The project of the present Israeli governing coalition to overhaul the organization and powers of the High Court will have deep implications on Israeli-Arab relations if it succeeds.
Given the coalition members’ plans to harden legal sanctions on Arab Israelis to the point of stripping them of their citizenship and expel them from Israel, and given the projects to extend the settlers’ presence in the occupied territories, the proposed plans are bound to raise tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel. This could set off actions of solidarity among Palestinians in the occupied territories and in Arab countries.
Meanwhile, the new coalition’s plans to expand the settlements and give them a better legal cover by exerting control over the High Court – through legislative override or change in the judges nomination process – is also bound to raise Israeli-Palestinian tensions in the West Bank.
One could rightly argue that the establishment of settlements in the West Bank and the harsh treatment of its population has gotten for a half-century did not wait for new rules to be enacted by a rightist government.
Tensions are bound to rise
But if the proposed legislation succeeds, particularly the override rule and the change in the judicial nomination process, any move would become possible as Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies crave for total control of the West Bank. With Finance Minister and Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich in charge of civil affairs in the West Bank and with part of the powers of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, tensions are bound to raise.
These tensions may be contained for a while but for how long given Smotrich’s political aims in the West Bank, his political alliance with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and the fact that these two men and their allies in the Knesset exert true control on the fate of Netanyahu’s government?
Then, yes, the message from the Israeli government would become clear: there is no Palestinian Authority and there will be no Palestinian state, even a demilitarized state as Palestinian leaders have agreed to as a condition for Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace since the 1990s.
Given their possible consequences on the ground, on Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and in the West Bank, the proposed rules are bound to provoke a deterioration of the relations between Israel and the Arab countries with which it maintains diplomatic relations – no fewer than six.
STOPPING THE projects of the annexation of the West Bank by the previous Netanyahu government was already a condition that made the Abraham Accords possible. The plans of the present Israeli coalition to expand settlements won’t benefit Israeli-Arab relations when progress is expected in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
This point is not only a diplomatic issue, it touches the very fabric of Arab public opinion. Normalization won’t be fully accepted if there is no progress and there is indeed a deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
The moment is for building on the assets that the Abraham Accords represent for regional cooperation and peace. The present Israeli government needs to show political and diplomatic maturity. The Middle East has changed positively since the Camp David, Oslo and Abraham Accords, except for a majority of the Palestinian people.
It is time an Israeli and Arab leadership emerges that understands these issues and breaks with the politics of conflict and arrogance. The business communities are here and the civil societies, too, and the potential for shared initiatives and prosperity is real.
It may be that today the unlocking of this situation sits on the shoulders of one man: Netanyahu. The possibility that he does not go to court and avoids prison is completely linked to the fate that his governing coalition is preparing for the Israeli High Court. But by changing the legal rules and particularly by putting the override rule into law, Netanyahu might sacrifice the stability of this country and its relations with its neighbors for his singular benefit.
No one knows better than Netanyahu and the members of Knesset what is better for peace and their country, and their regional and international standing. If the United States and the United Kingdom have already expressed strong reservations about dealing with the present Israeli government and certainly with some of its members, what could be the position of Cairo, Amman, Abu Dhabi, Manama or Rabat?
The present legal issues before the Knesset and Israeli public opinion may be a matter of domestic politics but the way they are handled through votes in the Knesset, civil disobedience, the resignation of opposition MKs or an amnesty law will deeply affect the fate of Israeli-Palestinian relations, which are already at a very low point, and the status of Israeli Arabs, which, in fact, has been improving amid firm and continuous efforts after decades of stagnation.
Jamal Amiar is a Moroccan journalist and writer and a guest contributor to Mitvim Institute for Regional Policies.
The article was published in The Jerusalem Post on March 16.