ISPI MED This Week

MED This Week | Is Netanyahu Sitting on a Powder Keg?

The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we turn the spotlight on Israel, focusing on the recent spiking violence in the West Bank and PM Netanyahu’s announcement on new settlement expansion projects.

Instability is on the rise in the West Bank. On June 18, the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that it was moving forward with plans to build over 4,000 new housing units there. In the meantime, it passed a resolution granting the far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich – a staunch supporter of Israel’s annexation of the West Bank – vast powers to accelerate settlement construction. Since the start of its term in January, Netanyahu’s coalition (described by many as the most right-wing in Israel’s history) endorsed the construction of more than 7,000 new housing units in the West Bank. Any additional approvals by Israel’s Supreme Planning Council next week will move this number closer (if not well beyond) to the target of 10,000 units announced for 2023. Understandably, a similar expansion represents a significant source of tensions and violence in occupied territories, where Palestinian armed resistance is assuming new dimensions. In the days following the prime minister’s announcement, the Israeli army carried out one of the largest raids in years on the Jenin refugee camp – employing also combat helicopters, while deadly clashes erupted between Palestinians and settlers in the Eli area. The prospect of increased settlement activity in the West Bank also threatens to put Netanyahu on a collision course with the United States.

The experts of the ISPI MED network react to Israel’s latest efforts to speed up plans for new settlements in the occupied West Bank and the resulting tensions with the Palestinians.

A “matter of political survival” for Netanyahu

“The accelerated authorising process for settlement expansions, approved by the cabinet, should not be seen as a means to repair divided country following the judiciary overhaul. Instead, it is part of the ideological kulturkampf driven primarily by the religious-zionist parties than by Benjamin Netanyahu. For Bibi, granting the extremists this power is a matter of political survival. The opposition reacted quite mildly compared to the protests on the judiciary reforms because settlements and Palestinians are about security. Benny Ganz, the highest-rated alternative to Netanyahu, has been Chief of Staff and Minister of Defence, and is part of the echelon of national security. The opposition would strongly react if the cabinet decision will ignite widespread violence, which would compel a powerful American reaction. ‘Deeply troubled’ has been, till now, the usual comment from Washington.”

Ugo Tramballi, Senior Advisor, ISPI

When violence is rewarded, things can only worsen

“With 75 years of state-organized violence with no accountability, Israel enjoys impunity in the face of all its crimes. Since January 2023, the Netanyahu extremist government has protected settler terrorism and army crimes against the Palestinians, with 177 Palestinian civilians killed in 6 months. This coupled with the acceleration of Israeli plans to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank and considering the firepower and size of the forces deployed in Jenin, throughout Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian authorities have responded with a déjà vu encounter and a summary warning to freeze coordination. Unsurprisingly, violence will continue. Israeli aggression reminds us that Palestinian lives matter and that Palestinians enjoy Article 51 of the charter of the UN in the right to self-defence. Multilateralism and international law can be effective if applied immediately; condemnations, instead, are procrastination of status quo of continued violence.”

Dalal Iriqat, Assistant Professor, Arab American University

Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinians increases the cost of normalisation with Riyadh

“Israel’s unending rule over Palestinians will always impede the ability to forge relationships with the Arab states, and the government’s recent decision to expand and accelerate illegal settlement building certainly does not help. But Saudi-Israeli normalization appears unlikely irrespective of Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. Indeed, the impetus to pursue normalization has waned for several reasons over the past two years and is now facing a serious challenge in the form of rapprochement with Iran, as Saudi Arabia — and even the UAE — explore different approaches for meeting their security and economic needs in an increasingly multipolar world. Given Israel’s immense unpopularity in the region, decision-makers in Riyadh likely view open relations with Israel as an albatross, especially when Israel is moving in the opposite direction of a political settlement with the Palestinians. Of course, the situation could change if the US provides Riyadh with an offer it can’t refuse, but giving away the farm to the Saudis doesn’t play well in US domestic politics, and Israeli behaviour is only raising the cost.”

Omar Rahman, Fellow, Middle East Council on Global Affairs; and Editor, Afkār

Netanyahu’s extreme policies may challenge the standard US policy towards Israel

“The Biden administration reacted harshly to this new expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. While reaffirming the solidity – indeed ‘specialness’ – of the US-Israeli relationship, Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the decision and its negative impact on the stalled peace process with the Palestinian National Authority and on the attempt to involve Saudi Arabia in the multilateral diplomacy kickstarted by the so-called ‘Abraham Accords.’ What was omitted from Blinken’s critique was the concern that the extreme policies of the Israeli right-wing government could further embolden the many critical voices within the US Democratic Party, which question US support for Israel and demand a change of policy. These voices are increasingly popular among the democratic electorate, as many polls highlight, and challenge the standard US policy toward Israel of the past three decades.”

Mario Del Pero, Senior Associate Research Fellow, ISPI, and Professor of International History, SciencesPo Paris


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