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Israel's Coalition: New Hope for Palestine?

Ziryan Aziz explores the key figures behind Israel’s new government, and what this could mean for Israel-Palestine relations.

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Despite risking the country going to the ballot box for the fifth time in two years, Yair Lapin, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, submitted a proposal in early June to Israel’s president, for the creation of a new coalition government.

On the 13th of June, Israel’s parliament swore in the new government coalition, in what was a monumental political shift that could see changes to longstanding foreign and domestic policy. The eight-faction coalition is made up of parties that ideologically vary from the far left to the far right. The country’s first Arab politician has also been elected, and almost a third of the ministers are women.

Who is in the Coalition?

Neftali Bennet - Prime Minister

A millionaire who made it big in Israel’s tech boom, Naftali Bennet (49) is the ultranationalist leader of the Yamina Party. He’s opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, wants to annex 60% of the West Bank, and champions settlement building in the Palestinian territories. In an agreement with the Foreign Minister, he will pass on the role of Prime Minister to Yair Lapin after serving 2 years in power.

Yair Lapin - Foreign Minister

A former news presenter, the 57-year-old secular-centrist is the mastermind behind the coalition, having served as Finance Minister under a previous Netanyahu government, before joining the opposition in 2015. Mr Lapin is in favour of an independent Palestinian state and has recently overseen the opening of the Israeli embassy in Dubai. Domestically, he will seek to ease financial constraints on the middle class and overturn the privileges Orthodox Jews enjoy under Israeli law.

Benny Gantz - Defence Minister

Best known as Israel’s 20th military Chief of General Staff, the centrist Benny Gantz (62) came the closest to defeating Netanyahu in 2019 elections. Unlike Netanyahu, Mr Gantz is seen as a more humble and less divisive figure in Israel. The former military man’s views on Palestinian statehood aren’t clear, however he is warm to the idea of a Palestinian ‘entity’ existing, but favours annexing the Jordan Valley as part of an agreement.

Avigdor Lieberman - Finance Minister

A far-right Moldovan who lives in an illegal settlement, Liberman (63) had previously served under Netanyahu’s government as Defence minister before starting his own party. His party favours a hawkish foreign policy, settlement building in Occupied Territories, but supporting a two-state solution to the conflict. Top on his party’s agenda will be to integrate Israel’s orthodox-Jewish minority into the work force and make conscription into the IDF mandatory for Orthodox Jews, of which they are currently exempt.

Mansour Abbas - Deputy Minister of Arab Affairs in the Prime Minister’s office

Mansour Abbas will be Israel’s first Palestinian citizen to hold a government position in the country’s history. The 47-year-old will concentrate on improving living conditions for Arab citizens. Arab’s make up almost 21% of Israel’s population, yet many Arab majority towns have been subject to a historic discrimination in receiving inadequate public funds, and a lower number of planning permission grants compared to Jewish majority towns.

What can Israelis and Palestinians expect from the coalition?

Previously, it would have been inconceivable for a government like this to exist given the ideological diversity of the parties. What has united this unlikely government is a common interest in unseating Benjamin Netanyahu from his 12 years in power. The former Prime Minister is currently facing a number of criminal charges related to corruption.

As previously mentioned, some of the coalition’s ministers hold far-right views which are at odds with their left and centre wing colleagues. Moderates will have to rub shoulders with big names in right-wing Israeli politics, such as the populist Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Avigdor Lieberman, and the Prime Minister himself.

For now, the government is focusing on domestic issues relating to cutting bureaucracy and funding education. For the Palestinians, there is uncertainty about what to expect. Within Palestine, political parties have already stated their indifference to the new government, believing that Netanyahu’s legacy of “…racism, extremism, violence and lawlessness” will continue.

So far, the new Prime Minister has been giving out mixed signals. Whilst he is open about annexing sections of the West Bank regardless of a solution to the conflict, he recently claimed that he would seek to improve living conditions and increase business opportunities within the Palestinian territories. However, parallel to this, his own Yamina party sought – and failed – to extend a discriminatory law that bars West Bank Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from receiving citizenship rights.

Some are speculating that given the heavy influence of moderates within the new government, radical steps like annexation will be held off, so as not to cause an internal split. However, as with all coalition governments, compromises are made, and Palestinians could see major positive, or negative, steps in finding a resolution to the conflict, something radically different to the sluggish status quo experienced under Netanyahu.


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