Prime minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu (Picture: Flickr/World Economic Forum)

The assault on Jenin refugee camp by the Israeli Defence Force earlier this month has once again exposed the brutal ­reality of apartheid Israel. Air strikes combined with ground forces to smash homes and infrastructure, and there were many killings.

This atrocity is the latest in a history of violent dispossession since the Nakba, when in 1948 over 700,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed to enable the Israeli state to come into being.

But the recent violence has been further fuelled by Jewish supremacist forces, enraged at the mass uprising across historic Palestine in May 2021, and the ­continuing resistance.

Last November’s elections brought the far right into the mainstream. Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the “Jewish Power” party, is now national security minister. He totes his gun at Palestinian protests, and demands soldiers shoot on sight children throwing stones.

Jewish Power election ­rallies echoed to chants of “Death to the Arabs”.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism coalition, said Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion “didn’t finish the job in 1948”, implying that the Nakba should have gone further. Smotrich declares himself a fascist homophobe.

Yet the election of a far right government has provoked divisions within Israel’s settler ­population itself. Demonstrations of up to 240,000 people have taken place against Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition and its plans to bring Israel’s Supreme Court under direct political control.

These protests are devoid of Palestinians. They are led by key political figures who under previous governments were at the forefront of maintaining the apartheid state.

Every demonstration is a sea of Israeli flags proclaiming loyalty to the Zionist state. Small groups holding Palestinian flags have been attacked by fellow demonstrators. Anti-­government protestors claim the Netanyahu administration represents a break with the founding principles of the state of Israel and its ­“democratic values”.

This is hardly a description any Palestinian would recognise. The supreme court’s judgements themselves have been vital to maintaining their oppression.

To explain these ­developments, we must face a brutal truth. Citizenship of the Jewish state rests on the enforced exclusion and ­dispossession of Palestinians within historic Palestine, and the denial of their right to return.

Since its foundation Israel has drawn in waves of settlers to colonise and provide an armed force. First came European Jews, seeking refuge from antisemitism before and after the Holocaust. They were followed by “Mizrahi” or Sephardi Jews from north Africa and the Middle East during the 1940s and 50s.

Further waves of settlement included 1.2 million people from Russia. Each new settler population generates competing claims within the settler-colonial society. This gives rise to an array of political parties in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), each ­seeking to assert specific ­interests and extract privileges.

These divisions, rooted in Israel’s settler social structure, are now erupting over

LGBT+ and women’s rights, secular versus religious divides and even over what ancestry entitles a claim to Jewish identity.

Alongside this dynamic, the spectrum of Israeli politics has moved inexorably to the right.

 Labour Zionists founded the institutions of the state and led every government from 1948 until 1977. Today they are a spent force. In the November elections, they scraped four percent of the vote. The “left” Zionists failed to win a single seat.

The Religious Zionists—Bezalel Smotrich and Ben-Gvir—won strong support from young Israelis who chanted, “Death to the Arabs” the loudest.

This open racism is rooted in a response to Palestinian resistance on one hand, and perceived external threats on the other. For two decades after 1948 it appeared that Palestinians were subdued. Israeli prime minister Golda Meir notoriously declared, “There was no such thing as Palestinians”.

But in the 1960s, the late 1980s and in the early 2000s there were major eruptions, including two mass uprisings, known as Intifadas.

The subjugation of the Palestinians is of significance not only to the Zionist state but to its imperialist patrons. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US military aid, totalling $160 billion since 1945.

The US also relies on Arab regimes. However, these dictatorships are vulnerable to revolt from below. Israel has a ­distinguishing feature—no settler-colonial state has ever dissolved itself. This makes it unique as a f­ortress of imperialist interests in the Middle East.

But the US fears the wider revolt that the Palestinian struggle inspires. In 2011, Palestine was a thread within the Arab revolutions. On Nakba Day that year, thousands of protestors attempted to approach or breach the Israeli border from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.

The US, Britain and the European Union defend Israel as a fortress of imperialist interests but also seek to prevent the Palestinian struggle acting as a detonator of wider anti-imperialist revolt.

That’s why they are keen to say they back a two-state solution with the creation of a limited Palestinian state. But this has always been a mirage.

No Israeli government has ever countenanced an independent Palestinian state. No political force in Israel, neither the current government or the opposition, will cede control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem nor end the blockade of Gaza.

Israel needs to sustain both its domination over Palestinians and its support from imperialism. Yet such domination entails permanent conflict and military occupation of the West Bank.

An alternative, to formally annex the West Bank and grant equal citizenship rights to all Palestinians, would threaten the very basis of the settler colonial state. To this dilemma the far right have a solution.

Smotrich in 2017, announced his “Decisive Plan”. Its founding premise held an important truth —“The contradiction between the existence of the Jewish state and the national Palestinian aspiration is inherent”.

There could never be peace, he wrote. The solution Smotrich insisted was to declare ­permanent ownership of all Palestinian land.

Palestinians would be given the “option” of accepting a Greater Israel that denied them rights, being paid to leave—or to be killed if they keep resisting.

 This is the strategy Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are now attempting to pursue. The religious right seek to entrench themselves within state structures while also mobilising mass violence from below.

During the recent pogroms Ben-Gvir declared, “We should settle the Land of Israel, take down buildings and eliminate terrorists. Not just one or two, but dozens and hundreds and, if needed, thousands.”

The Zionist establishment still have a strategic interest in maintaining the Palestinian Authority (PA). It controls and restrains the Palestinian population of the West Bank. But Smotrich and Ben-Gvir want to dispense with the PA entirely and annex the West Bank.

They see the status quo as a compromise that leaves the Jewish state open to challenge and wish to declare Israel an unashamed outpost of racist supremacy from Jordan to the Mediterranean.

There is now a battle for influence and control over Israel’s institutions. That reflects a division over how the dispossession of the Palestinians is to be pursued. It is this that explains the vitriol between the far right and parts of the Israeli state.

For the US and its allies, however, it is vital that the fiction of Israel as a “democratic” state where the Palestinians have “self-rule” is sustained.

Smotrich and Ben-Gvir’s supremacist religious ideology underpins a claim to the entirety of historic Palestine but threatens to de-stabilise the imperialist order, and fuel antagonisms within the settler population.But the different elements of the Zionist project are united on one thing – enforcing the dispossession of the Palestinians.

Contrary to the liberal narrative, the far-right in Israel are not an aberration, but a product of the Zionist project. That project is now in crisis, but it won’t collapse of its own accord.

We cannot look to the US and its allies, the Arab rulers, or the settler population of Israel for a solution. It is in the Arab revolutions and the global anti-imperialist struggle that we find the only potential solution.

That means fighting for a single democratic state, where all citizens live in equality, and where all Palestinians have right of return.

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