Palestinians did not really need to see Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, appointed as minister of defence on 25 May to be convinced that the coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu since 15 May 2015 is the most right-wing and extreme government in the history of Israel. This government brought together different religious and nationalist parties and under this government negotiations stopped, settlements were expanded and the Jerusalem Intifada broke out in early October 2015.
What worries Palestinians is Lieberman accusing Netanyahu of failing in the face of Hamas which threatens Israelis living in the areas surrounding the Gaza Strip. Lieberman claims Hamas is planning to occupy the southern Israeli settlements in the next war; claims that coincide with Israel’s discovery of a tunnel inside its territories. This could lead to the possibility of Lieberman carrying out his threats of assassinating Palestinian leaders in any upcoming military confrontation.
Coinciding with the appointment of Lieberman, Israeli media reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is afraid of the relationship between former Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan, and Lieberman, who will seek to provide proper conditions for the return of Dahlan, Abbas’ arch-rival. Lieberman and Dahlan met in Paris in 2015, and they both have a common interest to remove Abbas from the political scene. Lieberman sees Abbas as an instigator of violence against Israelis, and Dahlan considers Abbas an obstacle in his path to reach the Palestinian presidency.
Lieberman is trying to tamper with the internal Palestinian arena through threats against Abbas, the possibility of resorting to assassinations of Palestinian leaders, and provoking a crazy war in Gaza to prove to his political rivals in Israel that he is strong, but Netanyahu will remain politically and militarily dominant in Israel. Only internal Palestinian cohesion can lead Lieberman’s scheme to fail. This means that Palestinians have to face Lieberman’s appointment as a united front.
Palestinians’ memory retains strong statements made by Lieberman against them, most recently when he announced that Israel must not sit idly while Hamas digs tunnels on the Gaza border. He vowed to assassinate Hamas leaders if they do not return the missing soldiers who have Israel believes have been held in Gaza since the 2014 war, encouraging them to make their own funeral arrangements.
Palestinians have previously known Israeli leaders who were more bloodthirsty and vicious than Lieberman, such as Ariel Sharon who headed the Israeli government between 2001 and 2005, but Palestinians know that Lieberman as a member of the opposition is different. As the defence minister, he will be surrounded by the Chief of Army Staff and heads of security services who may want him to calm down and not to go overboard with his threats against Hamas, which has been stockpiling its capabilities since the 2014 war.
There are increased assumptions that the arrival of Lieberman to the Ministry of Defence may coincide with a future military escalation with Palestinians, especially in Gaza, through carrying out a number of assassinations against leaders of the resistance, and attempts to detect new tunnels along the Gaza border, accompanied by the advancement of army machinery several kilometres into Gaza’s border. This could draw Palestinians into a military escalation and thus require the resistance not to respond to Israeli field activities.
Lieberman’s appointment may also speed up Abbas’ demise through exploiting the regional mobility in the area. Lieberman may also take advantage of the US’s preoccupation with the presidential election. Any escalations against Gaza will only increase if Israel is pressured to return to negotiations by the US or Europe.
Lieberman’s options toward Palestinians will be focused on two scenarios: the first is to launch a quick war, following the assassination of important Palestinian figures, paving the way for a long truce with Gaza in order to put this file on the shelves for a long period. The second option is that Lieberman may drag Israel into a large scale confrontation with Gaza, to launch a fatal blow to the resistance, and significantly eliminate its advanced capabilities, without taking the risk of land incursions as they are dangerous to soldiers, using airstrikes, even if these are not able to settle the war in Israel’s favour, push Palestinians into a specific settlement in the future.
Finally, despite the concerns of Palestinians towards Lieberman’s accession to the Israeli government, they have a glimmer of hope that is represented in the ability of generals of the Israeli army to control his actions, and not to comply with all the aggressive actions he may request against Palestinians, due to their long experience in dealing with them on a military level, as compared with his virtually non-existent military experience, as he has not spent more than one year in the Israeli army. Palestinian apprehension of him remains legitimate.
Translated from Felesteen Online, 5 June 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.