The chances of a serious dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians under Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister were already dismal. Yet the rise of Naftali Bennett, his protégé at one point, has given Palestinian intellectuals more cause for concern.
While most expect him to be as bad as Netanyahu, others say he would implement his illegal settlement expansion program even more vigorously.
Some are hoping he could curl up under pressure from the Biden administration and prove to be pragmatic.
A strong supporter of Jewish settlements and the annexation of much of the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, Bennett also opposes a two-state solution to the conflict.
At first glance, there seems to be little difference between him and his predecessor. Both are opposed to resuming any form of peace process that would force them to accommodate the aspirations of the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, known by his nickname “Bibi,” even plotted with the Trump administration to kill the idea of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state of Palestine when the United States relocated their embassy from Tel Aviv to the city with the holy places of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
But the rise of the extreme and hypernationalist Bennett to the post of prime minister could be more dangerous, said Mkhaimar Abusada, associate professor and chairman of the political science department at Al-Azhar University in the Gaza Strip.
“Netanyahu expanded the settlements, but he also froze them in 2009 and 2010 under pressure from [former US President Barack] Obama, ”Abusada said.
“The difference between Netanyahu and Bennett is that Netanyahu, as we have seen, can bow under international pressure. In addition, he seemed flexible on the two-state solution. Sometimes he would say he was okay with it. Bennett has a much more ideological and harsher stance. “
“Definitely worse than Netanyahu”
Bennett earned his stripes as a politician by aggressively supporting illegal Israeli settlements. A sudden descent from his platform would infuriate his far-right supporters in the country, some of whom already describe him as “a traitor” for joining a coalition with centrists, leftists and Arabs.
Mustafa Barghouti, chairman of the Palestinian National Initiative political party, said he expects Bennett to be worse than Netanyahu from a Palestinian point of view.
“Bennett advocated regrouping the Palestinians in Areas A and B, which make up only 38% of the West Bank, and annexing the remaining 62% which are Area C,” Barghouti said, referring to the division at three lanes from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. in the Oslo accords signed in 1995.
“The pursuit of settlements in Area C means the assassination of the possibility of a two-state solution. He is definitely worse than Netanyahu.
Some, however, dare to hope that a multi-party, multi-ideological coalition that Bennett now leads will impose checks and balances on his policies.
Last week Netanyahu was beaten by a very narrow margin of one in the confidence vote in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. But the coalition that ousted him is seen as extremely fragile.
But the centrist Yesh Atid party, the left-wing Meretz party, as well as for the first time the Palestinian United Arab List (Ra’am) are also part of the heavy coalition.
“A strange government”
Yoel Guzansky is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) specializing in Gulf politics and security. He said there is a big question mark over how long this coalition will survive and what kind of political plans it is proposing.
“What kind of consensus can this strange government adopt, that is the big question,” Guzansky said. “Usually when you have different parties with different ideologies in a government, they have a lower common denominator that unites them. In this case, it was the consensus to oust Bibi. But Bennett faces many challenges.
Guzansky said the new prime minister’s next challenge is whether he dismantle the Evyatar settlement outpost, south of Nablus in the West Bank.
“It was built illegally under Israeli law and must be dismantled. We’ll have to see what Bennett does about it, ”he said. “There is also a Bedouin settlement in the Negev desert. If he demonstrates this, he could have problems with his Arab allies. “
Guzansky said he believed Bennett might be pragmatic about tensions with the Palestinians.
Bennett, without flinching, allowed the march of the flag of the Jewish nationalists through Jerusalem. This was seen as a serious provocation by the Palestinians, especially since the clashes between Israel and Hamas last month have only just ended.
But no clashes were reported on the ground. In response to the march, however, Hamas floated incendiary balloons in towns in southern Israel and Israel launched airstrikes. But there was no loss of life.
“Even more with force”
There are a myriad of irreconcilable differences between the different members of the coalition. But the Arab members would have little influence over Israel’s policies and no one else in the coalition should take risks for the good of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Barghouti called any expectations of centrists or leftists defending the Palestinians naïve. He recounted when last week Bennett reiterated his vision of pursuing settlements in Area C.
“We didn’t hear anyone from Meretz or the centrists say they didn’t agree. They were present in the Knesset. This can only mean one thing – this government will pursue the policy of illegal settlements, perhaps even more forcefully. “
Bennett’s toughest enemy is said to be the Biden administration, which has already called for a freeze on illegal settlements. He will soon open a consulate for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and should push Israel back to the peace talks table.
While some Palestinian thinkers are unwilling to abandon Biden, others, like Barghouti, fear that Bennett may secure US inaction on the Palestinian issue by tacitly supporting resuming the Iran-US nuclear deal. United.
“The deal with Iran will come at the expense of the Palestinian issue,” Barghouti said. “But we will not stand still.”
Since the clashes last month, Palestinian resistance has indeed accelerated and a new generation of activists seem determined to save their homes and the land of their ancestors as well.
Bibi or Bennett, say the Palestinians, their resistance will continue.