With or without Netanyahu, Israel and Gaza face difficult days and decisions ahead

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents may succeed in removing him from power, but they will not turn their back on his racist right-wing policies. Like him, they are committed to far-right Zionism, having once been active partners with him in its adoption and implementation.

The common denominator among his opponents is their strong personal and political hostility towards him. That fact aside, they are otherwise exactly like him, but arguably even more determined to build illegal settlements across all of Palestine from the river to the sea; tighten the siege on the Gaza Strip; annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem; seize the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa (which they call “the Temple Mount”); expel Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Batn Al-Hawa and other neighbourhoods; reject the two-state solution; “Israelise” the Palestinian citizens in Palestine occupied in 1948, and reject the legitimate right of return of the Palestinians in the diaspora.

Israel soldiers attack Palestinians resisting forceful eviction in Sheikh Jarrah [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]Israel soldiers attack Palestinians resisting forceful eviction in Sheikh Jarrah [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah are being replaced with Israeli settlers as Israeli soldiers vacate the Palestinian property by force – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Netanyahu’s opponents managed with great difficulty to assemble a coalition of eight parties: three from the right, two from the left and two from the centre, as well as one Arab party whose leader, Mansour Abbas, supports the coalition government, but has said that he will not personally participate in it. The coalition still needs to get a vote of confidence from the Knesset before next Saturday if it is to form the next government.

In the meantime, it seems likely to fall with the defection of some right-wing MKs due to their refusal to participate in the government which, they claim, departs from right-wing ideology and political programmes. There is also the possibility of Netanyahu succeeding in igniting a war with Iran in order to extend his grip on power, and prompt a fifth General Election in just over two years.

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Assuming that the coalition gets the Knesset vote of confidence, it will remain a troubled government due to the disagreement of its parties on many basic issues, such as the economy, security, the relationship between the state and religion, and how best to deal with the besieged Gaza Strip. These disputes prompted Israel’s Haaretz newspaper to describe every member of the coalition as an explosive device that can lead to its destruction.

The position on Gaza is perhaps the most sensitive issue. In response to a question about fears over the freedom to take action against Gaza due to the presence of Mansour Abbas’s party in the coalition government, the first alternate prime minister, Naftali Bennett, told Channel 12 News on 3 June that his government would take whatever military action is necessary, including in Gaza. If the coalition were to fall apart after any such operation, “So be it… there’d be an election.”

This possibility is not lost on the leaders of the Palestinian resistance factions. Yahya Al-Sinwar, the head of the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip, was quick to respond by saying, “The resistance that can destroy Tel Aviv with one torrent of 130 missiles — and what is hidden is even greater — realises that in the event that a new war is launched by the Israeli occupation on Gaza, the Middle East will look different.”

Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Al-Sinwar in Gaza city on 10 March 2021 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]
Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Al-Sinwar in Gaza city on 10 March 2021 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Al-Sinwar in Gaza city on 10 March 2021 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Al-Sinwar in Gaza city on 10 March 2021 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

The significance of Sinwar’s threat is also evident in a statement by Khaled Al-Batsh of the Islamic Jihad movement: “We must have full confidence in what the leaders say: Mr Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, Mr Hassan Nasrallah, Mr Ziyad Al-Nakhala and the other leaders of the resistance axis regarding the major battle in the event of an attack on Jerusalem.”

The statements made by Sinwar and Al-Batsh are directed at Netanyahu before Bennett, because the former has said that, in order to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, if he had to choose between protecting Israel and taking US opposition to a unilateral attack on Iran into account, he would choose to attack Iran.

Bennett, however, knows that his coalition cannot wage war on Iran unilaterally and that the most it can do regarding Gaza is to go along with US President Joe Biden’s administration by responding to its efforts to establish the ongoing ceasefire introduced after the recent 11-day Israeli offensive. Moreover, Bennett and his coalition members know that if Netanyahu ignites a war with Iran before they get a vote of confidence from the Knesset, the coalition will collapse and clashes will be seen across the Middle East.

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This extremely dangerous possibility is sufficient in itself for the Biden administration, which is keen to return to a nuclear agreement with Iran, to restrain Israel, whether it is led by Netanyahu or anyone else, to prevent it from committing such a foolhardy act. Netanyahu insists that there will be no peace treaty in the foreseeable future between Israel and the resistance in Gaza, just a ceasefire. According to Professor Lev Grinberg, President of the Israeli Sociological Society, lifting the siege on Gaza and stopping the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah, Lod and Jaffa, are two conditions essential to the deal. Without them, he believes, there is no possibility of a peace treaty or even a truce. However, who would dare say that the leaders of the resistance in Gaza are satisfied with only these two conditions? Difficult days and decisions still lie ahead.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 6 June 2021

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