By Gwynne Dyer

Imagine that Donald Trump had been the president of the United States, in office and out and in and out and in yet again, for more than half of the past 25 years. What would the US look like today?

Well, that’s about what Israel does look like today. In miniature, of course, and Prime Minister Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu is a lot cleverer than the Orange Ego. But he’s no more honest, he’s just as ruthless, and he’s in even more trouble with the law.

In fact, Netanyahu is even willing to destroy Israeli democracy to stay out of jail – and it’s a lot easier to destroy. No written constitution, no second chamber of parliament. All it has is the supreme court, which can set aside laws that it sees as unjust or undemocratic.

So the obvious course for a man as deep in legal trouble as Bibi – charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust – is to take control of the judges. That’s not an option available to your average person facing criminal charges, but it’s different if you control the government.

Netanyahu is a man of the right, and two-thirds of Israeli voters say they are right-wing. Nevertheless, the Israeli political carousel throws up so many different parties and leaders that all Israeli governments must be coalitions.

Binyamin Netanyahu was once the master coalition-maker, but by 2019 he had betrayed or alienated so many of the players that his existing (fifth) coalition government collapsed and he could not form another. However, nobody else could form a stable coalition without his Likud Party either.

Four elections in rapid succession produced four ‘anybody-
but-Bibi’ coalitions with the lifespan of mayflies. Meanwhile,

Netanyahu worked at cajoling three hard-right parties, each
too small to get the 3.25% of the vote needed to qualify for
seats in the Knesset (parliament), into a single united party
that passed that threshold.
The new party is called Religious Zionism. Some of its
leaders are Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank who
want to annex the whole territory to Israel, maybe even expel
all the Palestinians. Others are ultra-Orthodox fanatics who
want to impose their religious rules and traditions on all the
secular and liberal Jews in the country as well.
Extreme nationalists like
Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the

Religious Zionists, now control the West Bank and the lives
of millions of Palestinians. The first of many new laws to
subordinate the courts to the decisions of the ruling coalition
has already gone through the Knesset. But the secular, liberal
part of Israel has woken up and started protesting.
The demonstrations grew steadily bigger and louder, the
level of violence rose, and last week the country’s biggest
trade union, Histadrut, called a general strike. On Monday
night Netanyahu, shocked by the strength of the protests,
brought the whole process to a shuddering halt.
He was “not willing to tear the nation in half,” he said.
“When there’s a possibility of avoiding fraternal war through
dialogue, I will take time out for that dialogue.” But he’s only
pausing the new legislation for a month, until the end of
April. His far-right coalition partners would accept no longer.
Is civil war really looming in Israel? Probably not at this
stage in the proceedings, but the country’s integration into
the Middle Eastern style of politics is making great progress.
As Amos Harel of the Ha’aretz newspaper put it: “After 75
years, Israel has instantaneously closed the gaps between itself
and its neighbours in the region.