Here are a few fairly safe predictions for what will happen in Israel in the next year.
Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu will not go to jail.
The independence of the Israeli court system will be destroyed. Judges’ decisions will be made subject to veto by politicians. (That’s why Bibi will stay free.)
There will be a ‘third intifada’, involving the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and dozens or perhaps even a few hundred Israelis.
The new Israeli government will not strive officiously to head off this disaster, because it will distract domestic and international opinion enough to permit a very large expansion of the Jewish settlement project in the occupied West Bank.
Neither the United States nor Israel’s new Arab friends (the ‘Abraham Accords’ and all that) will put major pressure on Netanyahu’s government to stop that from happening. They both have bigger fish to fry elsewhere.
There will not be a civil war. As Anshel Pfeffer wrote last week in Ha’aretz: “For all Israel’s problems, life here is still too good, for all of Israeli communities, to risk a civil war. Losing what is left of Israel’s fragile and limited democracy will be a terrible blow for many, perhaps even most, Israelis – but it won’t be worth going to actual war for.”
Okay, let’s parse that, starting with the perhaps unfamiliar notion that Israeli democracy, once so vigorous and turbulent, is coming to an end. Pfeffer doesn’t mean that there will be no more elections or that the Knesset (parliament) will be shut down.
He means that Netanyahu has managed, after four failed attempts and five elections since 2019, to construct a stable all-right-wing coalition that can last (with occasional personnel changes) for a very long time.
It is durable because 62 per cent of Jewish Israelis now identify as right-wing, and the trend is ever further to the right. It is radical because Bibi was compelled to bring in extreme right parties, previously excluded from all governing coalitions, in order to win a majority in the fifth election last November.
Netanyahu, although tending towards the right, has no strong ideological convictions. He is a populist leader who will say whatever contributes to his long-term goal of staying in power. That instinct has been supercharged by the fact that he is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and the evidence against him is strong.
A previous Israeli prime minister was sentenced to six years in jail on exactly the same charges, so Bibi’s peril was real. Indeed, his attempts to escape that fate have defined the course of Israeli politics for the past five years.
Bringing the extreme right into his coalition not only gave him the numbers in the Knesset. It also gave him a contingent of cabinet colleagues who were as keen as he was to end the independence of the courts.
He just wanted to make the judges drop all the charges against him, by changing the laws if necessary. His new allies in the Religious Zionist Party wanted to end the courts’ pesky defence of human rights, which the judges seemed to believe even included Palestinian rights. So there was a deal to be made between Netanyahu and the RZP – and they made it.
The RZP’s leaders, racist thugs like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, seem to think that the deal includes a rapid growth of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and ultimately even the annexation of the West Bank.
They are also aware that a new Palestinian uprising would give them the excuse they need for taking extreme actions against the subject population in the West Bank, and they have secured cabinet positions that let them push the Palestinians in that direction.
However, Netanyahu is a wily and treacherous politician. He may be deceiving them on the annexation issue, for he is far more aware than they are of the extent to which Israel depends on American support. He has stopped at the brink of annexation on several previous occasions.
If and when the new intifada erupts, it will present opportunities for this government to take more extreme actions than ever before against the Palestinians. That might mean war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, but the ‘Abraham’ partners would try to look the other way.
So Bibi is really free from his troubles at last, at the cost of sabotaging democracy and the rule of law in Israel, and maybe a third intifada. Small prices to pay, he probably thinks, and a clear majority of Israeli Jews are not very upset about it.
The longer-run implications of all this are not great, but why worry now? It may never happen.