Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

Israel… The Game and the Players

Israel’s professional politicians have taken their fierce and stubborn dispute to the corridors of the political system. The president has been the mediator, and all sides have kept their weapons, and despite temporarily delaying work on their main issue - the “judicial reform” - the majority in the Knesset continued to work on separate problematic laws.

The opposition continues to take to the streets as they vie to cancel the reforms after having imposed a temporary pause... They are now discussing this, and no one is certain of where the dialogue will lead.

The coalition government is the biggest loser. Its influence on the street has waned and it has been isolated by traditionally supportive global powers, especially its ultimate supporter (the White House). Indeed, the US administration has shown its support for the opposition by postponing the crowning of Netanyahu in Washington and endorsing the Israeli president’s initiative, which the coalition government has rejected and sees as a proposed solution put forward by a party to the conflict rather than a president to everyone.

The internal balance of power internally, as well as the US administration, is in the opposition’s favor. This has incensed Netanyahu, especially after the US administration withdrew the invitation that had been announced by its ambassador in Tel Aviv. The decision to rescind the invitation pushed Netanyahu to take their dispute public and scold President Biden (who is encroaching on Israel’s independence and freedom to make its own decisions)!

Israeli domestic politics is a game played on shifting sands, and Netanyahu has yet to realize that the sand has pulled him from his position as king. He is now in a weaker position, whether within his camp or at the national level. For the first time, opinion polls have indicated that the country favors Benny Gantz, the star of the opposition, and his (disciplined) party would lose ten seats in general elections if they were held tomorrow.

Netanyahu relies on past achievements. In the past, nothing could undermine the credit he had built with the electorate, and he is behaving as though he were still the master of the game and its players. He has not walked back on a policy that is deepening his crisis and eroding his credibility. Immediately after having been dealt a blow in the battle to reform the judiciary, he initiated another battle as he sought to buy Ben Gvir’s loyalty at the expense of the security establishment’s unity by offering a private militia, not batting an eye as he tore up state institutions and used them to further his own ends.

Hasn’t Netanyahu realized that he had to bribe Smotrich with the defense ministry to get the Religious Zionist Party’s votes? He could well continue to tear the country apart if that is the price of a coalition partner’s loyalty. These partners have ruthlessly and audaciously exploited his reliance on them, going so far as to weaken the foundational pillars of the Israeli state.

Netanyahu has a habit of squeezing past crises, even when there seems to be no way out. However, there isn’t enough cunning in the world to get him out of this mess.

A third domestic actor stands on the sidelines, largely boycotting the popular movement, the Palestinian Arabs of Israel.

Several explanations for why they decided to stand aside have emerged. Nonetheless, something of a consensus on this issue has emerged over the past three months.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel feel excluded from the movement, which they said has not addressed their concerns because it has ignored their cause and demands... Most of them found the popular protest slogan of “justice” neither compelling nor fair. The discrimination they suffer from and are struggling to overcome is an affront to democracy. There is also a deeper and more consequential factor, solidarity with their fellow Palestinians, whose occupation the protest movement has not raised a single slogan to denounce.

The two million Palestinian citizens of Israel, a fifth of the population, are not sitting in the stands because they have the luxury to do so or because they are indifferent.

Rather, they are making a political statement to draw attention to their demands by pushing their fellow citizens to ask themselves why the Palestinians are boycotting this broad movement... Despite being a minority in Israeli society, they have refused to be mere acolytes of the protesters or a stockpile of votes that competitors draw from every election season.

So far, the boxing match between local actors seems far finished... Whether by decision or knockout.

Nonetheless, while the direction it will take is uncertain, it is clear that Israel stands at a major crossroads. Let us always keep in mind the theory of shifting sands that govern the game and control the players.