Consolidating Israel as a Jewish right-wing settler state and promoting a unilateral solution
A series of domestic and regional events intertwined to leave their imprint on domestic policies and the course of events within Israel in 2015. The major event was the formation of the fourth government of Benjamin Netanyahu, comprised of a coalition of religious, settler and right-wing parties. New right-wing movements have increasingly sought to delegitimise anti-occupation activists and the ongoing Palestinian uprising. These events are set in the context of the profound regional transformations taking place and the disintegration of the old geopolitical map.
The recent developments addressed by this report reflect the significant structural and sociological changes manifested in Israel over several years. Investigated in detail in earlier Strategic Reports, these developments chart the unrelenting transformation of Israeli society into a more right-wing, religious community dominated by the New Right, whose political values are becoming more mainstream.
Throughout 2015 and early 2016, the fourth Netanyahu government and New Right movement retained policies implemented previously to consolidate Israel’s identity as a Jewish national right-wing settler state. They also seek to impose a unilateral solution on Palestinians. Essentially, this consolidation process is made up of three key tracks:
1. A citizenship-nationalist track that controls the relationship with Palestinian citizens in Israel.
2. A cultural-civic track that controls the space and freedom of action available to engage in discourse with the secular, left-wing within the Jewish community.
3. A settler-political track that controls the relationship with the settlements and the occupied territory.
The introduction of new political legislation entrenches the Jewish right-wing settler identity of the state and contributes to crystallising a fascist, nationalistic and chauvinistic culture within Israel. Meanwhile, a military settler system of apartheid is being institutionalised across Palestinian territory.
1. Israel 2015: A Jewish right-wing settler state
For several years, internal structural transformations have taken place in Israel that reverberate on Israel’s future, its socio-national identity and its management of the conflict with the Palestinian people. These transformations were addressed in detail in the 2015 MADAR Strategic Report, which highlighted the emergence of the so-called Third Israel, i.e. the right-wing settler Israel. The report also examined historical, social and demographic trends and the changing structure of the elite groups that have contributed to the rise of the Third Israel. Politically, these changes are manifested in the consolidation of settlement activity, the decline of democratic values in state institutions and the adoption of values that affirm tribal Jewry.
Internal developments inside Israel in 2015 and early 2016 are further evidence of the unrelenting march towards the state’s identity as a Jewish national and settler state.
This process can be clearly defined in three tracks: the citizenship-nationalism track; the cultural-civic track; and the political-settler track. The settlement enterprise has been nurtured and incorporated as part and parcel of the national consensus and de-facto sovereign space. Stable economic conditions in Israel contribute to the promotion of these policies, which are led by the Netanyahu government and backed by the New Right. They are also bolstered by the turbulent regional conditions and fragmentation of major Arab countries, which no longer pose the same threat as they did previously, an international community that is incapable of ending the occupation, internal Palestinian political divisions, and the lack of an effective alternative to Palestinian resistance.
Having taken the constitutional oath on 17 May 2015, Netanyahu formed a government composed of five right-wing, ultra-orthodox Haredi and settler parties: Likud (30 seats); Kulanu [All of Us] led by Moshe Kahlon (10 seats); Jewish Home (8 seats); Shas (7 seats); and Yahadut HaTora [United Torah Judaism] (6 seats). One year after the formation of the Netanyahu government, the distribution of key responsibilities and ministerial portfolios clearly demonstrates the Prime Minister’s goal of consolidating Jewish right-wing and settler identity in legislative, institutional, cultural and political settings.
Thus, Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home was appointed as Minister of Justice; Miri Regev as Minister of Culture; Naftali Bennett as Minister of Education; Moshe Ya’alon as Minister of Defence. All these ministers embrace right-wing extremist and settler agendas. Other figures with religious, settler and right-wing backgrounds were appointed to key positions, particularly in the security establishment. For example, during structural changes to key institutions such as the army, Roni Alsheikh was appointed as Commissioner of the Israeli Police. Those who wear the (Jewish) yarmulke have replaced the descendants of the vanguard Ashkenazi kibbutzim who previously dominated the army. Today, yarmulke wearers comprise almost 20 percent of officers ranked as battalion commanders, while 62 percent of young people from settlements are recruited in “combat” units. The representation of secular Ashkenazis, the classic descendants of the founders of the state, has progressively declined.
Changes are not confined to internal elite groups but also extend to personnel working in Israel’s diplomatic corps. Despite no evidence of their skills in diplomacy, figures with renowned extremist views have been appointed to public positions, effectively promoting right-wing values in international circles. For example, Netanyahu appointed Danny Danon as Israel’s representative to the United Nations despite Danon’s well-known opposition to the two-state solution and his racist views. Netanyahu also appointed Dore Gold, famous for his right-wing, conservative and religious stances, as Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A settler and Likud leader who believes in the land of Greater Israel, Tzipi Hotovely, was appointed as Deputy Foreign Minister. Netanyahu’s former advisor, Ron Dermer, was appointed as Israel’s ambassador to the USA and drafted Netanyahu’s address to the Congress last year; he was one of those responsible for the diplomatic crisis between Israel and the USA. Dani Dayan, former Director General of the Settlements Council, was nominated as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil. Additionally, Netanyahu selected Italian Jew Fiamma Nirenstein for appointment as Israel’s ambassador to Italy. Nirenstein was close to the Italian right-wingnister’s .
These appointments run parallel to legislative changes proposed by the Knesset that promote the consolidation of a Jewish right-wing state. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), several bills have been enacted targeting “Israeli democracy” since the second Netanyahu government was elected in 2009. These bills impinge on principles of human rights, including equality, and freedom of expression, protest and assembly. Targeted not only at individuals and human rights organisations, the new bills also prejudice democratic institutions, including the judicial apparatus, academic institutions, media outlets and civil society actors.
The Citizenship Law was amended to deny family reunification where one spouse holds Israeli nationality and the other is from the West Bank, Gaza Strip or an Arab country. The Knesset also approved a bill on the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, a bill to exempt the interrogations of prisoners from being documented, a bill increasing penalties against individuals charged with throwing stones at occupation forces, and a bill permitting the prosecution of human rights organisations that document the practices of the occupation army and settlers. Another bill was passed to prevent the High Court from repealing laws enacted by the Knesset, despite these laws contravening the basic law that holds constitutional status in Israel. Finally, the Knesset passed the Nakba Law to prohibit commemoration of the Nakba and impose penalties on institutions that mark this occasion.