Summary: the decision by UNGA was hailed as a significant breakthrough for the cause of Palestinian rights, even as Netanyahu inaugurates the most extreme government in Israel’s history.
On 30 December the UN General Assembly voted to ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague to consider the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. 87 countries voted for the motion, 25 against and 53 abstained.
The voting followed a predictable path with Israel’s staunchest backers, including the UK, the US, Australia and Canada as well as several European countries, among them Germany and Italy, voting against. Amongst other European countries abstaining were France, the Netherlands and Sweden. Arab countries, including those with diplomatic relations with Israel, voted in support of the motion.
Palestine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted
The State of Palestine welcomes the adoption of the important #UNGA resolution requesting an ICJ ruling on the legal nature of Israel’s occupation & thanks Member States that stood firm on principle & voted yes.This is a victory for justice and the rules-based international order
The Israeli response was as vitriolic as it was predictable. Before the vote the Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan issued a statement which said in part:
No international body can decide that the Jewish people are ‘occupiers’ in their own homeland. Any decision from a judicial body which receives its mandate from the morally bankrupt and politicized UN is completely illegitimate. The Palestinians have rejected every peace initiative while supporting and inciting terror. Instead of pushing the Palestinians to change, the UN is doing the opposite: helping them to harm the only vibrant democracy in the Middle East.
That “vibrant democracy” has just witnessed Benjamin Netanyahu cobbling together the most extreme far right government in the country’s history. Among the ministers he has appointed are convicted criminals and openly racist, religious and homophobic bigots. It is not far off the mark to call this Israel’s first Fascist government.
Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism Party has been appointed minister of finance as well as being given the Occupied Territories administration portfolio. He has described himself as “a proud homophobe” and wants the state’s judicial system to be placed under Torah law.
Itamar Ben-Gvir who heads up Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) has been convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organisation. He courts attention by going into mixed Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods, sometimes theatrically waving a gun while calling on police officers to shoot stone throwing Palestinians. Ben-Gvir has been given a portfolio specially created for him as National Security Minister with authority over the Israeli police on both sides of the Green Line.
Yariv Levin is the Speaker and Justice Minister tasked to drive through an override rule that would enable the Knesset to overrule Supreme Court decisions, an extraordinary politicization of the judiciary.
Avi Maoz of the one Knesset seat Noam faction has been put in charge of the Orwellian-sounding National Jewish Identity Department. This advocate of ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQ+ has been given responsibility for revising school curricula. In a 9 December editorial, The Jerusalem Post, otherwise known for its right wing stance, wrote that Maoz was “unfit to have authority on Israel’s education system.”
Two of Netanyahu’s deputy prime ministers are Almog Cohen who has called for the integration of the West Bank into the state of Israel while denying Palestinians the right to vote and Aryeh Deri whose most recent conviction for fraud was in January last year. Under previous legislation the conviction made him ineligible to a ministerial appointment. Using Netanyahu’s coalition majority, an amendment was pushed through the Knesset enabling him to sit as a minister
Picking up on Ben-Gvir’s mantra of a bullet for a stone, freshman Jewish Power MK Zvika Fogel, a retired brigadier general, had this to say: “An Arab who throws a stone at a soldier needs a bullet in the head, a Jew who throws stones needs to be educated.”
As for the prime minister who hopes to avoid jail for his own transgressions by pandering to the extremists, his views too are clear: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel,” said a policy statement from his Likud party. It added: “The government will encourage and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, in Judea and Samaria.” Judea and Samaria are terms, more colonial than they are biblical, that the Israelis use to describe the West Bank.
Netanyahu may believe he can rein in the extremists he has brought into his government but already Itamar Ben-Gvir is busy at what he does best, drawing attention to himself through acts of incitement. Yesterday accompanied by the police force he now commands he pushed his way onto the Al Aqsa Mosque compound , tweeting “The Temple Mount is open to everyone.” Ben-Gvir is agitating to allow non-Muslims to pray at one of Islam’s three holiest sites.
This was after Jordan’s King Abdullah had warned that any attempt to change the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites was a red line. The king has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in East Jerusalem. “If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared,” he said. “I always like to believe that, let’s look at the glass half full, but we have certain red lines… And if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”
With tactics like Ben-Gvir’s and a commitment to both expand settlements and move fast toward West Bank annexation, it is not just Jordan that needs to be alert to the threat that Netanyahu’s new extremist regime poses for regional stability. The Israelis, aided and abetted by the Trump presidency, had achieved a significant breakthrough with the Abraham Accords.
Recognition from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco with Sudan close to following suit appeared to have cut the Palestinian cause adrift from these four Arab countries with indications that sooner or later Saudi Arabia would jump on the bandwagon. Although the leaders of these authoritarian regimes see great advantage for themselves in close ties to Israel, those they rule over do not. One thing that was clear from the Doha World Cup was that the people of the Middle East remain firm in their support for Palestine. The tighter their leaders’ links to Israel as it embarks on a violently aggressive strategy that is ever more apartheid and colonialist, the more difficult it will be to sell those links to their own people.