TEL AVIV — Rioting by settlers in the West Bank this week and the establishment of several illegal outposts in recent days highlight an alarming phenomenon — of Benjamin Netanyahu's government losing control across the board, at an accelerated pace. 

This lawlessness is compounded by the absence of governance on the part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) which is turning the northern part of the West Bank into a no-man's-land. 

Israeli settlers established seven illegal outposts in the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday to avenge the June 20 killing of four settlers by Palestinian gunmen linked to Hamas. Ynet reported Friday that the authorities were aware of the illegal activity but took no action to block it. Also after the attack, hundreds of settlers, including coalition Knesset members, traveled to the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, saying they were returning there for good. Past attempts to resettle Evyatar were stymied by the military, but not this time. 

Extremist settler groups have carried out a series of acts of revenge attacks in recent days, setting fire to cars and homes in Palestinian villages following the deadly attack on Tuesday that claimed the lives of four Israelis in the settlement of Eli. 

A PA official said in a press statement on Wednesday that Israeli settlers carried out 310 attacks against Palestinians and their properties within 24 hours. The military said in response that it did not have sufficient advance intelligence to stop the rioting settlers. 

At the same time, violent riots broke out Wednesday in the Golan Heights, where hundreds of members of the Druze community, most of them Syrian citizens, demonstrated against the Israeli government in general and the construction of a large number of wind turbines, in particular. The Druze also attacked police stations, and the violence appeared to be veering out of control before police quelled it. Twenty-seven people, including 17 police officers, were injured, and six demonstrators were detained.

Meanwhile, reports emerged that Hezbollah fighters had set up tents in a disputed area that Israel calls Har Dov in the no-man's-land between its territory and Lebanon. The military had hoped to resolve this incursion through the mediation of the United Nations peacekeeping forces deployed there, and refrained from publicly reporting the incident so as to avoid extremists’ demands for a violent response and prevent Hezbollah from scoring points at its expense. Now that the efforts to reach an arrangement have failed, Israel is mulling its response.

These and other developments have contributed to a prevailing sense of governance disintegration, underpinned by an economic downturn, the high-tech crisis said to be more serious than the general global trend in this field, loss of influence over an impending US-Iran agreement, the ongoing domestic rift over the government’s plans to weaken the country’s top court, and spiraling uncontrolled crime within Israel’s Arab community.

The tensions between extremist settlers and the military and Shin Bet are undoubtedly the most worrying. "We are forced to allocate large forces to protect the Palestinians from the wrath of the settlers after every terror attack against Israelis," a senior Israeli military source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “The daring of these groups is increasing. It is no longer a question of whether they will go out to riot against Palestinians every time there is an attack, but whether they will succeed in setting fire to as many homes and cars as possible."

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides participated Thursday in an event that brought together Israelis and Palestinians under the aegis of the Geneva Initiative. “We will not stand by and watch settler violence occur. No one should have to worry about a rogue army. … We expect and encourage the Israeli government to do everything possible to prevent such incidents and take all necessary steps to prevent them. This has to stop," he said.

Nides, who came under fire for what was deemed as a lax condemnation of the killing of the four Israeli settlers earlier this week, could not have used harsher words. The Americans, too, are monitoring with concern at the loss of deterrence by Israel's law enforcement authorities vis-a-vis Jewish violence in the West Bank. 

"In normal times, Netanyahu would not have let this happen," a senior Israeli political source in the coalition told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “But these days, he is shackled by senior ministers representing those extremist settlers and doing their thing."

The source was clearly referring to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, both of whom make no bones about their determination to annex the West Bank to Israel. 

Smotrich’s public call last March to wipe out the Palestinian village of Huwara and his dismissal of Palestinian rights have made him a pariah in the Western world. Ben-Gvir has built himself up over the years as an advocate for rioting settlers, representing them in courts and taking up their cause. These two now hold two top positions in Netanyahu's ultranationalist government, and he is forced to bow to their demands. 

The influence and legitimization of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich and their government colleagues have also prompted an uptick in attacks by extremist Jewish organizations against churches and Christian ceremonies throughout Israel. Last week, dozens of members of the ultra-racist Lehava organization tried to disrupt a Christian conference in Jerusalem, accusing organizers of missionary activity. Police were called to the scene and arrested one activist. 

Netanyahu used to boast that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that gives Christians real, full and secure freedom of worship. His boast no longer appears relevant. 

Opponents of the prime minister argue that the general rise in lawlessness is linked to the persistent attack on the rule of law by his followers since police launched investigations into suspicions of corruption on his part some five years ago. They claim that Netanyahu’s election victory last year and his continuing rule while under trial on charges of corruption set a negative standard in this regard.

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