Benjamin Netanyahu has finally put the finishing touches on the new Israeli government as President Obama prepares to visit to Israel/Palestine next week. Although there are some new faces and parties in the ruling bloc, the situation on the ground will look like more of the same for Palestinians. The government will reportedly be made up four parties: Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennett’s Bayit HaYehudi and the combined Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu party, with both Lapid and Bennett winning major concessions from a weakened Netanyahu.
Based on the joint demands of Lapid and Bennett, the government is expected to force military conscription on ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are not represented in the government, and cut subsidies to poor Israelis. Some think the internal contractions between the Lapid/Bennett agenda and Netanyahu’s own base within the Likud party means this government will either be deadlocked or soon fall apart. Jodi Rudoren summarizes this point in the Times with a quote from Ben Gurion University professor Guy Ben-Porat: “It’s a government that, to a large extent, will depend on its ability to avoid decisions on core issues.”
However, there is at least one issue everyone agrees on. There is a solid consensus within the governing coalition behind the ongoing colonization of the West Bank. The Housing and Construction portfolio, which oversees settlement construction, will go to Habayit Hayehudi’s Uri Ariel, who Haaretz named the #1 pro-settlement Knesset member in a 2011 poll. In fact, Ariel is part of the growing Knesset faction calling on Israel to annex the West Bank and is an open supporter of Greater Israel. Haaretz’s Barak Ravid says the settler movement is the overwhelming winner in the new government:
The government has not yet been finally constituted, but it seems that most of the key positions will be filled by settlers and their supporters. We may assume that as housing minister, Uri Ariel will devote a good deal of his time to expanding the settlements in the West Bank and advancing tenders and building in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. He will certainly say that construction in the settlements will contribute to supply and to lower housing prices.
The probable new defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, is considered among the settlers’ favorite figures in Likud. The defense minister is key to construction in the settlements, opening and closing the faucet as he pleases. Ya’alon, who attacked his predecessor Ehud Barak for dragging his feet in approving construction in the settlements, and for thwarting the legalizing of illegal outposts, intends to change the policy.
As opposed to the last four years, settler leaders will have an open door to the defense minister’s office. They will find one of their own in the next office, too, that of the deputy defense minister. MK Ze’ev Elkin, a settler himself, is slated for that job, and will be in charge of the whole matter of settlements.
The list goes on – as industry, trade and labor minister, Naftali Bennett can redraw the map of national priorities and give government benefits to more settlements. Wearing the hat of public diplomacy minister, Bennett will try to persuade the world that there is no Palestinian people and the settlements are actually legal.
His party colleagues Nissan Slomiansky and Ayelet Shaked on the Knesset Finance Committee will see to the cash-flow; Uzi Landau in the tourism minister will open bed-and-breakfasts in Yitzhar and will launch an international campaign to bring evangelical tourists to Tapuah and Bat-Ayin. The Jerusalem affairs minister, Uri Orbach, will get an empty portfolio, but he will certainly think of a way to help the Elad association.
There are practically no checks and balances on the other side.
The Institute for Middle East Understanding sent out the following reactions from notable Palestinian commentators —
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee:
“This government does not bode well for the chances of peace. It continues to be a right-wing hardline government, including Naftali Bennett, advancing a policy of settlement expansion. Its strategies deal with social issues rather than developing a workable strategy for peace. Unfortunately, once again the Palestinians do not have a peace partner in Israel. Once again, there is a government that will continue the previous policies of destroying the two-state solution and the chances of peace.”
Diana Buttu, Ramallah-based analyst and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network:
“This new Israeli Cabinet, despite the presence of ‘centrists’ will undertake two main programs: increased illegal settlement construction and denial of full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. With President Obama soon to meet this new cabinet, the real question is whether he will continue to support these policies, or, for the first time, stand up to Israel.”
Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center in Washington, DC:
“The newly announced Israeli government is an indicator of where Israel is today and what its stance toward the Palestinians is. The self-proclaimed most pro-settlement prime minister in Israel’s history remains in charge while bringing even further right-wing religious nationalists on board. The Ministry of Housing and Construction, which is responsible for advancing settlement plans in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is now to be run by a religious nationalist, Uri Ariel, who backs the annexation of 100% of the occupied West Bank to Israel. The so-called secular centrists, who support keeping major settlements that make a Palestinian state impossible, have taken on social welfare ministries and will provide little opposition to the policies of colonization. In sum, this new Israeli government will continue to gobble up Palestinian land while pretending to seek peace.”