WHENEVER I sit down to write a piece about Israel or its conflict with the Palestinians, I’m conscious of the political flak I’m most likely setting myself up for.

The simple inescapable fact is that nothing said or written is ever perceived as neutral with regards to these emotive issues.

Never was I more conscious of this than back in 2006 when I wrote my first book Intifada – The Long Day Of Rage, about the Palestinian uprisings.

Likewise, I was acutely aware of the response I might elicit when I penned an essay back in 2015 entitled “Something is rotten in the State of Israel”.

It examined what I felt was Israel’s seemingly inexorable slide towards the political right and the loss of what moral compass it ever possessed with regard to its treatment of the Palestinians.

I couldn’t help thinking again of that essay in particular this week in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record fifth election win. For if ever a politician was responsible for hastening and endorsing Israel’s authoritarian right-wing drift in recent times it is Netanyahu or “Bibi” as he’s known to his supporters.

So desperate was Netanyahu to cling to power that he was more than happy to build an alliance between his Likud Party with a coalition that includes the ultra-racist Otzma Yehudit or “Jewish Power”.

For those readers who might not recognise it, Otzma Yehudit is no more than the newest face of the old Kach party that had links to terrorism and was founded decades ago by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, the most infamous Jewish extremist of the latter 20th century. Netanyahu cares not a jot about stepping over the moral and political boundaries, that for decades even the toughest of Israeli politicians would have thought twice about crossing.

Yet should Netanyahu still be in office this summer – which is almost certain – then he will become the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, outlasting even the premiership of David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first leader.

That many people both in Israel and beyond are alarmed over Netanyahu’s win and where his continuation in office might now take the country politically is an understatement.

As Zack Beauchamp, senior correspondent at the American news and opinion website VOX, succinctly summed it up this week: “If Ben-Gurion is remembered as the midwife of Israeli democracy, Netanyahu could be remembered as its gravedigger.”

All the signs of that have been staring the world in the face now for some time. It was earlier this year that Netanyahu’s government enacted a Nation-State Bill that de-facto recognises the country’s Palestinian population as second-class citizens, and declared Israel as “a national nation-state of the Jewish people only”.

It is Netanyahu’s government that continues to deny millions of Palestinians the right to vote in Gaza and portions of the West Bank, while making them subject to the movement restrictions of the Israeli authorities.

In addition to some Israeli citizens, there are nearly five million people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea right now for whom Netanyahu’s government decides how they live and with whom. But still they are denied the right to vote for the politicians who determine their fate.

Not content with this, just days before being re-elected and with one eye firmly on building his extremist coalition, Netanyahu announced that, should he win, he would begin extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank.

Such a move to annex the occupied Palestinian territories is flatly illegal under international law.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this might further corrode Israel’s international standing, but never to date has that bothered Netanyahu in the least. It’s even less likely now given that he’s found a kindred spirit in the shape of US President Donald Trump.

Indeed Netanyahu’s talk of annexing the West Bank comes following his bosom buddy’s latest decision to recognise Israel’s claims to the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since their capture from Syria in 1967.

Not to put too fine a point on it, between them both men with their shared hardening of attitudes towards the Palestinians could well prove catastrophic for the region.

Neither of them gives a damn about what the world let alone the Palestinians think of their decisions and moves, for on close examination the political mindset of Netanyahu and Trump is so alike.

Even Netanyahu’s “witch-hunt” response to the pending criminal indictment on bribery and fraud charges that he faces has a distinctly Trumpian ring to it.

Like Trump, Netanyahu has always been more than happy to jeopardise the health of democracy in his country if it means his personal consolidation of power.

That many Israelis voted for him this week speaks more of the fear-mongering and bitterness Netanyahu has stoked than it does about faith in his political ability to preserve Israel’s democratic values.

Fortunately many Israelis and those within the wider Jewish diaspora still recognise the threat he poses for what it really is.

How telling it was to read an op-ed headline, in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz this week, posit the pressing question about whether now that Netanyahu has won the election, “Will He Now Dismantle Israel’s Democracy?”

The conclusion of the piece was damning, suggesting that “any move to annex the occupied territories would corrode Israel’s international standing, rupture its relationship with the American Jewish community and likely extinguish any remaining chance for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians”.

It could, the paper warned, “very well mark the beginning of the end of Israel as a democratic state”.

Reading that Haaretz piece, I couldn’t help feeling that my own essay back in 2015 examining whether something was “rotten in the state of Israel” was not that far off the mark.

Benjamin Netanyahu might be a master of the dark arts of politics, but his election win almost certainly ushers in more dismal times ahead for both Israelis and Palestinians. Whatever his supporters might claim, Bibi has a lot to answer for in terms of the diminished democracy Israel has now become.

As the New York Times pointed out, Netanyahu’s re-election “attests to a starkly conservative vision of the Jewish state and its people about where they are and where they are headed”.

“It’s Netanyahu’s Israel Now,” the headline warned. Here’s hoping it doesn’t stay that way for long.