The new Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in on 29 December 2022 after years of short-lived government coalitions and frequent elections. The new government coalition assembled by Likud Party leader Netanyahu is the farthest right government Israel has seen and includes the self-proclaimed fascist homophobe Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party and terrorist sympathizers like Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) heading important ministries. Just days after the new government was sworn in, it acted on its leaders’ history of extreme inflammatory rhetoric against Palestinians.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new National Security Minister, best known for proudly hanging a portrait of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre perpetrator Baruch Goldstein in his dining room, was the first to make himself known to the international public when he toured the Haram al-Sharif compound on 3 January. The visit evoked memories of Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon’s visit on 28 September 2000, which is generally credited with sparking the Second Intifada. Ben-Gvir’s tour, coupled with his history of demanding a change to the status quo of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, sparked widespread concern, criticism, and condemnation, including from the UN Security Council, the UAE, and even from the U.S. Ben-Gvir announced that he would worsen conditions for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and transferred prisoners to different prisons to prevent interactions. He also ordered the Israeli police to ban Palestinian flags in public spaces.
The new Israeli government took drastic action against the PA in what it described as retaliation for a UN General Assembly vote on 30 December to ask the International Court of Justice to provide an advisory opinion on the legality of the Israeli occupation. In a series of sanctions Israel seized $39 million from the taxes it collects on behalf of the PA and incurred further financial penalties on the PA, placed a moratorium on construction for Palestinians in Area C, revoked VIP benefits for PA officials working on action against Israeli in international organizations, and warned of consequences for organizations in the West Bank that promote legal and political action against Israel. The PA said the sanctions will lead to the PA’s collapse, and 90 members of the UN expressed concern over Israel’s punitive action, including countries that voted against the ICJ opinion resolution.
The last significant development in January was the increase in deadly Israeli raids in the West Bank. In 2022, as many as 173 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Gaza, an average of 14 a month, making it the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the Second Intifada. The new Israeli government went even further: In January Israelis killed 35 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, more than double the monthly average of 2022 (which included Gazans). Among the deadliest Israeli attacks on Palestinians was the 26 January raid on Jenin refugee camp, when Israeli forces shot and killed 10 Palestinians and wounded 28 others. The PA and Hamas called the deadly raid a massacre and the PA announced in response that it had ended its security cooperation with Israel.
None of Israel’s actions in January are unprecedented—not the deadly raids, punitive action against the PA, arbitrary extra punishment of Palestinian prisoners, provocative assertions of Israeli dominance over the Haram al-Sharif compound, or attempts to eradicate Palestinians symbols. But the scale of these actions ballooned during the first full month of the new Netanyahu administration. Because the government now includes members in key ministerial positions who are among, and represent, the most violent and unrestrained elements of Israeli society, this trend is not likely to change in the months to come.