The UN General Assembly recently adopted a resolution recognizing the Nakba — Arabic for “catastrophe” — when Zionist military forces expelled almost a quarter of a million Palestinians from Palestine in 1948 to make way for the state of Israel. The recognition of this historical injustice came during the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the end of the Second Intifada, with 2022 clocking in as a record year for settler violence against Palestinians. The future of Palestinian security is even bleaker now.
Israeli state forces and illegal Jewish settlers have tightened their reign of terror over Palestinians in the West Bank in the past few months. According to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 and another by Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq’s coalition, settler violence is now the norm. For example, harassing Palestinian shepherds and their families during the olive harvest season is a regular practice for Israeli security forces. A particularly harrowing incident was an Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) field execution of Palestinian youth Ammar Mifleh at point-blank range in Huwwara, a town south of Nablus, in December 2022. Long sanctioned by state authorities, this shoot-to-kill policy is just one facet of Israel’s settler-colonial enterprise.
In essence, the fringe’s entry into Israeli politics and the subsequent empowerment of the settler movement are emblematic of the sinister and racist currents that underpin the Israeli state.
Amidst boiling violence in the West Bank, Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to prime ministership is one more nail in the coffin in the ossification of the settler state. Sworn in as leader of the most right-wing, conservative, and ultranationalist coalition in Israel’s history, Netanyahu breaks the record as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister — and is currently being tried on three corruption charges.
The coalition’s ensemble will feature some of Israel’s most renowned Jewish extremists and settler-activists, namely figureheads like Itmar Ben-Gvir as National Security Minister and Bezalel Smotrich as Finance Minister with a post in the Defense Ministry. Within its first week, Ben-Gvir has signaled a provocative start for the new administration with a guarded visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a move notorious for having sparked the Second Intifada 22 years ago. After the visit, Knesset and coalition member Zvika Fogel appeared on mainstream Israeli TV expressing genocidal rhetoric: “It’s time to subdue them [the Palestinians] once and for all, and to make it the final war.”
WHO’S IN THE COALITION?
Before he entered politics, openly genocidal Ben-Gvir had been charged with incitement more than 50 times and notoriously hung a picture of Baruch Goldstein in his home, an Israeli terrorist who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in Al-Khalil (Hebron) in February 1994. In October 2022, he was filmed waving a handgun in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, an area in illegally annexed East Jerusalem whose residents currently face ethnic cleansing, a day after he threatened to “mow down” Palestinians in the same area.
In a similar strand of bloodlust, Bezalel Smotrich’s post in the Defense Ministry awards him the authority of the Civil Administration of the West Bank, potentially making him the second most powerful figure in government. In 2005, Israel’s security service suspected Smotrich of planning a terror attack on a major highway after Israel withdrew from Gaza. With ministerial authority, Smotrich would oversee Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and airstrike operations on the besieged Gaza strip. Both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir would essentially be provided custodianship of Palestinian livelihood.
The far-right’s rise to power also indicates the Jewish Israeli public’s growing acceptance of extremism. Most Jewish Israelis, approximately 60%, favor Jewish segregation from Arab Palestinians, which is up from 45% in 2021. Netanyahu ally and Knesset member Danny Danon also said the government has the “full support” of Israelis for settlement expansion in the West Bank.
A STEP CLOSER TO THE “SETTLEMENT ENTERPRISE”
Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are not exceptional facets of Israel’s body politic. Instead, they represent a continuity of pre- and post-state policies aimed at extinguishing Palestinians in all spheres. There is nothing ideologically novel about these supremacists, but their brazenness indicates Israeli settler-colonialism’s tenacity throughout the decades.
Smotrich said the far-right coalition would “develop the settlement enterprise,” an endeavor that has been a key feature of Israeli statecraft since its very inception. Settlements are a flagrant violation of international law and amount to war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Underpinning the ideological center of settlement development are “the ‘race-based’ notions of Jewish distinction and supremacy” with the objective of “exclusive control of Palestine’s natural resources.” Since modern Zionism’s founder Theodore Herzl’s explication of this objective in 1895, the Palestinian population inside Israel proper and in the Occupied Territories has been perceived as a threat to the Jewish majority.
Every single administration, whether left, right, or center, from Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to Netanyahu today, has perpetually sought to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, be it through state-sanctioned settler violence, housing demolitions, or by the crippling siege on Gaza, the longest in modern history.
The most prominent settler-colonial institution that has directly overseen and conducted the displacement of Palestinians is the Jewish National Fund. A quasi-governmental agency, the fund was originally founded in 1901 to purchase Ottoman-era Palestinian land to create an exclusively Jewish state. It has since enabled state violence on a mass scale using US and Canadian taxpayer-subsidized funds to complete its greenwashing projects. In 2020, the Jewish National Fund announced project Israel 2040, which aims to settle 1.5 million Jewish Israelis into the Naqab (Negev) and the Galilee to strengthen Israel “demographically.” Stretching from Menachim Ussishken, head of the Jewish National Fund in 1936, to Bezalel Smotrich today, the supremacist notion of being “landlords of this land” remains part and parcel of the state machinery.
My paternal grandparents were victims of the Jewish National Fund’s ethnic cleansing projects. Former IDF chief of staff and prime minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin ordered the IDF to expel my grandparents and other natives from Imwas, a village northwest of Jerusalem, in 1967, raze it to the ground, and bar the villagers’ return. Five years later, the Canadian branch of the Jewish National Fund had raised $90 million to build Canada Park on the rubble of our ancestral homes. Today, about half of Jewish National Fund-owned land once belonged to Palestinian refugees.
In essence, the fringe’s entry into Israeli politics and the subsequent empowerment of the settler movement are emblematic of the sinister and racist currents that underpin the Israeli state. This is an issue that the recalibration of the political compass will not remedy. So while the state’s steep slide to the right is an urgent cause for concern and spells further disaster for Palestinian security, the reality is that the robustness of Israel’s right is indicative of its broader settler-colonial aim: one that awards supremacy by platforming violence and punishes Palestinians for daring to live.
Bibi won, and the Palestinians lost. Dark days are ahead of us, where Palestinian sumood, or “steadfastness,” remains our only recourse.
Hadeel Abu Ktaish is a junior fellow at the Center for International Policy, where her work focuses on arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and ending US militarism abroad.