Rania Khalek invited me on to her Breakthrough News show Dispatches to talk about this and other recent developments in the region. You can watch our conversation in the video above.
Netanyahu’s coalition will include Itamar Ben-Gvir, an anti-Palestinian racist who is considered extreme even by Israeli standards.
Ben-Gvir is notorious, among other things, for idolizing Baruch Goldstein, the American Jewish settler who massacred 29 Palestinian men and boys at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in 1994.
Another senior minister is expected to be Bezalel Smotrich, a religious fanatic whose views are so reprehensible and embarrassing that even Britain’s reliably anti-Palestinian Israel lobby had to distance itself from and denounce him when he visited the UK earlier this year.
The head of America’s Union for Reform Judaism called Netanyahu’s naming of Ben-Gvir as public security minister akin to “appointing David Duke, one of the heads of the KKK, as attorney general.”
I told Khalek that such reactions are typical of the responses of both American and Israeli liberals. They mirror the response in the United States to the election of Donald Trump.
Among American mainstream liberals, Trump becoming president is seen as an intolerable injury to the soul of America that needs to be excised. Once a Democrat was voted back into the White House liberals could breathe a sigh of relief and feel proud to be an American again.
But US government abuses that happened before Trump was elected, continued while he was president and did not stop after he left office.
This includes the New Jim Crow – mass incarceration and systematic state violence against Black people – and an endless war machine that lurched from the 20-year disaster in Afghanistan almost immediately into a horrifying proxy war in Ukraine that threatens nuclear annihilation.
No more sugar coating
But from the perspective and experience of Palestinians, any change in an Israeli government is merely a change in the pair of hands holding the ax. It’s the same ax and it’s still going to come down on Palestinian necks no matter which executioner is now wielding it.
That’s why under the supposedly “centrist” coalition government led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, Israel this year killed more Palestinians in the occupied West Bank than any year since at least 2005.
That does not mean there are no differences between an Israeli “centrist” or “right-wing” government, but the difference is mostly about appearance.
Israeli Jewish leaders and voters no longer see a need to sugarcoat their colonial violence with progressive or liberal rhetoric as they did in past decades.
The institution of the kibbutz, for example, was key to this propaganda in the 1960s and 1970s.
Kibbutzes are Jewish colonial settlements that played a key part in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, but had a pseudo-socialist and collectivist flavoring that attracted naive or idealistic Western leftists.
Among them was EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the nominally socialist Spanish politician who today conceives of Europe as a blissful “garden” surrounded by the wild “jungle.”
In the late 1960s, Borrell volunteered in a kibbutz founded by Polish Jewish colonists.
So too did Lars Faaborg-Andersen, a previous EU ambassador in Tel Aviv. In a love letter to Israel as he left his post in 2017, the Danish diplomat reflected fondly on the time he spent in one of these Zionist settlements in the 1970s.
“In those days, young Europeans and Americans flocked to Israel to take part in the socialist kibbutz experiment and show solidarity with David in his struggle for survival against the surrounding Arab Goliaths,” he said, faithfully regurgitating standard Israeli propaganda.
But with support from the United States, Europe and even America’s Arab client regimes assured no matter what it does, Israel’s Jewish leaders and voters no longer see much point in disguising the true character of their enterprise.
After all, the weapons, financial support and political rewards keep flowing to Tel Aviv no matter what crimes Israel commits against Palestinians. Israel feels free to reveal its true face, the face Palestinians have always seen, but the one the rest of the world is now being forced to wake up to.
Ultimately, however, Israel’s trajectory is not going to change because Yair Lapid or Benjamin Netanyahu is in office.
The Israeli settler-colonial project is heading towards its end. The idea of a stable and “normal” Israel that is sitting on the necks of Palestinians is a fantasy that can’t be fulfilled even if Israel succeeds for short periods of time in suppressing Palestinian resistance here or there.
As I told Khalek, this resistance will always re-emerge and take new forms until there is liberation and justice.
The future of Arab-Israeli normalization
We also spoke about how Netanyahu’s return is likely to impact the course of Israeli-Arab normalization.
Trump’s and Netanyahu’s key achievement was the so-called Abraham Accords, agreements that normalized diplomatic and economic ties between Israel on the one hand, and several Arab regimes on the other, notably the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region’s heavyweight, never formally joined the accords, but none of these deals would have happened without Riyadh’s blessing.
It was always implicitly understood that Saudi-Israeli normalization was the big prize but that it would come last.
Geopolitical shifts in the year and a half that Netanyahu has been out of office may have changed the calculus however.
What would be the incentive for Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel – a move that is deeply unpopular across the region, and almost certainly with the Saudi population itself, as the World Cup so amply demonstrated?
What it always boils down to is that embracing Israel is a way for any US client state to buy itself more American protection and support. The Saudis have depended on US protection since 1945 and this only intensified since the early 1990s, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
While this has not fundamentally changed, Riyadh appears to be looking for alternatives, perhaps worrying that the US is no longer such a reliable protector.
In the wake of the horrific 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Joe Biden was elected president after labeling the kingdom a “pariah.”
But Biden had to go to Riyadh cap in hand this summer, in the hopes that the Saudis would increase oil production and help bring down punishingly high gasoline prices ahead of November’s US midterm elections.
You can’t count on America
Contrast that with the grand welcome China’s President Xi Jinping received from the Saudis earlier this month, with CNN describing it as “pomp and circumstance normally reserved for the kingdom’s most strategic ally, the United States.”
Beijing and Riyadh signed a strategic partnership agreement that suggests the Saudis may attempting to realign away from total dependence on the US towards integration with a China-led Eurasian bloc that will provide it with better security in the long term.
All this is understandable from the Saudi perspective: Any regime that worries about its survival is also going to look at the US track record. If the rulers face a popular uprising or an external invasion, will the Americans save them?
Yes, the United States did liberate Kuwait after Iraq invaded and that was the high watermark of American unipolar power.
The 1991 Gulf War, which was supposed to exorcize the ghost of America’s defeat in Vietnam, was an exception.
Since then, the United States was unable to save Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak or the Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Washington wasn’t even able to prop up the regime it installed in Afghanistan.
Instead, the US departure from Kabul in August 2021 drew comparisons to its chaotic and humiliating withdrawal from Saigon in 1975.
And after sponsoring a coup in Kiev in 2014, Washington has used Ukraine as a pawn against Russia – despite consistent warnings that this strategy was likely to cross all of Moscow’s red lines.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the US chose escalation instead of negotiation, but it has promised Ukraine military backing that it cannot deliver.
What American leaders hoped would be a war to bleed Russia has instead turned out to be a catastrophe for Ukraine, but also economically speaking for Europe, which is suffering more from the sanctions imposed on Moscow than Russia is.
With this in mind, it will be interesting to see if the Saudis pursue normalization with Israel with the same enthusiasm as before, or if they put it on pause.
After all, one of the main US, Israeli and Saudi common interests was forming an alliance against Iran. But the Saudis no longer appear to be playing along, causing alarm in Washington that Tehran and Riyadh are joining forces in support of Russia.
“Several factors are driving Riyadh and Tehran, but the biggest motivation is to strengthen their own hands against the United States in an increasingly multipolar world order,” according to two pro-Washington think tankers.
If Saudi Arabia slows it down, that could leave the UAE and other smaller players who embraced Israel with a nod and a wink that the Saudis would follow high and dry.