This week looks set to be the week that Benjamin Netanyahu, or Bibi as he is locally known, is finally ousted from his role as the Prime Minister of Israel after 12 years at the helm. Whether you are hearing about this from around the world or live within Jerusalem, it can be difficult to know: is this good news or bad news?
During the last two years there have been four election campaigns which have all failed to deliver a conclusive result. Like a cat of nine lives, Netanyahu has always managed to scrape through, but it now looks like the road has finally run out for him.
Netanyahu took up office in 2008 but has been a prominent figure in Israeli politics for decades. His success during this time has always hinged on one word: security. He has promised to protect Israel from its many perceived enemies, and some would argue that he has needed to continually poke those enemies with a stick to keep the threats real. Amongst its security threats Israel counts Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinians all of whom have contested land with Israel and that is before we even consider the burgeoning threat from Iran.
The recent 11 day war with Hamas couldn’t have come at a better time for Netanyahu, who desperately needed to deflect attention from his ongoing corruption trial. As mentioned last week, the bombing of Gaza occurs every few years without fail, but even Netanyahu might have been surprised by the level of violence that erupted across Israel, giving weight to his narrative that the enemies are both internal and external.
With full backing from Trump during his five years in office, Netanyahu seemed indestructible and massively expanded the building of Israeli settlements into occupied Palestinian territory making the likelihood of a two-state solution less achievable. If Palestinians think that Netanyahu has played the villain in this real-life drama, then tragically he might have only been a warm-up act for worse to come.
The pair looking to replace him with a new coalition government are Yair Lapid from the Yesh Atid party (meaning ‘there is a future’) and Naftali Bennett from the Yamina party – which translates as ‘rightwards’ and includes a coalition of right and far-right parties.
Many fear that this new right-wing government, if they succeed to form a Government, will be even worse than Netanyahu for the Palestinians. Certainly, Bennett’s number two, tipped to become Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked has not held back in the past from making shocking and outrageous statements about her view on the Palestinians. This article published in Haaretz in 2015 includes some of her most alarming quotes.
Others cling to a small hope that all change creates opportunities and the Netanyahu government has deadlocked the situation for too long. The eyes of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court are already on Israel, gathering evidence of human rights abuses, and a political approach that is more extreme than Netanyahu’s apartheid state may force decisive action for the first time since the Oslo accords attempted formal reconciliation in the 1990s.
Netanyahu’s final trick over the next few days is to cast enough doubt about the ability of his rivals to protect Israel to sway the support of a few key individuals. We will know by Wednesday if Lapid and Bennett have managed to form their coalition Government. If they do, it could herald a new era in Israeli politics, but Netanyahu is unlikely to retreat quietly into the sidelines.
For the many Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, their future is not in their hands. They are not eligible to vote in Israeli elections and Netanyahu was preventing them from voting in the planned Palestinian elections. Once again, democracy doesn’t look as equitable as it should from East Jerusalem.
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