Palestinian hopes paralysed under new Israeli government

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Yamina leader Naftali Bennett played a key role in ousting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently (Screenshot via YouTube)

Israel's new patchwork coalition doesn't hold much promise for Palestinians, who are fighting for self-determination, writes Dr Ibrahim Natil.

THE REPERCUSSIONS of recent Israeli political shifts will affect not only Palestinian daily life but also Israeli society from various perspectives.

The so-called "change government" led by Yair Lapid, president of the centrist Yesh Atid party – or "There Is a Future" party has succeeded in bringing together eight political parties. These include the United Arab List and Naftali Bennett, leader of Yamina, who, despite their various paradoxes and ideologies, aim to change the internal politics of Israel.

Despite the political differences among the eight groups who form the coalition, their main objective – and it appears, only agreement – are to oppose Benjamin Netanyahu and remove him from office.

Netanyahu failed to form a new government with traditional allies from religious Zionist groups, including his once top aide Naftali Bennett, who played a significant role in toppling his former boss. Netanyahu, aged 71, had led the Right-wing government and dominated the Israeli political scene for more than 12 years prior.

Many believe that Netanyahu – who only won 30 of 61 seats required for a majority – attempted to avoid losing power by dragging both Israeli and Palestinian societies into the recent cycle of violence in May.

A number of coalition partners may have thought Netanyahu was using his power to delay facing his corruption trial and to drag Israel into a fifth snap election. There are, however, a number of small groups in the coalition that would prefer not to go into a new election anyway, as they would not be confident of retaining their current seats.

The current coalition of eight political parties and groups comprises 61 members out of the 120 Knesset (Parliament) seats, which will provide a safety net for the Lapid-Bennett Government. Lapid, however, will rotate with Bennett in office; Bennett will serve as prime minister for the first two years and Lapid for the latter two years.

This shift in domestic politics also witnessed an unprecedented level of incitement against the leaders of far-Right groups (formerly close allies of and aides to Netanyahu) such as Yemina and New Hope, who played a significant role in toppling him.

Netanyahu himself led a media campaign against his opponents similar to that against former Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo 1 Accord with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993 —  and who was later assassinated by a radical member of the Israeli far-Right on 4 November 1995. 

The present situation holds some similarities, as Rabin secured only 61 votes – supported by the Arab members of the Knesset – to pass the Oslo 1 Accord. One wonders if Israeli politics and society are all that different from the 1990s — and to what extent Arab Palestinian society has remained influential since recent clashes, such as those at al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem at large.

History, here, would seem to be repeating: firstly, the level of incitement is escalating and secondly, the Arab United List has participated actively in forming this new government under Naftali Bennett. The United Arab List, known by the Hebrew name Ra’am, had a group of four members elected by Arab Palestinians to the Knesset and is thus the cornerstone of this newly formed government.

Despite the latest deep division between the Arab Palestinians of Israel and the Jews over the al-Aqsa raid in May, and the weakness of the Arab Joint List (6 seats) headed by Ayman Odeh – who lost four seats compared to the election in 2020 – the United Arab List (4 seats) has been the kingmaker. The Joint List was opposed to joining the Israeli government coalition as headed by Naftali Bennett.

The new coalition could not have been formed without the support of Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List. Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the 23 March election. However, Netanyahu failed to persuade his long-term traditional allies and partners from nationalist and religious Zionists groups (as Naftali Bennett prepared the Right-wing) to accept the inclusion of the Arab United List. Netanyahu had a series of talks with Abbas and promised to assist Arab towns in fighting violent crimes, pledging a budget largely criticised as being "too little, too late".

This coalition has been born paralysed and is ineffective in terms of political delivery for Palestinian people inside the Green Line or in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Predictions are that the lifespan of this coalition will be shorter rather than long. Bennett is the leader of a political party that opposes a Palestinian state, leading settlement activities and mobilising for the annexation of 60 per cent of the West Bank to Israel. Many observers think that this "change government" as led by Bennett and Lapid will fail inevitably, as its members appear unable to agree on a single issue — except the removal of Benjamin Netanyahu.

For example, how will the coalition solve the accumulated problems within the Arab Palestinian society of Israel — including the scrapping of racist policies such as "Jewish Nation-State Law", which clearly states that Israel is only for "Jewish people"? It is expected the United Arab List would demonstrate staunch views.

A major consideration for this coalition will be dealing with settlements in the West Bank and the "eviction" of Palestinian families from Jerusalem. And how other liberal parties such as Meretz will work with far-Right nationalist groups such as Yemina and New Hope, which support settlements and reject Palestinian people's national rights of self-determination.

What role will the United Arab List play between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Israeli government? And how will it assist in rebuilding the Gaza Strip and ending the siege, or in achieving a "prisoners’ deal" between Hamas and Israel? It looks as though Egyptian efforts to address this latter issue will face huge challenges as this new government is being formed.

But, perhaps the most important question... will this new government even survive the coming days before Knesset approves it?

Dr Ibrahim Natil is a Research Fellow at Institute for International Conflict Resolution at Dublin City University. He is a human rights campaigner and the co-convenor of NGOs in Development Study Group, DSA-UK. He is also the founder of the Society Voice Foundation, Palestine. You can follow Ibrahim on Twitter @Natilibrahim.

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