n Zionist literature, Israel’s foundation in 1948, which followed a mass expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians, is always portrayed as a success story. The story is presented as follows: the country “defeated seven Arab armies” and emerged victorious. There is no mention of the expulsion of the Palestinian people who ended up as refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The narrative of Israel’s creation is fictious and romanticized, and does not reflect the reality of the country now–a country steadily nearing an existential crisis.
The generation of Israel’s founders is almost non-existent today; the young soldiers who fought Israel’s “war of independence” in 1948 no longer govern the country. Today, Israel is ruled by the second- and third-generation politicians and former officers who served in Israel’s various wars and share a different strategic approach based on expansion and economic peace with Israel’s neighbors without settling the Palestinian issue. One such Israeli leader, who has been active for a couple of decades in Israel’s political spectrum, is Benjamin Netanyahu, or as he is known locally, “Bibi.”
Netanyahu was born in 1949 in Petah Tikva (Openning of Hope), the first Jewish colony to be built in Palestine in 1878. He served in the Israeli army as part of the elite unit Sayeret Matkal, taking part in the war of attrition between Israel and Egypt in 1967-1970. His ambitions didn’t stop at the army, which is the case for many Israeli politicians who have emerged over the years from the ranks of the military. He ran for politics, becoming the head of Israel’s opposition in 1993-1996. His eventful return to Israeli politics in 2009-2021 and his recent return to office have sent mixed messages and marked the start of a new era in Israeli politics.
A country without a constitution
When Israel was established in 1948, it had no constitution. Instead, there was a set of laws and regulations given that Israeli political parties have always been divided and bringing them together under one constitution would not be feasible. At the same time, the Supreme Court of Israel is supposed to be independent and apolitical. The last two years have seen five snap Israeli elections due to the inability of Israeli political parties to form a stable political alliance, resulting in the return of Netanyahu as prime minister, after serving as Israel’s head of opposition for almost a year.
Netanyahu’s plan to appoint judges to the Supreme Court has faced a fierce Israeli opposition, accusing Netanyahu of attempting to take over the judiciary. This time, Netanyahu had to seek the support of extreme far-right political parties to form a fragile coalition, including ministers with a criminal record in his cabinet to the dislike of Israeli allies such as the U.S. The statement of Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich that there is a need to wipe out the Palestinian village of Huwara in the West Bank, which saw a pogrom, only added fuel to fire. In a recent conference, Smotrich tried to save face by whitewashing his earlier statement.
This Israeli generational gap which has only been widening due to politics and perspectives is manifested today in the ongoing protests in Israel against Netanyahu. This divide could challenge Israel’s whole existence, and has pushed Israel’s president to warn of a “very serious” crisis over Netanyahu’s plan to make a judiciary overhaul. “We are in a very serious situation that may have political, economic, social and security consequences,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog said before a ceremony in Tel Aviv on March 13, 2023. He went on to warn that a civil war in Israel is a possibility and that politicians should understand that Israel is not immune to such a development.
Unrest in Israel could lead to regional unrest
Israel’s growing turn towards the right disturbs some of its allies and is a threat to regional instability. This is especially true considering the growing protests in Israel, which, in turn, might push the Israeli government to export its crisis to the wider region and especially to Gaza, translating into another military confrontation with the Palestinian factions there. In the past, Israeli politicians have tried to resolve internal crises by creating other crises and by showcasing the Palestinians as the “true” enemy of all Israelis, who need to stand united behind the government.
This is a likely scenario given Israeli ministers’ growing anti-Palestinian discourse ahead of Ramadan and the repeated Israeli incursions and assassinations in the West Bank. These developments have made some Arab governments feel more wary of Israel’s actions, pushing them to take steps that reflect a sense of unease with the policies of the Israeli government.
Another development that might push the Israeli government to export its ongoing crisis is the recent China-brokered Saudi-Iranian deal, which was surprising to many. Israeli commentators have described the deal as a defeat to Israel’s diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran, in a region where some countries looked to Israel as a “savior” against a possible Iranian expansion. Israel’s securitization of Iran’s regional ambitions and its nuclear program have pushed certain regional state actors that feel threatened by Iran’s interventionalist policy closer to Israel.
As Ramadan approaches, escalation with the Palestinians because of incursions by Israeli settlers into Al-Aqsa, is very possible. In light of the escalation that has been building up in the West Bank, a confrontation in the region this spring or summer might be Israel’s way out of its domestic crisis. The divide in Israel is widening by the minute, and the second- and third-generation Israeli leaders might be taking the country and the whole region into a new unknown direction.
Only responsible international pressure on the Israeli government might stop another confrontation. One fact, however, is certain: the Israel of 1948, which was created by a different generation, is not the Israel we see today. Second- and third-generation Israeli politicians are not only gambling with the future of the whole region but also with the future of Israel itself.