Netanyahu promises Ben-Gvir 'private, armed militia' after Israel judiciary u-turn

Netanyahu promises Ben-Gvir 'private, armed militia' after Israel judiciary u-turn
In return for the militia deal with Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu has bought himself weeks to negotiate with opposition leaders over judicial overhaul plans that have brought Israel to a standstill.
3 min read
28 March, 2023
Netanyahu has struck a deal with Ben-Gvir after temporary backtracking on the planned judicial overhaul [Getty images]

Under-fire Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised his extremist coalition partners a new Israeli National Guard in exchange for an agreement to pause judicial overhaul plans.

After unprecedented protests and a general strike in Israel, Netanyahu announced on Monday night that he would pause the judicial overhaul scheme.

In a bid to appease National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir - and other extremists in the coalition who strongly supported the overhaul - Netanyahu also agreed to the establishment of a new civil militia under Ben-Gvir's command.

The extreme-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, which Ben-Gvir leads,  published a co-signed statement with the prime ministerial letterhead announcing the agreement on Twitter.

The details of the last-minute pact are to be made during an Israeli cabinet meeting on Sunday, where the "necessary legislative corrections will be made". 

In return, Ben-Gvir has granted the government until early May to try and pass the controversial overhaul plans through negotiations and dialogue with opposition figures.

"We are facing not an enemy but brothers, and I say we cannot have a civil war. This is a crisis that endangers our basic unity. This crisis requires that we all act responsibly," said Netanyahu in a public statement postponing the judicial overhaul plans on Monday evening. 

The establishment of a National Guard operating under his direct control has been high on Ben-Gvir’s list of demands since Israel's current far-right governing coalition took power last November. 

Last week, the extremist minister told Netanyahu he would vote down the government’s budget if it did not include provisions for a National Guard. 

The proposed force would, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, result in "a private, armed militia... directly under Ben-Gvir's control".

Ben-Gvir and his ally Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party have a history of making provocative and racist comments against Palestinians, even while in government.

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Palestinian derision

Palestinians have responded to the news of the deal with derision, saying Israel's internal crisis was "resolved at the expense of the Palestinians". 

The National Guard has been described as Ben-Gvir’s "private militia", to be deployed against Palestinian citizens of Israel during civil unrest.  

"Netanyahu reached a compromise to stay in power and defuse protests by throwing Palestinians to the wolves," tweeted activist Nour Odeh in Ramallah. 

"Palestinian blood is all it took to protect 'Israeli democracy.' How telling," she added.

Many Palestinians have spoken to The New Arab about their indifference to the Israeli protest movement, which has made little reference to the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and killing and persecution of Palestinians.

At least 84 Palestinians have been killed in ongoing Israeli raids on West Bank towns and cities. 

Amani Khalifa, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from the northern town of Umm al Fahm, told The New Arab that the protests against the legislation simply seek to "preserve a liberal Zionist system" and "Jewish supremacy".