Many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza have dismissed a change in the Israeli government, saying the nationalist leader due to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would likely pursue the same right-wing agenda.
Naftali Bennett, the 49-year-old former head of Israel’s main West Bank settler organisation and ex-Netanyahu ally, would be the country’s new leader under a patchwork coalition.
Opposition and centrist leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Bennett declared on Wednesday night they had reached a deal to form a new government to unseat the incumbent Netanyahu after a 12-year run as prime minister.
Bassem al-Salhi, a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said the prime minister-designate was no less extreme than Netanyahu.
“He will make sure to express how extreme he is in the government,” he said.
Bennett has been a strong advocate of annexing parts of the West Bank that Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 war.
However, in recent days Bennett appeared to propose a continuation of the status quo, with some easing of conditions for Palestinians.
“My thinking in this context is to shrink the conflict. We will not resolve it. But wherever we can [improve conditions] – more crossing points, more quality of life, more business, more industry – we will do so.”
‘We need a serious change’
Hamas, the group which rules the besieged Gaza Strip, said it made no difference who governs Israel.
“Palestinians have seen dozens of Israeli governments throughout history, right, left, centre, as they call it. But all of them have been hostile when it comes to the rights of our Palestinian people and they all had hostile policies of expansionism,” spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
Sami Abou Shehadeh, leader of the Palestinian nationalist Balad Party, told Al Jazeera from occupied East Jerusalem the issue was not the “personality” of Netanyahu but the policies Israel pursues.
“What we need is a serious change in Israeli policies, not in the personalities. The situation was very bad before Netanyahu, and as long as Israel insists on its own policies, it will continue to being bad after Netanyahu. This is why we oppose this government [new coalition].”
Former member of the executive committee of the PLO Hanan Ashrawi said the Netanyahu years still had “built-in systems of racism, extremism, violence and lawlessness”.
“His former cohorts will maintain his legacy,” she tweeted.
The end of the Netanyahu era still contains within it built-in systems of racism, extremism, violence &lawlessness + expansionism, annexation & lawlessness. His former cohorts will maintain his legacy. It's up to the diminished progressive forces to challenge & change this legacy https://t.co/v2NhpSWQzX
— Hanan Ashrawi (@DrHananAshrawi) June 2, 2021
Similar sentiments were voiced elsewhere.
“There is no difference between one Israeli leader and another,” Ahmed Rezik, 29, a government worker in Gaza, told Reuters news agency.
“They are good or bad for their nation. And when it comes to us, they are all bad, and they all refuse to give the Palestinians their rights and their land.”
The coalition agreement capped a March 23 election in which neither Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies nor their opponents won a majority in the legislature. It was Israel’s fourth national ballot in two years.
The governing lineup comprises a patchwork of small and medium-sized parties from across the political spectrum
The deal includes the United Arab List, which would make it the first party of Palestinian citizens of Israel ever to be part of a governing coalition in Israel.
United Arab List’s leader Mansour Abbas has cast aside differences with Bennett, and said he hopes to improve conditions for Palestinian citizens who complain of discrimination and government neglect.
“We decided to join the government in order to change the balance of political forces in the country,” the 47-year-old said in a message to supporters after signing the coalition agreement.
Abbas’s party said the agreement includes the allocation of more than 53 billion shekels ($16bn) to improve infrastructure and combat violent crime.
It also includes provisions freezing demolition of homes built without permits in Palestinian villages and granting official status to Bedouin towns in the Negev Desert, a stronghold for support, the party said.
But he has been criticised in the West Bank and Gaza for siding with what they see as the enemy.
“What will he do when they ask him to vote on launching a new war on Gaza?” said Badri Karam, 21, in Gaza.
“Will he accept it, being a part of the killing of Palestinians?”