Bahbah: What Will Netanyahu's New Government Mean for Palestinians and Arab Neighbors?
Palestinians are not hopeful that the new Israeli government will initiate or participate in peace talks, and they expect the status quo to continue. More Palestinian lands will be confiscated, and more settlements will either be built or expanded. However, Netanyahu knows how to assuage Palestinians under occupation.Bishara A. Bahbah
By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist
Israeli Arab Parties & Wasted Opportunities
How will Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government pursue its policies toward its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians Israel governs?
To be blunt, Benjamin Netanyahu won because of the arrogance and short-sidedness of the leadership of the various Israeli Arab parties.
Those leaders failed to run under the same joint banner, which historically allowed them to reach the highest number of seats in the Knesset (15 seats in the 2020 Knesset). Secondly, Israeli Arab parties failed to sign surplus-vote-sharing agreements. Israeli law allows any two lists running in the Knesset election to sign such an agreement to prevent the loss of each of their surplus votes.
The surplus votes won by a party that did not sign such an agreement will not be counted. Balad, short 15,000 votes to meet the 3.25% threshold to get into the Knesset, wasted 142,000 Arab votes by refusing, for whatever stupid reason, to sign a surplus-vote agreement with the Hadash-Ta’al bloc. Had those votes gone to the Hadash-Ta’al bloc, it would have deprived Netanyahu about four Knesset seats. The same scenario repeated itself with Meretz. Between Balad and Meretz’s votes, the anti-Netanyahu bloc wasted 289,000 votes – enough votes to deny the Netanyahu bloc the easy victory it achieved.
Netanyahu’s Relationship with Arab Neighbors
Netanyahu’s victory will, in my view, expand Israel’s relations with Gulf Arab and North African countries. These countries already have strong military and commercial ties with Israel. Gulf states view Netanyahu as a regional leader against the expanding Iranian influence in the Gulf area and Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Gaza.
In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Netanyahu stated that his “chief diplomatic goal” will be to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), has already approved Israeli flights over Saudi Arabia and has met “not so secretly” with MBS in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia might establish economic ties with Israel and covertly continue strengthening its military ties with an eye on containing Iran and its regional ambitions. Gulf and North African states also view Netanyahu’s strong ties with the United States as positive to help smooth the relations, especially between the United States and MBS of Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister indicated that the United States assured him Israel would not be permitted to torpedo the recently signed maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah, on the other hand, is increasingly under Iran’s influence. Nevertheless, Hezbollah is predictable and very calculating, and it would not launch missiles or drones into Israel without calculating the consequences of such actions.
Jordan and Egypt will continue to have their “cold peace” with Israel. Jordan’s primary concern now is its custodianship of Jerusalem’s Christian and Muslim holy places, and it wants the new Israeli government to adhere to the status quo. Conversely, Egypt will continue to play the role of mediator between Israel and Hamas.
How the Religious Zionism Coalition Will Affect Palestinians
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the new element in Netanyahu’s coalition is the expected inclusion of the Religious Zionist party in the new government, led by remnants of Meir Kahane. Kahane won a seat in Israel’s Knesset in 1984. However, in 1988, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the Central Election Committee’s ban on the extremist right-wing political party Kach because Kach violated Section 7A of the Basic Law. The law states that the Knesset can bar “any party whose object is inciting or engaging in racism.”
Meir Kahane publicly called Arabs “dogs.” He also called for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He used to say, “I don’t want to kill Arabs; I just want them to live happily, elsewhere.” He then added in front of an adoring crowd, “Give me the strength to take care of them [Arab] once and for all.” Perhaps, he is now closer to achieving his objective than ever.
Many observers state that Israel’s current coalition must contend with the racist Religious Zionism party instead of calling for the implementation of Israel’s Supreme Court decision of 1988. Unfortunately, the way the Supreme Court ruled gave the Knesset an easy exit. The Supreme Court’s ruling read that the Knesset can bar [emphasis added] “any party whose objective is inciting or engaging in racism.” However, the decision to ban the Religious Zionism party from the Knesset rests upon the members of the Knesset.
Recognizing their crucial role in the Netanyahu coalition, the leaders of the Religious Zionism party have begun preparing their demands. For example, they have already called for placing Israeli settlements under the direct jurisdiction of the various Israeli ministries instead of under the rule of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank. Such a move, if approved, would be tantamount to a de facto annexation of the West Bank.
Ironically, the party is confident that Netanyahu would not initiate the process of banning them from the Knesset because, without the Religious Zionism party, he would not be the next prime minister. Additionally, Netanyahu needs their votes to dismiss all the criminal charges against him.
Palestinians are not hopeful that the new Israeli government will initiate or participate in peace talks, and they expect the status quo to continue. More Palestinian lands will be confiscated, and more settlements will either be built or expanded. However, Netanyahu knows how to assuage Palestinians under occupation. Once his government takes over, Netanyahu would increase, for example, the labor permits given to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. He would continue to allow Qatari cash to reach Gaza, and he will add to the privileges bestowed upon the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
In short, Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister will not change the fate of the Palestinians under Israel’s current occupation. There will be no peace talks nor any hope for a two-state solution. Instead, Netanyahu’s government might provide daily relief for Palestinians and manage the expectations of his racist partner, the Religious Zionism party.
About the Author: Bishara A Bahbah is the vice president of the U.S.-Palestine Council (USPC), the major Palestinian-American lobby in the United States. Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr daily newspaper. He taught at Harvard University and was the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He also served as a member of the Palestinian delegation on arms control and regional security.
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