Benjamin Netanyahu’s third government (and Israel’s thirty third) does not offer Palestinians anything new: it will be more of the same; the expansion of illegal settlements, aggression and the confiscation of lands, rights and sanctities. For the first time, illegal Jewish settlers themselves sit in the government and Knesset seats.
Even for the most optimistic Israelis, this government holds within its fold the seeds of a new barrage of settlements. Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon, known for his pro-settlement positions and for refusing to make any “goodwill initiatives” towards Palestinians, stands alongside Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the settlers’ Jewish Home Party, at the head of those urging Israeli society to “fatten” the settlements, “occupy the hills’, and “legalise settlement outposts”. They are now supported by a heavyweight bloc in the government and relevant Knesset committees.
The election campaign made no mention of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict or the “two state solution”, and it has produced a coalition of five parties holding 68 seats out of 120 which makes no mention of the topic. Instead, they think that it is sufficient to pay lip service with an ambiguous statement that “Israel would seek a peace agreement with Palestinians in order to reach a political agreement that ends the conflict with them”. If a political agreement was ever reached, it would be put before the government and the Knesset for approval followed, if necessary, by a referendum.
The parties with individual statements on the conflict place it at the bottom of the list of priorities, reflecting an intention to block any progress on the path to a “two-state solution”. There does not appear to be any genuine willingness to do otherwise.
Netanyahu will entrust to Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice, and chief Israeli negotiator, the same roles his predecessor Yitzhak Shamir entrusted to Shimon Peres at the time of the “rotation” and “national unity” governments; it won’t make any difference. On the ground, the government will continue with its wars against the indigenous people, land and rights, while Israel’s “doves” try to present a benign image of the state to the world so that it continues to avoid international sanctions and isolation.
The most influential member of the new government after Netanyahu is Yair Lapid; he is secular-minded and from a Serbian background. His is a supposedly centre party but he resists the idea of dividing Jerusalem as he considers it to be “the eternal and unified capital of Israel”; he supports the annexation of large settlement blocs and is ready to work with the settlers’ lobby and party, Jewish Home.
Although Naftali Bennett appears to be content with the Ministry of Housing so that he can oversee the settlement portfolio, he is keen to have his men in key Knesset committees and has reserved two seats for his party on the ministerial committee responsible for settlements. Bennett has also put himself at the head of the committee responsible for monitoring the peace process, retaining a veto over the government.
What about the disgraced (and disgraceful) Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu which has 11 seats in the Knesset? Quite simply, he no longer represents the most radical and partisan space on the political spectrum; that’s now reserved for Bennett. Nevertheless, if the corruption case against him collapses, he will go back to the Foreign Ministry, it seems.
The fact is that this government is secular in nature and is a settlers’ government par excellence. It will make the lives of ordinary Palestinians more difficult than they are at present, especially in occupied Jerusalem. It will kill-off the “two-state solution” and have nothing of note to say to Palestinians; Israel’s internal issues are of no importance to us, nor are we to them.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.