Israel has turned the page on more than a decade of Binyamin Netanyahu rule, ushering in a new era with his former protégé Naftali Bennett at the helm, for now.
The new government sworn in on Sunday has myriad of domestic issues that it must attend to immediately, including how to revive an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to preserve a fragile ceasefire with Palestinian factions in Gaza, and this government that is replete with ideological contradictions will do its best to cling on to power for as long as it can before collapsing.
But the elephant in the room is the peace process with the Palestinians, and that elephant is on life support.
Mahmoud Dodeen, an assistant professor of private law at Qatar University, told The Media Line that the new prime minister had more extreme views toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than his predecessor.
“It will not be a continuation of the Netanyahu government’s policy. On the contrary, it may be the most extreme. He [Bennett] believes in transferring the Palestinians to Jordan, and the annexation of big chunks of the occupied West Bank,” Dodeen says.
During Netanyahu’s 12 consecutive years in office (he was also prime minister in 1996-1999), peace talks muted as the leadership from each side accused the other of impeding the process.
The new government is led by outgoing Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and tech millionaire Bennett, with the latter serving as prime minister for the first 26 months, and the former set to then hold the post for a similar period.
For many Palestinians, Netanyahu’s replacement is not an upgrade.
Bennett, a former Netanyahu chief of staff who supports annexation of parts of the West Bank and expanding settlement construction, utterly rejects Palestinian statehood.
“Israel’s policies won’t change much because a new coalition government is taking office,” Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian and Israeli politics at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line.
Awwad added that the new coalition, as diverse as it may appear, it is still dominated by the far right.
“There is no hope for major change from the new Israeli government. In my opinion, it’s more extreme than the one it’s replacing and will not negotiate with the Palestinians,” he says.
Following last month’s deadly 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group that rules the Strip saw a pike in its popularity among Palestinians, while the stock of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, led by 85-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, dipped to historic lows.
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“The Palestinian Authority has lost all its cards, and therefore it has no choice but to rely on the US administration and the international community to become relevant again,” Awwad says.
The US administration resumed much of the financial aid cut off under President Donald Trump’s administration, pumping new life into the PA, but Dodeen says the Biden administration is “not oriented toward resolving the conflict but rather managing it.
“We know that a two-state solution is almost impossible to implement on the ground. The new right-wing government will not abandon Jerusalem, nor will it allow the return of refugees and the dismantling of settlements,” he says.
The main concern of the international community, including America, is only a “return to calm and the preservation of the status quo,” Dodeen argues.
Awwad says that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is weak, and with an Israeli government that is more extreme than before, there is almost no chance of a resumption of peace talks.
“I think it is impossible for that to happen with Bennett as prime minister. Abbas is too weak to negotiate, he has no leverage, and he is now busy thwarting the recent successes scored by his rival Hamas.”
Dodeen is pessimistic about the future, saying Bennett, in an attempt to prolong the life of the government, will have to appease the most extreme elements of the right.
“This means the continuation of settlements and the continuation of [current] Israeli policies, and this will once again set off the battle militarily,” Dodeen says.
During May’s armed confrontation, more than 250 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, with more than 1,900 wounded. In Israel, one soldier was killed along with 12 civilians, including two children.
Dodeen says the next round will be much worse.
“In my opinion, things will cascade into a new military confrontation, and it will be more dangerous than in the past because it will turn into a regional war,” he says.