The possibilities for a serious dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister were already sad. However, the rise of Naftali Bennett, his protégé at one point, has given Palestinian intellectuals more reason to worry.
While most expect it to be as bad as Netanyahu, others say he would carry out his agenda to further expand illegal settlements.
Some hope he can cover up under pressure from the Biden administration and be pragmatic.
Bennett, a staunch supporter of Jewish settlements and the annexation of most of the West Bank, including the occupied East Jerusalem, also opposes a two-state solution to the conflict.
At first glance, there seems to be little difference between him and his predecessor. Both oppose the resumption of any form of peace process that could force them to give way to the aspirations of the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, known by his nickname “Bibi,” even plotted with the Trump administration to kill the idea of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state when the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv in the city with holy places of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
But Bennett’s tough, hypernationalist rise to the post of prime minister could be more dangerous, said Mkhaimar Abusada, an associate professor and chair of Al-Azhar University’s political science department in the Gaza Strip.
“Netanyahu expanded the settlements, but also froze them in 2009 and 2010 after pressure from [former US President Barack] Obama, “Abused said.
“The difference between Netanyahu and Bennett is that Netanyahu, as we have seen, can be reduced under international pressure. In addition, he seemed flexible in the two-state solution. At times, he said he was fine. Bennett has a much more ideological stance. and harder ”.
“Definitely worse than Netanyahu”
Bennett earned his stripes as a politician by giving aggressive support illegal Israeli settlements. A sudden drop in his position would infuriate his far-right supporters in the country, some of whom already describe him as “a traitor” for being part of a coalition with centrists, leftists and Arabs.
Mustafa Barghouti, chairman of the Palestinian National Initiative political party, said he expects Bennett to be worse than Netanyahu from a Palestinian perspective.
“Bennett defended the grouping of Palestinians in zones A and B, which is only 38 percent of the West Bank, and the annexation of the remaining 62 percent, which is area C,” Barghouti said, referring to to the three-way division of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the Oslo Accords signed in 1995.
“Continuing the settlements in area C means the murder of the possibility of a two-state solution. It’s definitely worse than Netanyahu. “
Some, however, dare to expect a multi-party, multi-ideological coalition now led by Bennett to impose controls and balances on its policies.
Last week, Netanyahu was defeated by a sharp margin of one in the vote of confidence in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. But it is seen that the coalition that has sidelined him is extremely fragile.
But the Yesh Atid centrist party, the Meretz left-wing party, as well as for the first time the Palestinian United Arab List (Ra’am) are also part of the little coalition.
Yoel Guzansky is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) specializing in Gulf security and policy. He said there was a big question mark about how long this coalition survives and what kind of political plans it proposes.
“What kind of consensus can this strange government adopt, that’s the big question,” Guzansky said. “Usually, when you have different parties with different ideologies in a government, they have a lower common denominator that unites them. In this case, it was the consensus to expel Bibi. But Bennett faces many challenges. “
Guzansky said the next challenge for the new prime minister is whether he would dismantle the Evyatar settlement advanced, south of Nablus, in the West Bank.
“It was built illegally under Israeli law and has to be dismantled. We’ll have to see what Bennett would do about it,” he said. “There’s also a Bedouin settlement in the Negev desert. If it dismantled, it could have problems. with its Arab allies “.
Guzansky said he believes Bennett could be pragmatic in the face of tensions with the Palestinians.
Bennett, without blinking, allows it the marching flag of the Jewish nationalists for Jerusalem. It was seen as a serious provocation by the Palestinians, especially since the clashes between Israel and Hamas last month had just ended.
But no clashes were reported on the ground. In response to the march, however, Hamas floated incendiary balloons in the cities of southern Israel and Israel launched airstrikes. But there were no casualties.
There are a myriad of irreconcilable differences between the different members of the coalition. But Arab members would have little influence on Israeli policies and no one else in the coalition is expected to come out in the extreme for the good of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Barghouti called the expectations of centrists or leftists defending the Palestinians naive. He recounted the time when last week Bennett reiterated his vision of continuing settlements in Area C.
“We did not hear from Meretz or the centrists who said they did not agree. They were present in the Knesset. This can only mean one thing: this government will continue with the policy of illegal settlements, perhaps even more strongly.
Bennett’s toughest enemy would be the Biden administration, which has already called for the freezing of illegal settlements. It will soon open a consulate for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and is expected to push Israel back to the table for peace talks.
While some Palestinian thinkers are unprepared to renounce Biden, others like Barghouti fear that Bennett may ensure U.S. inaction on the Palestinian issue by tacitly supporting the resumption of the Iran-US nuclear deal.
“The agreement with Iran will come at the expense of the Palestinian question,” Barghouti said. “But we won’t shut up.”
Since last month’s clashes, the Palestinian resistance has picked up pace and a new generation of activists they seem determined to save their homes and the land of their ancestors as well.
Bibi or Bennett, the Palestinians say, their resistance will continue.