Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / April 22, 2020
The Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, are closely following the announcement of the formation of the new Israeli government, given the profound impact it will have on them. This includes the expected annexation of settlements and the Jordan Valley, the future of the humanitarian understandings in Gaza and the possibility of a military escalation with Hamas.
The following article will discuss the Palestinian reactions to the formation of the Israeli government, and how the Palestinians view the future of their dealings with the new government. Will the new government resort to annexing West Bank settlements, which may mean the gradual elimination of the existence of the PA or cancelling the understandings with Hamas, and the start of the countdown to a confrontation with it?
The Palestinians believe that this Israeli government has an extreme right-wing agenda against them, which prompted the PA to warn against annexing any part of the Palestinian territories immediately after the announcement of the Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz government.
Despite the Palestinians’ preoccupation with the coronavirus, it did not distract them from their main issue – ending the occupation and establishing an independent state. They have not overlooked the attacks and the plans being carried out by the Israeli government, particularly regarding annexation through the gate of the US deal of the century.
As usual, the PA was content with issuing warnings and statements, and threatening to take immediate measures against any new Israeli government decisions – without revealing what these measures would be.
However, Palestinian officials recently announced that the agreements will be cancelled immediately with Israel if it continues its annexations, seizing land and illegal settlement expansion. However, the fact that they have threatened this several times without taking action, renders it an empty threat.
The PA fears that the new Israeli government coalition’s agenda will be based on annexing more occupied Palestinian territories, as it will not only pose an explicit threat to the rules of international law, but would also threaten security and stability in the whole region.
Hamas believes that Netanyahu agreed with Gantz on the so-called annexation of the West Bank in the coalition agreement, and that it confirms the growing risks facing the Palestinian factions. Despite the fact that Israeli consensus to target the situation in the West Bank requires mobilising the efforts of all the factions and forces, Hamas asked the PA to stop procrastinating in the relationship with Israel and to take a firm position towards engaging with the national group in the face of the occupation.
While Hamas sees the announcement of the new Israeli government, with its current components, as an assertion that betting on a peace process for the region with Israel is a losing bet, and promotes an illusion, the movement considers Palestinians to be facing an occupation government, annexation and Judaisation that pursues racial discrimination, and plans to carry out the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. This is via the agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz to keep the nation state law, which establishes the worst Israeli apartheid system against all Palestinians, including those residing in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the diaspora.
The coalition government agreement between Netanyahu – the corrupt – and Gantz – the votes thief – is an expression of consensus between two fraudulent opportunists who are busy distributing the political spoils. As for the core issues, the economic crisis, the fight against the coronavirus, foreign relations and the future of the conflict with the Palestinians, they have not been prioritised in the manner desired, despite the fact that their agreement on annexing the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley is considered a “mine” that Netanyahu brought to the agreement. The timing and scope of the annexation will be determined according to the interests of US President Donald Trump and are not within the Likud and Blue and White Parties’ discussions.
Perhaps one of the sensitive points, if not the most sensitive ones in the Israeli coalition agreement, is related to approving the annexation of the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley areas, and the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over them. The Likud Party, headed by Netanyahu, celebrates this matter and considers it a historic decision that will be implemented in harmony and coordination with the US administration. The Blue and White Party requires that its approval of this decision will prevent the outbreak of a severe political crisis with Jordan, and this means that the two agreed that sovereignty in the West Bank will be imposed through an agreement with the US and a discussion with the international community, in order to prevent the outbreak of a crisis with Jordan.
The Israeli settlers viewed the initial signing of the draft of the agreement between Netanyahu-Gantz as a clear declaration that the battle for annexation and the imposition of sovereignty over the West Bank had begun, with the aim to preserve Israel’s security and strategic interests. They believe that today, with the formation of the new government, there is a historic opportunity to secure the future of settlement presence and the imposition of sovereignty, expecting the imposition of Israeli law and the declaration of sovereignty through a strong and united government that continues to adopt government policies to develop Jewish settlement blocs.
The Israeli welcome of the announcement of the formation of the new government does not cancel the presence of other Israeli voices that believe Gantz betrayed his voters and gave the green light to the annexation process. This places us in front of an unstable politician who lacks national responsibility, and upon entering this government, was satisfied that he was under the cloak of the extreme right-wing, which shoulders the catastrophe of annexation and risks the future of Israelis.
These Israeli voices accuse Gantz of participating in saving Netanyahu, who is accused of criminal activity, by joining a government of thirty ministers, at the height of the Israeli financial crisis, and with more than one million unemployed. Poverty in Israel has spread overnight and the economy is devastated, causing the Israelis to complain of uncertainty in their futures.
There is no doubt that the announcement of the Israeli government formation in its final form means that the ladder of Israeli priorities has been severely disrupted, because the leaders of this coalition are seeking to make crucial decisions, the consequences of which Israel may not be able to face. Such decisions include annexing parts of the West Bank. Although this will pose a danger to the Israelis, at least according to the convictions of many of their military circles, supporters of the annexation pay no attention to what might happen in the immediate future for the sake of fulfilling their short-term desires, despite many questions remaining unanswered.
These questions include: Will the annexation measures threaten the settlement agreements? Will security deterioration between the Palestinians and the Israelis occur? Will security coordination with the PA stop? Will the Israeli army have to recruit reserves to its ranks? Will the Israeli Civil Administration return to controlling the fates of millions of Palestinians? What will the fates of the agreements with them be?
Moreover, will the annexation step have an impact on the upcoming decisions of the International Criminal Court, which is currently looking into complaints of Israel violating international law? What will the general international reaction be? How much will it cost the occupation? All of these are crucial questions which have not been taken into consideration by the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition.
Many Israeli generals believe that the results of any annexation process, complete or partial, will provoke reactions that Israel will not be able to confront nor tackle, because the damages of annexation will cause a domino effect, which will pose a threat to the security of the state, its economy and its relationship with its Arab neighbours.
The failure of the leaders of the new Israeli government coalition to listen to the experts’ recommendations regarding the expected consequences of the annexation indicates a lack of responsibility, even though restoring Israeli control over the Palestinians will cost the Israeli budget approximately $14.7 billion, due to the annexation, while the budget is already suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With regards to the Gaza Strip, it is no secret that Hamas has closely followed the latest internal political developments in Israel. Its leaders receive reports around the clock in order to obtain an accurate picture of the nature of the new Israeli coalition, given the expected consequences for the future of the relationship between the movement and the occupation. This comes despite the fact that Hamas has occasionally asserted that it does not care about the internal Israeli political changes, given that they are all two sides of the same coin.
It is true that it may seem early to deliberate the consequences of the formation of the Israeli government on Gaza, due to this government’s domestic agenda, but its announcement may raise questions about the future of humanitarian understandings in Gaza signed with Hamas, through Egyptian-Qatari international mediators. At the same time, it may increase the chances of reaching a deal with Hamas, because the government has a comfortable parliamentary safety net, and includes many generals. Although the gaps between Hamas and Israel are vast, the unity government agreement and the presence of Gantz, may make it smoother-sailing for Netanyahu to obtain approval for a future prisoner exchange deal with Hamas.
Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic