Reading the Israeli and American press, one might believe the Jewish state’s governing coalition is filled with right-wing extremists and that Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies are moving the country in an ever more illiberal, chauvinist, and nationalist direction. This narrative, writes Evelyn Gordon, is entirely disconnected from the facts:
According to [Israel’s] Central Bureau of Statistics, housing starts in [West Bank] settlements plummeted by 53 percent in the first quarter [of 2016], compared to an 8.1-percent decline in housing starts nationwide. . . . [I]n fact, . . . the “right-wing” Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently built less in the settlements than any of his left-wing predecessors. . . .
[Meanwhile], the Council for Higher Education, chaired by Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party [which outflanks the Likud on the right], is advancing plans for Israel’s first ever BA-granting college in an Arab town. . . . To help it succeed, the government has promised millions of shekels in start-up funds plus an annual budget of 20 to 40 million shekels (depending on enrollment). . . .
Diplomatically speaking, . . . this government is actually one of the more left-wing in Israel’s history: though Netanyahu doesn’t consider a two-state solution achievable right now, he does accept the idea in principle; in contrast, during Israel’s first 45 years of existence, all governments from both left and right considered a Palestinian state anathema. . . .
Moreover . . . [Netanyahu’s] past three governments have actually been among the most progressive in Israel’s history in terms of their practical efforts to improve Arab integration. And unlike his settlement policy, his efforts to advance Arab equality have sparked no significant opposition from either his cabinet or his electorate, even though Israeli Arabs overwhelmingly vote for his political opponents. The reason is simple: any government that considers Israeli-Palestinian peace unachievable in the foreseeable future has no choice but to invest in Israel’s internal development, in order to ensure that the country is strong enough to survive without peace.