Democratic rule is being severely tested in Israel almost as much as it is in the U.S. It also is no coincidence that this is occurring while both countries are being led by heads of government who have only minimal use for the historical models of democratic government. For Prime Minister Netanyahu it has become clear that he is less and less interested in the values of minority rights, in the rule of law, and in the right of dissent.
Like his counterpart in the States, Netanyahu also has been living for a year under the cloud of a possible indictment for political corruption. He appears to function without concern for any possible legal problems while recognizing that despite all the bluster and denials, he well could be indicted on an array of charges. He has spent days being questioned by police investigators and lawyers about questionable illegal activities. The most serious charges against him concern the suggestion that he extended favors to foreign donors for financial or in-kind benefits. Known as the cigar and champagne scandal this particular attack, if proven, could bring down the Netanyahu Government. In fact, he could be thrown out of power if he faces extended litigation.
At the same time, Netanyahu has concluded that extending Israeli power over the West Bank will not affect his relationship with the Trump Administration. While absenting himself from the Likud party meeting—giving himself plausible deniability—Bibi has begun to push aggressively for Knesset authority to expand Israeli control over land previously considered Palestinian or disputed territory. Such action is clearly a move to identify his party with his right wing coalition members and to move Likud to a position favoring a one state solution to Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians.
Adding further fuel to this situation is the actions the Government is taking against a sixteen-year-old Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, being held for slapping an I.D.F. soldier in the face when soldiers entered her home. After holding her for two weeks and digging deep into old files, the Government discovered a series of additional offenses that she allegedly committed including throwing stones as well as threatening to kick or punch Israeli soldiers who were in her home. While making the young blond Palestinian teenager a hero, the Government once again appears to be using every opportunity to intensify polarization between Jews and Arabs. When coupled with the Likud Party’s decision yesterday to push the Knesset to adopt legislation annexing the West Bank, the drift away from seeking a two state solution is becoming ever more transparent.
The context for all these actions must include Bibi’s own arrogance of power as well as seizing the moment to broaden his support base among more right wing followers. He is capitalizing on the declining strength of Mahmoud Abbas, the growing anti-Palestinian mood in the non-radical Arab world, and the tacit permission being extended by the Trump Administration to permit him free rein.