On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plans, if elected, to annex the Jordan Valley and immediately apply Israeli sovereignty over it. To anyone who has observed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years, this decision should come as no surprise. While Israel has illegally occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 1967, the ascendance of Netanyahu and the corresponding shift in Israeli politics further to the right has taken Israeli impunity to new heights. Aside from the usual policies undertaken by Israel in the Occupied Territories that are meant to induce the displacement of Palestinians—such as forced evictions, home demolitions, home takeovers by settlers, administrative detention, and collective punishment—Netanyahu has demonstrated an abrasive willingness to defy official longstanding policies regarding the two-state solution.
In addition to accelerating the construction of illegal settlements, Netanyahu helped pass the Nation-State Bill, thereby enshrining into law the exclusively Jewish nature of the State of Israel. This piece of legislation comes at the expense of Israel’s ostensibly secular, democratic, and inclusive character—a move so contentious that it elicited criticism from across the political and intellectual spectrum. Critics included prominent Zionist organizations traditionally supportive of Israel, such as J Street, as well as a number of Israeli center-left politicians like then Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay and Tzipi Livni. Naturally, its opposition extended to Arab Members of Knesset, such as Ahmad Tibi, Ayman Odeh, and Jamal Zahalka, who along with other non-Jewish minorities, view it as exclusionary. This view was largely affirmed in March when the prime minister stated that that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”
Netanyahu has also praised US president Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Tel Aviv’s sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, which were captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981. Both actions are considered in direct contravention of international law.
He has consistently employed racist and demeaning rhetoric against Arabs, the latest of which is a campaign message to Israel’s voters that a right-wing government is needed to neutralize the Arabs from their desire to “annihilate” the Jews of Israel. This is in spite of the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel now constitute close to 20 percent of the population over which he presides as prime minister. Of course, this is not to mention the 4.5 million Palestinian Arabs in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip over which his leadership assumes responsibility as the sole occupying force. What’s more, Netanyahu has allied with Israel’s far right and has struck deals with political parties like the Kahanists, whose leader Otzma Yehudit espouses an ideology driven by a visceral hatred for Arabs, irrespective of whether or not they possess Israeli citizenship.
Even prior to Bibi’s latest moves, which were largely motivated by political desperation and served as electoral maneuvers, his cabinet had incorporated voices like Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, both of whom were selected to serve alongside him when his Likud Party formed a coalition government in 2015 with the considerably more right-wing Jewish Home Party. Shaked served as minister of justice and Bennett served as minister of education. Both have an established record of articulating, supporting, and sharing racist and degrading tropes about Palestinians. For example, just two months prior to the 2014 Gaza war, Shaked shared a poem on Facebook that called Palestinians “little snakes” and advocated murdering their mothers. Bennett, likewise, has notoriously stated that he has “killed many Arabs in [his] lifetime, and there’s no problem with that”. This is not to mention Avigdor Lieberman, whose relationship with Bibi, although currently complicated by partisan politics, goes back decades, and whose political career has centered on the violent dehumanization of Arabs.
Netanyahu’s rebuke of international legal norms, coupled with his domestic maneuvers, corruption charges, and discriminatory remarks have unmasked the illiberal face of Israeli politics. Moreover, his actions have brought to the surface the sociopathic attitudes endemic to the Israeli political establishment that have defined its policies towards Palestinians within the Occupied Territories for decades. From Gaza to Hebron, the abuses carried out against Palestinians in the name of upholding Israel’s security are seldom criticized within political circles of power. On the contrary, they are often celebrated. For example, in 2017, Israeli army medic Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead in 2016 an incapacitated Palestinian assailant while on duty in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. As a result, he was sentenced by an Israeli military court to 18 months in jail in what is a rare occurrence. Even then, however, a number of ministers from the Likud Party and others on the right called on President Reuven Rivlin to pardon Azaria before the sentence was ultimately shortened to 14 months. They included Lieberman, Bennett, and Netanyahu, in addition to Culture Minister Miri Regev and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovley. After serving just half of his original sentence, Azaria was received home to a hero’s welcome. Azaria, who later stated in an interview that he “has no regrets” and would act “exactly the same” if needed to, was made ‘man of the year’ by two Israeli media outlets, Channel 10 and Makor Rishon.
Should Bibi announce the full annexation of these territories, as he has proposed on more than one occasion in the past and as his current minister of education, Rafi Peretz, has reiterated, he would effectively be doing little more than enforcing the defining paradigm that dominates Israel’s mainstream political discourse: the belief that the territories between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea belong exclusively to Israel, the home of the Jewish people. Even though Israel maintains as its official policy a commitment to a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 boundaries, since entering the Oslo Accords, successive Israeli governments have expanded settlements in a manner cynically designed to undermine the prospect of the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state. Today, Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank have a recorded population of settlers four times that which existed on the eve of Oslo, a number that is considerably higher if you factor in East Jerusalem and the proliferation of ‘outposts’ not technically (but often tacitly) sanctioned by the State of Israel.
Israeli leadership, to which Netanyahu’s government is exceptional only in the brazen vulgarity of its methods—but not intent—has effectively killed Oslo, along with it the possibility of a Palestinian state negotiated along the 1967 lines. His defiance of the perennial norms that frame the conflict both within Israel and on the regional stage have made him impossible to ignore. His military pursuit of targets across the Middle East, namely in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, the latter two of which are US allies, and his relentless attempt to push the Trump Administration towards a catastrophic war with Iran, demonstrate his bold re-writing of Israel’s rules of engagement. Moreover, his recent refusal to accept entry to Israel of two Muslim-American congresswomen (one of Palestinian descent), unless they explicitly agree not to partake in boycott-related activities bears the hallmark of an authoritarian state, not a liberal democracy. Revealingly, even the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), known for their hawkish defense of Israel’s actions, condemned this decision. In stark contrast, when the prime minister wanted to prevent the Iran Nuclear Deal from passing in 2015, he delivered a speech to US Congress without the invitation of then-President Barack Obama, in violation of international diplomatic protocols.
Taken together, his recent announcement doesn’t constitute a significant deviation from the rejectionist norm that he has crafted throughout his time in office. While alarming, the only shock in the matter is that some observers still fixate on the two-state solution or allow themselves to be astonished by yet another one of Netanyahu’s serial violations—and the perils of Israeli politics more broadly. For the Palestinians, he has simply made obvious to the rest of the world a reality that they have intuitively understood for generations: Israel is uninterested in affording them their right to self-determination. Netanyahu has propelled the two-state derision to the forefront of Israel’s politics.