After more than a month of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to cobble together a coalition government in the final hour, with commentators describing the process as embarrassing and circus-like.
The stability of Netanyahu’s new Likud-led government is questionable – it has the slimmest coalition majority possible with only 61 of 120 seats, making it more vulnerable to the centre-left Zionist Union-led opposition. Netanyahu hoped to bring the leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, into the government as foreign minister–but Herzog publically stated he had no intention of joining the new government. For now that post remains vacant.
It is unquestionable that the new government – even more right wing than the last – will actively work against any compromise with the Palestinians, and presumably the Iranian nuclear deal as well. President Obama touted the importance of a return to negotiations and a two-state solution during the Press conference following the GCC Summit, but acknowledged that the new government “contains some folks who don’t necessarily believe in that premise.”
Indeed, after Netanyahu’s former foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman packed up Yisrael Beiteinu’s 6 seats refusing to join the coalition, Netanyahu secured his new government by striking a late deal, a mere hour before the deadline, with the right wing and pro-settlement Jewish Home party (Bayit Yehudi), led by Naftali Bennett.
Bennett speaks openly about his opposition to the two-state solution and has been criticized for derogatory comments about Palestinians. He argues not only that existing settlements should be maintained, but that they should be expanded and ultimately annexed into the Israeli state–along with all of “Area C,” the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem–because while he feels it is perfectly appropriate for Palestinians to live under Israeli sovereignty, he “would not wish upon his worst enemy” that a Jew should live in a Palestinian state. He snagged Israel’s new education minister post.
Bennett also successfully haggled for the appointment of Ayalet Shaked as justice minister. Shaked sparked controversy with a 2014 facebook post, since deleted, in which she suggested the entire Palestinian people is an enemy combatant, referring to the mothers of Palestinian militants as snakes, according to an English translation of her writing. These and other statements of hers have been construed as genocidal, and there is widespread concern that she will use her post to curtail civil rights and civil liberties for Palestinians, further eroding Israel’s democratic character.
Meanwhile, Likud’s Moshe Yaalon will likely retain the defense minister post, and sparked controversy of his own at a recent conference in Jerusalem, suggesting it would be necessary to hurt Lebanese civilians – including children – in any future conflagration with Hezbollah.
A recent New York Times piece noted similarly that the next Lebanon war is likely to be high in civilian casualties, primarily because Hezbollah had moved its military infrastructure into southern Shiite villages, according to Israeli military sources. The paper noted that the Israeli assertions could not be verified. Still, that key figures in the new Israeli government have publically and openly attempted to blur the lines between civilians and enemy combatants in future wars, does not bode well for Israel’s neighbors.
It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu’s icy relationship with President Obama will thaw in light of the weakness of his new government. In addition to facing some tough challenges at home with cost of living issues, housing shortages and civil discontent among the country’s Ethiopian citizens, who recently demonstrated over police brutality, Netanyahu might find it increasingly difficult to resist growing international support for the creation of a Palestinian state. If relations with the Obama administration continue to deteriorate, it could become more difficult for the US to sustain the status quo of its diplomatic cover for Israel in the international arena. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
Meanwhile, Palestinians won’t be fazed by any of this. Given the realities of the settlement enterprise on the ground and the ongoing Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza, many probably feel that the two-state solution died long ago. After the Vatican’s recent announcement of a forthcoming treaty with the Palestinian Authority that will recognize a state of Palestine, and the PA’s recent membership in the International Criminal Court, Palestinians will likely continue to circumvent negotiations, bypassing Israel’s lively cast of new leaders, and pursue their rights through the international system.