Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Netanyahu Government Tightens Noose on Palestinians

Ben Gafir, the national security minister in Netanyahu's government, is expected to push the Knesset to adopt a death penalty law for Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu Government
Supporters of Israel’s new government wave flag and shout slogans towards Israeli students protesting next to them, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new hard-right government, in Tel Aviv University’s campus, on January 16, 2023. JACK GUEZ / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic.

The Security Cabinet of Israel slapped a series of harsh sanctions on the Palestinian Authority in its first meeting following the appointment of what is being described as the most right-wing government in Israeli history.

This action was taken in direct response to the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution requesting that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) take up the matter of Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen sought to justify these sanctions by saying his government wanted to make clear that “any attempt to harm Israel in the international arena will not pass without a price.”

More clearly, in an official statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it considered the Palestinian Authority’s appeal to the U.N. General Assembly and the ICJ “a political and legal war against the State of Israel.” It added that the government consequently decided to respond “as necessary” rather than remain silent.

Furthermore, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich indicated that these sanctions were just the beginning, and threatened to exact a heavy price from “anyone who works against Israel with.”

These developments have confirmed widespread concerns about the composition of Netanyahu’s new government dominated by far-right parties. As earlier mentioned, it opted to inflict severe sanctions on the Palestinians that amounted to a financial and ground blockade rather than appealing to legal arguments at the ICJ as its initial political response to the PA turning to international law and U.N. agencies.

These actions serve as a model for how the Netanyahu administration will approach any future Palestinian-Israeli matters.

Netanyahu’s government and concessions to extremist allies

Netanyahu initially failed to form a new government within the 28-day period allotted to him by Israel’s president, and was granted a 10-day extension to complete the task. However, faced with the difficulties and delays amid a bitter dispute among the leaders of the right-wing camp jockeying over ministerial positions, Netanyahu was forced to make major concessions in favor of his far-right allies.

On December 21, 2022, mere minutes before the new deadline, Netanyahu finally announced that he had agreed with his allies in the right-wing camp on the makeup of his new government.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister in Netanyahu’s government and leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, is expected to push the Knesset to adopt a law that will apply the death penalty on Palestinian prisoners accused of killing or attempting to kill Israelis.

Immediately upon being appointed to his ministerial position, Ben Gvir infuriated Palestinians by storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque square in Jerusalem heading a large security force comprised of Israeli police and border guards.

Aryeh Derim, the new Interior Minister and leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, seeks to develop administrative work through municipalities in illegal West Bank settlements, in preparation for their permanent annexation in the future.

Deri, whose party represents religious Mizrahi Jews, began this task during the term of Netanyahu’s previous government in 2020, when he sought to push Interior Ministry officials in this direction and explicitly announced this approach in his media statements.

The Finance Ministry was entrusted to Smotrich, leader of the “religious Zionist” movement who is known for adopting harsh anti-Palestinian policies, and encouraging large-scale illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Through this position, Smotrich aims to direct additional and massive funding in support of the settlement project in the West Bank. He also vowed to push for the legalization and licensing of “random and illegal” settlements that were built by Israeli settlers without the permission of the Israeli government or army.

In other words, like Deri, Smotrich has embraced the approach of gradually annexing swaths of the West Bank to Israel after fortifying them with new settlements.

Netanyahu’s far-right allies thus managed to impose their terms and secure key positions in the government. The interior, finance and national security ministers, who belong to these far-right parties, will also join the Security Cabinet according to Israeli law.

The Security Cabinet usually includes a number of senior ministers assigned to sensitive positions who can take pressing decisions related to the military situation and urgent security and diplomatic issues.

An extremist program for the Netanyahu government

The extreme right’s influence in Netanyahu’s government goes beyond the Cabinet line-up to include the work program agreed upon by the components of the government. This includes, for example, allowing the General Security Agency, or the Shin Bet, to monitor Arab citizens inside Israel and track their activity on social networks under the pretext of combating crime and violence.

It also included tightening control over civil society institutions and Arab political parties inside Israel, as well as imposing additional fees and taxes on their funding sources with the aim of gradually reducing the scope of their activities.

Most notably, the cabinet decided to work toward passing legislation that would permit the removal of Arab academics and teachers from Israeli institutions and schools should they voice anti-Israel sentiments or support “terrorist” causes. In addition, the Netanyahu government will seek to continue working to revoke Israeli citizenship from every Palestinian convicted of acting “against Israel’s security.”

The components of the government also promised to ban raising the Palestinian flag in any Israeli government institution, including universities and public schools. In fact, Ben Gvir implemented this provision of the government’s work program on January 9 by issuing orders to the police to prevent the Palestinian flag from being raised in any public space.

In addition, they resolved to disregard the recommendations of the Israeli “Or Commission,” which following the uprising of Palestinians in 2000 cautioned against hastily targeting Palestinians in the West Bank and called for a decrease in social inequities between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

According to the extreme right parties, these recommendations afforded Palestinians additional leeway. They also believe that the Israeli security forces ought to have more freedom to use force in the West Bank.

Thus, besides promising to expand settlements in the West Bank as part of its program, the government also vowed to give the security forces greater latitude in the use of force.

Indeed, less than a few weeks after its formation, the Cabinet rushed to annul previous government decisions that required the evacuation of several unauthorized settlements in the West Bank, and decided to license religious facilities built within these settlements, instead.

The U.N. General Assembly resolution

In seeking to persuade the International Court of Justice to rule on Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in conformity with international law, the Palestinian Authority turned to the United Nations General Assembly. The subsequent U.N. resolution, issued On December 30, 2022, asked the ICJ to issue an advisory opinion on two key issues:

– Examining Israel’s continued violation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, through its long-term occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including measures aimed at changing the demographic composition of the city of Jerusalem.

– The impact of Israeli measures on the legal status of the occupation, and the type of legal implications of this situation for all countries and the United Nations.

As part of the same resolution, the U.N. General Assembly expressed its concern about “the persistence of Israel, the occupying power, in systematically violating the human rights of the Palestinian people.” It also denounced “the practice of withholding the bodies of those who were killed,” referring to the Israeli authorities’ detention of a group of Palestinian prisoners’ bodies and using them as leverage.

At the same time, the resolution stressed the need to “prevent all acts of violence, harassment, provocation and incitement perpetrated by extremist Israeli settlers, especially against Palestinian civilians, including children.”

This step, which the PA achieved after a massive pressure campaign within the United Nations, paves the way for a decree issued by the ICJ that subsequently will help determine the legal obligations of countries and the U.N to freeze Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The vote in the U.N. Nations General Assembly reflected significant international support for the resolution, which 87 countries voted for while 26 countries voted against, with 53 abstentions.

The package of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority

As soon as the U.N. resolution was issued, Netanyahu’s government responded with harsh punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority that included:

– Withholding about 139 million shekels in taxes and customs collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and instead transferring them to Israeli families affected by Palestinian security operations. By law, these funds belong to the PA, meaning that with this procedure Israel chose to impose what amounts to a financial blockade on the Palestinians.

-Freezing all Palestinian construction plans in “Area C,” which represents more than 60 per cent of the West Bank’s territories. Thus, Israel has imposed a suffocating urban blockade on the rest of the densely populated areas of the West Bank, preventing their expansion.

-Canceling the privileges of leaders in the Palestinian Authority including transit permits that allow them to move between areas of the West Bank. Simply by limiting their ability to roam freely, this decision prevents these officials from carrying out even their most routine administrative tasks.

-Restricting the work of Palestinian civil society organizations that are active in the West Bank and that support anti-Israel activities.

Simply put, Israel’s reaction through these punitive measures has perfectly illustrated the message that the Palestinian Authority sought to convey to the world.

The financial blockade, restrictions on the movement of officials, restrictions on urban expansion and suppression of civil society activity are all practices that indicate Israel’s role as a settler colonial power in the West Bank.

While the PA seeks to invoke international law to confront these practices, Netanyahu’s new government has proven that at every juncture its extremist components will push it toward force and violence in confronting Palestinian efforts.

It is therefore clear that moving forward Netanyahu’s new government represents one of the major obstacles that will impede any peaceful solution to the existing occupation.

user placeholder
written by
All Dima articles