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Netanyahu's exit brings some slight optimism

Israeli celebrate the passing of a Knesset vote confirming a new coalition government during a rally in Rabin Square in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 13, 2021 [JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images]
Israeli celebrate the passing of a Knesset vote confirming a new coalition government during a rally in Rabin Square in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 13, 2021 [JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images]

Changes in the makeup of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, hardly cause for Palestinian optimism, even at the best of times. All governments of Israel since 1948 have pushed the Palestinians and their legitimate aspirations to near oblivion. The ousting of now-former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday was received with little outward enthusiasm in occupied Palestine. As many people pointed out, it is the "same old same old".

However, for some supporters and observers beyond Palestine and Israel, the political change in the occupation state is likely to have an impact on a number of issues in the region. There is a clear mandate for new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to re-establish national cohesion which crumbled under Netanyahu. Bennett has apparently made this his priority.

The coalition deal is that he will be prime minister for two years before handing over to Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, for the remainder of their term in government. Lapid is the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the interim. Responsibility for foreign affairs has traditionally rested within the office of the prime minister, especially under Netanyahu.

Israel's new government: nothing is going to change - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel's new government: nothing is going to change – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

As the leader of the second-largest political party in the Knesset, Lapid is credited with bringing together the most diverse governing coalition in Israel's political history. It includes, for the first time, an Arab Israeli party, Ra'am. It is hoped that Netanyahu's exit will signal an end to political stagnation in terms of the country's policies towards the Palestinians.

Although Bennett is both right-wing and an ultra-nationalist, there is a glimmer of hope. For a start, the change in government is likely to ease the pressure on those involved in the ongoing discussions about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran's nuclear programme. The "P5+1" agreement involves the US, China, France, Russia, the UK, and Germany, as well as the EU.

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Lapid is supposed to be a centrist, although such terminology is always relative in increasingly right-wing Israeli politics. This could change the dynamics in Israel regarding its attitude towards Iran and the JCPOA. Unlike his predecessors as foreign minister, Lapid is likely to be an active driver of foreign policy under the new government. This could produce some surprises, including direct talks with Iran and the appointment of the first Palestinian citizen of Israel in the cabinet.

Bennett's political style, however, is likely to impede his interaction with the international politicians leading the new "world democratic project" under US President Joe Biden. His unashamed ultra-nationalist approach raises doubts about whether his politics will resonate with democratic revivalist attitudes and rhetoric, as expressed at the G7 meeting in Britain at the weekend.

It is in all likelihood, therefore, going to be Lapid who will be the new international face of Israel, with Bennett being the "domestic prime minister" with limited interaction on the world stage. Lapid's politics presents a window of opportunity not only for the JCPOA but also in helping Israel to recalibrate its relationship with the world. Importantly, he is committed to reviving negotiations with the Palestinians. If that happens, it could bring Israel back into the international spotlight for something positive rather than the bombing and maiming of innocent women and children, and attacks on peaceful worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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The ousting of Netanyahu thus sends an important message and provides a lesson for future Israeli leaders: pinning political hopes on brutality towards the Palestinians does not work. His default aggression, towards Gaza especially, is out of favour, and international opinion has swung against Israel and its colonial narrative.

Moreover, as pressure mounts for more Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel, the change in government in the occupation state could see a change in attitudes towards links with Tel Aviv. Instead of having to toe the line laid down by Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Arab governments may well be able to push for a better deal for the Palestinians as their condition for normalisation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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