If Washington had enforced its own stance on settlements in occupied territories, the current crisis in Israel could have been avoided. The recent passing of Israel’s controversial judicial overhaul legislation has led to a series of crises economically, militarily, socially, and politically. But at the heart of the current tensions are people that the US could have stopped if it had stuck to its own policy positions.
On Monday, the Israeli Knesset approved the first stage of the government’s judicial reform, which nullifies the “Reasonableness Clause” that allowed the Supreme Court to block legislation. This amendment was passed with a 64-0 vote, as the opposition members boycotted the vote. This decision sparked mass street protests against the legislation, with some encounters turning violent between supporters of the judicial overhaul and the police.
Protests have been taking place every Saturday since January 7, with tens, hundreds, and even thousands of Israeli citizens calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the plan to curtail the powers of the judiciary. These protests have gained momentum in recent weeks. The Histadrut, Israel’s largest trade union, even held an emergency meeting to declare a nationwide strike, something they haven’t done since March. As a result of the reform plan, there has been a decline in the national currency, a drop in investments in the high-tech sector, and a crisis in the military’s reserve force, with 10,000 service members threatening not to show up. Notably, even high-ranking politicians, past and present, have warned of the potential for civil war. Netanyahu’s support in the polls has also dropped below that of his opposition rival.
The central issue in the current crisis is the debate within Israel about the future of the country’s model. Protesters are concerned about the future of Israel as a Western-style liberal democracy for the Jewish people, while supporters of the Netanyahu government want a more radical, theocratic model. The current government and its supporters argue that their reforms are in line with democracy since they won the national election. However, the protest movement sees the judicial overhaul as a complete erosion of democracy.
The recent amendment to the “Reasonableness Clause” restricts the powers of the Supreme Court to discard legislation or government decisions that contradict Israel’s Basic Laws. Without the judiciary’s ability to keep the government in check, there are fears that the Israeli population may lose certain liberal rights. This worry stems from the fact that Israel does not have a Constitution and its system of governance is based on the British Mandate system. The Supreme Court’s authority has been seen as necessary to maintain the stability of Israel’s system.
However, the root cause of the current crisis lies in the Israeli settlement movement. Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has created the political reality that we see today, with the movement behind these expansions now occupying high positions in the Israeli government. While Netanyahu himself is not a religious extremist, the Religious Zionism party alliance, which received significant votes in the elections, is led by religious ultra-nationalists.
The leaders of the settler movement, such as Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, have played a key role in pushing for the judicial overhaul. Netanyahu is reliant on the support of Religious Zionism for his political survival. This alliance has threatened to collapse the government if Netanyahu concedes to the opposition and abandons the legal amendment. The rise of these extremist politicians is concerning, especially considering their history of incitement of racism and violence.
It is Washington’s failure to act that has allowed the settler movement to gain power. The US government has not pressured Israel to stop settlement expansion, despite claiming to be appalled by it. In fact, US-based charitable organizations have been funding the Israeli settlement movement with tens of millions of dollars. This support contradicts decades of US policy stating that settlement expansion is illegal. The US government’s failure to prevent the spread of this extremist ideology has contributed to the current crisis in Israel.
Instead of supporting their allies, US leaders have allowed the rise of a far-right settler political force that now threatens the Israeli system. The Biden administration’s statements referring to the judicial overhaul as “unfortunate” are simply empty words. The US government is complicit in creating this crisis by failing to enforce its own policies.
In conclusion, if Washington had adhered to its own stance on settlements, the current crisis in Israel may have been avoided. The passing of the judicial overhaul legislation is the result of the settler movement gaining power and influence in the government. The US government’s failure to prevent settlement expansion and its support for extremist settler organizations has contributed to the current turmoil in Israel.