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Opinion | Israel Is Falling Apart, Because the Conflict Controls Us

Yitzhak Rabin’s government sought to redress discrimination against Palestinian citizens and signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. When Mr. Rabin was assassinated in 1995 for his nascent efforts to end the conflict, progressive change on certain social issues continued, but liberal interpretations of the law and the Supreme Court itself would eventually come under intense attacks from the Israeli right wing.

The failure of another peace process in 2000 gave way to a violent second intifada, pushing Israeli society farther to the right and paving the road for Mr. Netanyahu’s return to power in 2009. Mr. Netanyahu has worked assiduously to undermine a two-state solution. And he and other right-wing nationalists and populist leaders set about undermining the institutions of Israeli democracy itself.

Since 2009, Mr. Netanyahu’s governments have passed discriminatory legislation against Palestinian citizens, laws targeting left-wing political activities and laws constraining civil society. These laws have roots in the conflict over national identity or occupation. They elevate the status of Jews over Palestinians, or they are tailored to constrain criticism of the occupation.

The motive for this effort is no mystery: It is aimed at ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish-dominated state, with minimal political opposition. Both would be essential if Israel were to advance West Bank annexation, which would alter the state’s demographic makeup and spark challenges to the character of the state and its undemocratic governance of Palestinians.

The Israeli right’s most ambitious campaign for about a decade has been a sustained attack on the judiciary. Right-wing leaders speak of correcting the balance of power among the branches of government and restoring sovereignty to “the people,” rather than the elites, referring to judges — especially Supreme Court justices. The chief proponents of this cause are overwhelmingly committed to settlements and annexation. Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party and a former defense and education minister, once served as head of the Yesha settlers’ council. Ayelet Shaked, justice minister from 2015 to 2019, is outspoken in favor of both aims. Simcha Rothman, a firebrand anti-Supreme Court crusader and a settler from deep inside the West Bank, entered the Knesset in 2021 with the Jewish-ultranationalist Religious Zionist party.

Undermining the judiciary has nothing to do with repairing institutions; it will assist what right-wing leaders call “governability” — a word that also appears in the name of the organization Mr. Rothman founded. The term is a euphemism, and a mantra, for government power unrestrained by courts, which enables both continuing rule over the Palestinian territories and an increasingly undemocratic Israel.

Last, the conflict is directly tied to Israel’s chaos of leadership. Mr. Netanyahu retains stable support from nearly one-quarter of voters, largely because of his image as the man who won’t make concessions to “Arabs” (many right-wing Israelis avoid the word “Palestinian”). He used the most recent escalation with Hamas to burnish his image as the master of security. The crisis also persuaded Mr. Bennett of the Yamina party to withdraw from negotiations to join the would-be alternative government and revive the option of yet another Netanyahu coalition.

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