Analysis

Netanyahu's Next Coalition: Annexation for Immunity From Indictment

The new Netanyahu government will have two main goals: Get rid of the indictments looming in his future, and annex the settlements to Israel, in coordination with the Trump administration

Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife Sara after giving his victory speech, Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The election held in Israel on April 9 was a public referendum on whether Benjamin Netanyahu should continue to lead the Israeli government. He won hands-down, with a large parliamentary faction of Likud behind him.

The Israeli public handed a clear majority to the right and Netanyahu can easily form a coalition with the Likud's "natural partners," as he promised throughout his campaign.

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The new Netanyahu government will have two main goals: to get rid of the indictments looming in his future and to annex the settlements to Israel, in coordination with the Trump administration. These two goals could be summed up as "immunity in exchange for sovereignty."

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Bezalel Smotrich, who will be the leader of the radical right in the next Knesset and coalition, marked out the direction: in exchange for enacting legislation that, in one way or another, buries the indictments against Netanyahu, the prime minister will have to coordinate the tarrying "deal of the century" with U.S. President Donald Trump in a manner that enables Israel to declare sovereignty over the settlements and assures that no settler will be evicted.

one-two-states banner

Among the rumors leaking from Washington about the plan, there are hints that Israel will be able to keep Area C, which encompasses most of  the West Bank and all of the settlements, the Israeli army's firing zones, and open areas. The Palestinians, whose political status in the plan is murky, will be compensated with economic aid. If they reject the plan, as expected, it will be easier to support Israeli annexation of areas conquered in wars of defense, as Washington justified its recognition of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. In any case, Israel chose the one-state solution, abjuring the two-state solution that would have involved sharing the land with a Palestinian state.

On the domestic front, the new government will move to crush the "judicial revolution" and to change the High Court of Justice from an authority whose role is to critique and restrain government into a propaganda arm granting juridical backing for government resolutions, along the lines of High Court rulings that legitimize moves by the occupation in the territories since 1967. This juridical policy will simply migrate from the territories into within the Green Line.

Ayelet Shaked can be expected to vacate her position as justice minister, but the positions she presented in her campaign – to make the appointment of judges political and to subordinate the attorney-general to the ministers – enjoy broad support on the right and will be pursued by some other minister.

The ideological base of the new right-wing government will be the so-called nation-state law, the most important of the decisions made by the outgoing parliament: Jewish superiority and inferior status to non-Jews.  It is still hard to project the next move in discriminatory legislation, but the coalition that seems to be taking shape assures that it will come. Perhaps citizenship or social-security payments will become conditional on declaring loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.

The first test is approaching: The present High Court will decide whether or not to hear petitions to throw out the nation-state law, in contrast to the united position of the right-wing parties that deny the court's power to invalidate basic laws.

This election has finally shattered the illusion of a "center-left" that, to attract voters from the right, has to put up a general who boasts about killing Arabs. This time Netanyahu faced all the former chiefs of staff who are still alive plus several generals as the cherry on top and it still didn't work. The demand for that merchandise just isn't enough to change the government.

The positions of the right command a clear majority among the Jewish public, and yet again it turns out that the only way to beat them is to build a conceptual alternative from the grass roots, not to hope for a lightning victory, a successful raid on the Knesset and government. This is what the religious Zionist movement did: it was and remains a minority, but it took over the ideological lead in the right-wing camp and thereby in the whole nation.

The lesson the left needs to learn from its serial defeat is that its chances of ever regaining government lies in cooperating with Israeli Arab society, and promoting a model of equal citizenship, which would bring Arabs to vote. There is no other bloc of voters that could serve as a base for a counter-revolution.

Benny Gantz and his colleagues in Kahol Lavan followed the precedent of their predecessors and eschewed any contact with the Arabs. By doing so, they granted justification to the right-wing policy and also lost the only card they had that could have tilted the scales in their favor. Their heirs need to realize that that card is still on the table and will stay there until somebody gathers the courage to pick it up, hopefully before it's too late.