Israel’s president has warned that the country is on the brink of an “internal strife” that “could consume us all” over the government’s controversial legal reforms.
In an unusual intervention, Isaac Herzog, whose role is usually largely ceremonial, said he feared bitter division over plans to drastically reform Israel’s justice system could tear the state apart if they were carried out recklessly.
Separately, the killing of three Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers this month and the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank have also fueled fears of a major escalation in the Holy Land.
“I see that the parties all along the front are prepared and ready for an all-out confrontation over the character of the State of Israel, and I fear we are on the verge of an internal struggle that could destroy us all. digest,” said Herzog. this week in a speech.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for reforms that critics say would weaken the Supreme Court and increase his coalition’s control over judicial appointments. In January, he was sworn in as leader of the most right-wing government in Israeli history following November elections.
Massive protests over reforms
The proposed legal reforms have led to large-scale protests in Tel Aviv and similar demonstrations in Jerusalem, somewhat reminiscent of the 2020 and 2021 anti-Netanyahu protests.
It is not the first time that Herzog has publicly voiced his reservations about the new government and its key figures. In November, he was caught by a live microphone warning that the “whole world” was “concerned” about far-right politicians supporting Netanyahu’s coalition.
While the demonstrations in Israel are almost entirely focused on legal reform and Mr Netanyahu, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have also risen sharply following the swearing-in of Mr Netanyahu’s government, including anti-Arab right-wing extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Mr Ben-Gvir, who has been convicted of inciting racism and supporting terrorism, has been given the role of police and security minister in the new government and has called for a major expansion of Israeli settlements.
Settlement plan a form of ‘mini-annexation’
A report this week in a right-wing Israeli newspaper said the Israeli government plans to transfer authority over parts of the West Bank from the Defense Ministry to the Finance Ministry, which would amount to annexation.
Treasury Secretary Bezalel Smotrich is a far-right, pro-settlement politician who describes himself as a “fascist homophobe” and who once compared human rights organizations to swarms of insects.
The settlement plan, which has been characterized as a form of “mini-annexation”, is part of wider efforts to impose Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as their own. Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law by many countries, including Britain, although this is disputed by Israel.
Criticism of the killings in the West Bank
Israel is also facing renewed criticism over a string of killings of Palestinians in the West Bank, including three children, and a father falsely identified as a terrorist attacker.
This week, Israeli military police said they were investigating the case of Ahmad Kahla, who was pepper sprayed and then killed by the Israeli army, which initially said he was a terrorist.
Kan, an Israeli broadcaster, said a military review showed Mr Kahla was not planning an attack and was shot after a scuffle with troops in which he attempted to grab a soldier’s weapon.
The three youths, aged between 15 and 17, were killed in separate incidents involving Israeli forces clashing with Palestinian militant groups or Palestinians throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Israel says it is investigating their deaths.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian man after he ran at a soldier with a knife near the Kedumim settlement. Palestinian militants carried out a series of terror attacks against Israeli civilians in 2022, both in Israel and in the West Bank.
However, in a sign that Netanyahu is trying to stave off an escalation in the Holy Land, he assured the King of Jordan at a meeting on Tuesday that he would maintain the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites.
The meeting came after Mr Ben-Gvir made a hugely controversial visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque in early January, which was condemned by Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world as a reckless provocation.
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