After nearly six weeks of negotiations, Benjamin Netanyahu has stitched together a new governing coalition in Israel. Like the election, the new cabinet is focused on domestic issues, including the high cost of living. Yet, as always in Israeli politics, the issue of security is never far away.
As far as the Palestinians and the stalled peace process are concerned, it is a mixed picture. There are more moderates than were in the outgoing government, but there is also a predominance of politicians who are either settlers or staunch supporters of settlements. This is definitely a settlers’ government.
“We extend our hand in peace to the Palestinians,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu, presenting his new government to Parliament. It is a phrase he has used before. “With a Palestinian partner that is willing to hold negotiations in good will, Israel will be ready for a historic compromise that will end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all.”
He gave no details, but it is likely that making any significant concessions – such as the halt on settlement construction or release of prisoners that Palestinians have called for – would be a struggle for such a right-wing coalition.
Netanyahu’s new government will thus be one of deadlock. The line up includes two nominally centrist parties – Yesh Atid (19 seats) and HaTnuah (six seats) – which want to return to peace talks. However, they are outnumbered by two nationalist, hawkish blocs – Likud-Beitenu (31 seats) and the far-right Jewish Home (12 seats).
On the one hand, Netanyahu has appointed Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister who favours a diplomatic solution and has relatively good ties with Palestinians, as his chief negotiator. His largest coalition partner, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, has called for a focus on reaching peace.
But on the other hand, Netanyahu’s own Likud-Yisrael Beitenu party is dominated by hardliners. Before the election campaign had even started, he formed an alliance with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu. It is run by settler Avigdor Lieberman, who has said that it is “delusional” to think that peace can be reached with the Palestinians. The newly formed far right, pro-settler Jewish Home Party, which rejects any concessions to Palestinians, is also an ally.
While Livni as chief negotiator may favour peace talks, the new defence minister, Moshe Yaalon – of Netanyahu’s Likud party – opposes any curbs on settlement-building. Palestinians have said that construction must stop before they return to the negotiating table. The new housing minister, Uri Ariel, is number two after Naftali Bennett in the Jewish Home Party; he has pledged to build more settlements.
Given this situation, it is perhaps unsurprising that Palestinians have not expressed any optimism about the prospects for peace. “This is a government of political paralysis,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, told AFP. “It’s also the government that has given the settlers enormous powers.”
Responding to Netanyahu’s speech, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was similarly unenthused. “The rhetoric about peace is one thing and doing peace is something else. Doing peace requires deeds.”
Netanyahu’s last government has been described by many as the most hawkish and right-wing in Israel’s history. This new coalition gives unprecedented power to politicians from within the settler movement, who have been described by many as the true winners of this election. The new coalition reflects the new political reality of Israel: settlements are there to stay, which is a serious problem for a future Palestinian state. There may be more moderates in power now than there were in the last government, but it is difficult to see how they will push their agenda through. It seems highly likely that this government will displace the last as the Israel’s most hawkish ever.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.