04 January 2023 09:59
If you place an arsonist in charge of the fire department, you will inevitably have fires. This is what is happening in Israel following the appointment of far-right leader Itamar Ben-Gvir as minister of national security.
A week was enough for Ben-Gvir, previously convicted of inciting hatred, to do something that the head of government Benjamin Netanyahu certainly did not wish: the minister went to the esplanade of the mosques in Jerusalem, the third holiest site of the ‘islam and one of the most sensitive sites on the planet.
Ben-Gvir has a stated goal: he wants to question the status quo in force after Israel’s conquest of the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem in 1967, with the ban on Jews praying on the esplanade of mosques, where about two thousand years ago their temple was located.
On the morning of January 3, Ben-Gvir’s walk, surrounded by security agents, dragged Israel into a diplomatic storm that Netanyahu would have gladly done without.
Ben-Gvir claims that he simply wanted to challenge the Islamists of Hamas, who had warned him. But the truth is that the whole world was against his initiative.
Washington does not want to find a new crisis in the Middle East on its hands
On January 3, Jordan, the Hashemite kingdom responsible for managing the esplanade of mosques, summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest. The United Arab Emirates, which recently strengthened ties with the Jewish state, criticized the minister’s visit, as did Saudi Arabia, which now maintains unofficial relations with Israel.
Even the US government, Israel’s traditional protector, has called the attempt to alter the status quo “unacceptable”. Washington, in fact, does not want to find its hands on a new crisis in the Middle East in an already explosive context.
Americans remember Netanyahu’s promise that he would not allow Ben-Gvir to change the situation in Jerusalem. “I know this would set fire to the Middle East and raise billions of Muslims against us,” Netanyahu said. It was 2020.
What has changed since then is that Netanyahu could not have won his fifth general election in four years without the support of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party led by Ben-Gvir.
The question of the esplanade of the mosques has become the first test for the new coalition. Netanyahu has struck a Faustian pact with extremist forces who do not intend to play the role of extras in the government. On 1 January, a deputy from Ben-Gvir’s party, therefore a member of the coalition in power, declared that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is “definitive”. So it is an annexation (although not declared) which definitively buries the hypothesis of two states, Israel and Palestine, coexisting side by side.
Netanyahu has formed a coalition that goes far beyond anything “Bibi” has dared to do so far, and that clearly wants to change the nature of Israel. The prime minister will have to decide quickly whether he wants to be an accomplice or simply a hostage to the extremists who have taken over Israeli politics. This nuance will probably determine the duration of the coalition.
(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)