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Netanyahu's Extremist Blitz Is Reaching Its End Game

By challenging Israel's constitutional system and launching a crackdown on the Occupied Territories, Benjamin Netanyahu is playing a high-stakes game opposed by half his country and the country's allies. It can't last much longer.

Photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving at the site of a shooting attack near a synagogue in East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in East Jerusalem.

Pierre Haski


In just two months, the most right-wing coalition in Israel's history has achieved a tour de force.

Perhaps because its days are numbered, it has begun a lightning-fast institutional transformation of the Jewish state in a sharply "illiberal" direction; it has taken steps to achieve the de facto annexation of part of the West Bank; it has blown hard on the burning embers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it has divided Israel as rarely before; and finally, it has begun to alienate the support of its main diplomatic partners around the world.

Undoubtedly, this summary may seem excessive to those who observe Israel with the lasting indulgence of disappointed lovers; and insufficient to those who didn't need the return of Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his new friends, to have a strong opinion against Israeli government policy.

The case in point is Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism list, resident of the Kedumim settlement near Nablus in the West Bank, who runs the finance ministry and the position of deputy defense minister in Netanyahu's young government.

How "razing" villages sounds to the world

Through an administrative sleight of hand, he has been entrusted with part of the governance of the West Bank, which gives him considerable power. With his new responsibilities, Smotrich did not hesitate, after the death of two Israelis in the Palestinian village of Hawara, to call for the "razing" of the village.

The U.S. State Department called it "repugnant."

This call for collective punishment occurred after a veritable "pogrom" when hundreds of settlers indiscriminately attacked the inhabitants of Hawara to avenge the death of the two Israelis. This statement by a minister did not go unnoticed: the U.S. State Department called it "repugnant."

Scheduled to soon visit the United States, Smotrich will find closed doors in Washington. Paris did not want to be left behind and called these remarks "unacceptable, irresponsible and unworthy" coming from a member of the Israeli government. Netanyahu remained silent.

With Smotrich and the other far-right minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, the prime minister brought extremist ideologues to the heart of power to secure his majority in the Knesset, and allowed them to implement their program. He thus took the risk that Israeli society could implode.

Photo of \u200bProtestors waving an Israeli and Palestinian flag during the demonstration in Tel Aviv against the violence committed by settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara.

Protestors wave an Israeli and Palestinian flag during the demonstration in Tel Aviv against the violence committed by settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara.

Eyal Warshavsky/ZUMA

Weight of justice

Protests against the reform of the justice system have mobilized tens of thousands of Israelis for days, provoked reactions of rupture from the tech engineers, the flagship sector of the economy, or refusals to serve from military reservists. Even members of the Mossad intelligence agency asked and obtained a derogation to be able to demonstrate!

Western partners, timid as they may be towards Israel, cannot turn a blind eye.

This strong-arm tactic of a program is both blatantly disrespectful of the democratic character of the Jewish state for its citizens and openly provocative, and, aggressive towards those who live under its authority in the occupied territories — and it's leading Israel straight into a national crisis.

This crisis is already to some extent present, as evidenced by the growing number of Palestinian and Israeli victims in the territories and the political shock in Israel itself.

Is it sustainable? Is the strong-arm approach possible with a political majority obtained after a fifth election in four years? Israel cannot simply brush off the risk of alienating half of its citizens who don't adhere to this radical transformation, as well as Israel's Western partners who, timid as they may be towards Israel, cannot turn a blind eye. In Netanyahu's rush of brinkmanship scorched-earth politics, the hour of truth may indeed come quickly.

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