The crossroads after the Gaza war

As it rids itself of "Bibi" does the Biden administration have a peace project that provides hope for the Palestinians?
Monday 07/06/2021
United Arab List party leader Mansour Abbas, Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, sit together in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel, June 2, 2021. REUTERS
United Arab List party leader Mansour Abbas, Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, sit together in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel, June 2, 2021. (REUTERS)

The only constants after the recent Gaza war are the rise of Hamas and a new Israeli government that will remove Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu from the position of prime minister which he has held for 12 years.

Everything that is happening in the light of the last Gaza war is strange and unusual. Through the rockets it fired from Gaza, Hamas had kept Bibi afloat.

That was possible because right wing politicians rallied around him, temporarily. They quickly changed their minds, however, and decided to play a role in ending his political career.

The Hamas bet on a new Israeli government is very intriguing. It is a government headed by the right-wing settler Naftali Bennett, a government that combines all the contradictions, including the presence of Palestinians from the Muslim Brotherhood led by the Israeli Knesset member, Mansour Abbas.

What unites the members of this government is only their desire to get rid of Bibi, who seems to have sparked many personal rivalries, especially with Israeli politicians from the far right.

Bennett is now set to be the next prime minister, for only two years. He is thereafter supposed to be succeeded in the premiership by Yair Lapid.

Lapid leads a centrist party that opposes the religious and right-wing parties and even considers them to be his staunch opponents.

It was an historic photo opportunity moments after the latter was approved as prime minister and secured a majority in the Knesset when Mansour Abbas, whose faction is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, stood smiling next to Naftali Bennett, the Jewish leader who has defended settlements.

The participation of the two figures (Bennett and Lapid) in standing up to Bibi pushed Mansour Abbas up on to the Israeli political stage to participate in the government. This, after his small Islamist faction achieved a simple majority that served the interests of the Jewish parties hoping to remove Netanyahu.

The United Arab List (UAL) will become the first ever party from the Arab minority, which represents 21 percent of Israel's population, to participate in an Israeli government.

Mansour Abbas put aside all his differences with Naftali Bennett, the incoming prime minister and former leader of the largest organisation defending Jewish settlements and demanding the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank.

The Muslim Brotherhood joined in support of the Israeli right wing in a move that casts aside every possible principle of any kind and reveals its true nature.

Bennett was famous for a statement he made in the recent past, in which he said, “I killed so many Arabs that I would have not any issue” with the participation of Palestinian Arabs from Israel in the government

Who is Mansour Abbas, who revealed that there are no limits to the Muslim Brotherhood's lust for power?

Abbas hails from the town of Maghar near Lake Tiberias whose population is made up of Sunnis and Druze.

His party is the political wing of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, after it split from the wing of Raed Salah, who is imprisoned on charges of inciting terrorism.

The Muslim Brotherhood rallied behind the Israeli right shedding principles of all kind. It is known that the Islamic movement in Israel was founded in 1971 and traces its origins to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an integral part despite all allegations to the contrary.

Abbas, who is professionally a dentist, says he hopes to improve conditions for Arab citizens who complain of discrimination and government neglect.

In a message to his supporters after signing the coalition agreement with Bennett and Yair Lapid, he said that his faction decided to join the government “in order to change the balance of political power in the country.”

Spokespersons for the UAL said that the agreement provides for the allocation of more than 53 billion shekels (16 billion dollars) to improving infrastructure and combatting violent crimes in Arab cities.

The UAL added that the agreement also includes provisions to freeze the demolition of homes built without permits in Arab villages and to grant official status to Bedouin towns in the Negev desert, which are considered Islamist strongholds.

Mansour Abbas asserted that when the government was  formed with the support of the Arab faction, he would  be able to influence the cabinet and garner achievements for the Arab community.

Is Bibi a thing of the past? Much will depend on whether the Bennett-Lapid government is viable and whether Netanyahu will be able to escape his problems with the Israeli judiciary given the corruption charges under which he is being tried.

What is certain is that the phase after the Gaza war will not be the same as the phase preceding it.

It is also certain that the internal situation in Israel is on the verge of incoming turbulence. In the meanwhile, the biggest question is that, while Israel drifts away, what will Hamas do with the political victory it achieved thanks to Iranian missiles,  which thrust it to the fore at the expense of the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah?

What is clear in the midst of all this political turmoil in Israel, is that the Biden administration is not unhappy with getting rid of Bibi who has been able to exert pressure on Washington through the Republican Party and extremist Christians who consider themselves proponents of the Zionist ideology.

Finally, Bibi went as far as to assert that the Iranian nuclear concerns are more important than avoiding frictions with the United States.

He simply wanted to say that he was ready to clash with the US administration if he had to. This is exactly what he did previously with the Barack Obama White House, an administration that was enamoured of Iran. He succeeded in that to some extent.

As its rids itself of Bibi what does the Biden administration have to offer after the formation of the Naftali Bennett cabinet? Does it have a peace project that provides hope for the Palestinians?

More importantly, will it be easier for the US to deal with Bennett than with Bibi, despite the presence of Yair Lapid at the foreign ministry?

After the Gaza war, the outcome of which no party in the region and beyond had expected, there are many lingering questions and none of them has yet had any answers.

Among those that will have to be addressed is what is to be done in Gaza itself and what is the future of the Egyptian role there?

What will the Biden administration do with Iran, its nuclear programme, its missiles and with its behaviour outside its borders in the absence of Bibi? It is not possible to talk only of American confusion and an administration that was surprised by Gaza's missiles. There is also Palestinian confusion, the best expression of which remains the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in a government headed by one of the settlement leaders in the West Bank. There is also Israeli confusion embodied by a government formed of all possible contradictions.