispensable for its success, and his rogue coalition partners need him in order to stay in power.

Rather the contrary. While he remains open to a minimal compromise mediated by the president to give his broader agenda greater legitimacy, the likeliest scenario, in the short term, is for Netanyahu to rush through much of his legislative agenda soon after the Knesset break. It is what he and his adamant partners in the party coalition need and desire to implement their extremist social, political and religious agendas.

Such arrogance and indifference to the public appeal could prove reckless, allowing for further political escalation on the streets of Israel, while instigating further crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Such recklessness would push the military and economic elites supported by the US to rebel against the government and disrupt everyday life, and could prove utterly destabilising for Israel. And such instability may well push the country towards new elections, especially if some Likud members, such as Gallant, decide to put country before party, denying the government its parliamentary majority.

If Netanyahu “the magician” wins yet another election and forms another, more empowered government of fanatics and fascists, Israel may turn into a combination of autocracy and theocracy, ending all hopes or illusions of peace in Palestine and paving the way for the apocalypse.

But, if today’s polls are anything to go by, a new round of elections may not bode well for Netanyahu and his coalition government. With his popularity tanking, he may become more of a liability than an asset to his party and perhaps even be voted out of the leadership. Although such a scenario remains remote for now, it has become less so over the past 100 days.

But then again, Netanyahu’s failure does not mean democracy will flourish and peace will prevail. After decades of occupation and oppression, Israel’s society and polity are so terribly dominated by the violent right and far-right parties that any future constellation of a governing coalition is bound to be extremist, whether it is more or less religious, whether headed by Benjamin Netanyahu or General Benny Gantz.

Worse, a coalition of secular right-wing parties would be sure to pursue the same oppressive policies in occupied Palestine while also being free of the domestic and foreign pressures constraining the current government. Such a coalition would, on the intermediate run, only reinforce the vicious cycles of militarisation and fascism, occupation and fanaticism, as these perpetually feed into each other.

The only way to break these vicious cycles of extremism and instability, fanaticism and violence is through Israel producing its own De Gaulle capable of ending its occupation of Palestine, as the French did in Algeria, or its own De Klerk, brave enough to end its apartheid, as has South Africa.

Such Israeli will and courage could transpire only if a third scenario of a prolonged and messy crisis cripples and isolates Israel and forces its elites to break out of their self-righteous delusions of being democratic, liberal and enlightened in an apartheid state, and begin to tackle the very root causes of the ongoing turmoil (or fauda and fascism).