Fragile Coalition Forms to Oust Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

Interview with Philip Weiss, senior editor of Mondoweiss.net, conducted by Scott Harris

In the wake of the ceasefire that’s taken hold after the 11-day deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Israeli opposition parties have agreed to form a coalition that is poised to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The eight-party “change government” alliance, headed by former Netanyahu ally Naftali Bennett and secular moderate Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, anticipates winning a 61-59 majority in a confidence vote to be held June 13.

The anti-Netanyahu bloc includes three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with the United Arab List, a party of Palestinian Israeli citizens, which would be the first Arab party to join an Israeli government.

Netanyahu who has served 12 years as prime minister and now faces corruption charges that could put him in prison, has claimed that Israel’s March 23 election was fraudulent. Extremist groups aligned with Netanyahu have threatened to attack members of the new coalition, prompting Israel’s domestic security chief to warn about the prospect of political violence. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Philip Weiss, senior editor at Mondoweiss.net, an independent website covering Israel/Palestine. Here, he assesses what may become Israel’s new governing coalition, and what may change under a new post-Netanyahu government.

PHILIP WEISS: The coalition obviously needs 61 seats or more to govern, or start to govern. And it’s a remarkable assembly of people, right and left. It’s everyone who sort of dislikes Netanyahu and a couple of politicians who sort of don’t like Netanyahu that much and would go with Netanyahu if the circumstances were right. And that includes Naftali Bennett of the (Yamina) party and Mansour Abass of the United Arab List, the Islamist party. Both these parties might have gone to Netanyahu under different circumstances. So they are both right-wing, one is Palestinian. And there’s some centrists. There are other right-wing parties, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope.

Yair Lapid is the largest vote-getter of this coalition. Yair Lapid’s “There is a future” party, Yesh Atid, a very secular kind of technocratic party, I’d say, but centrist and for a Palestinian state, lip service on it, he got 17 seats. He’s got the most seats of anyone. But it does go on to Labor with, I think eight or seven seats. And Meretz, which is a left-Zionist party, which has six seats. So there’s a broad span. One notable absence from all this is the Joint Arab List, which are the three Palestinian parties that — apart from Mansour Abass’ Raam party — three Palestinian parties that include a left-wing party. And they haven’t been invited, I don’t think, and they haven’t agreed to sign on. This is a government that’s going to be headed by a right-winger. Naftali Bennett had made these very racist statements, absolutely opposed to a Palestinian state. And he doesn’t want to work with the Joint List. And the Joint List doesn’t want to work with him.

SCOTT HARRIS: Philip, this coalition that’s come together to oust Netanyahu appears very fragile. And the first two years you’re going to have this extremist right-winger settler guy, Naftali Bennett, who’s going to lead the government. And the second two years, Yair Lapid, the secular centrist will lead it. But there’s a lot of people predicting this coalition won’t even last two years. What, if anything, will change under this new coalition for however long they’re in power?

PHILIP WEISS: One real effect of this new coalition would be, they will go along with Biden restarting the Iran deal. I think Biden is determined to restart the Iran deal. And the question is how much Israel wants to continue to create political shockwaves and repercussions in the United States over this. And, a Naftali Bennett government, as right-wing as Bennett is, I do not think would roil those waters at all. They’d just say, “Hey, we know you need to do this, go ahead and do it.” So that’s one good thing.

I think that in the same way, and with the same idea, they are not going to alienate the United States over annexation of the West Bank. They’re going to continue to grab more and more Palestinian land and force Palestinians off that land, but they’re not going to do it in the sort of bold annexationist way that Bennett has previously been for, that (Benny) Gantz has been for, that Netanyahu has been for, that the right-wing of Israeli government has been for. They know that if they do that, they’re only going to alienate the Democratic party. So I think that they are going to soft-shoe that one. And yet, I think there still will be some confrontations with the United States over this.

As to the political life of this (coalition), it’s fragile, it won’t endure — yeah, that’s what I hear. I’m sure that it could fall apart in a second. But one such test of that government will be when its right-wing — and it’s got a large right-wing — pushes it to do more settlements and critical settlements around East Jerusalem to fully encircle East Jerusalem with Jewish settlements. And what if the Biden administration finally puts its foot down? I think we will see some confrontations and potentially a step-down by a Bennett government. And then he loses his right-wing. I don’t know.

SCOTT HARRIS: It’s very clear that Netanyahu may not be long for his prime ministership. And he has charged recently that this most recent Israeli election witnessed what he called the greatest election fraud in the history of democracy — really echoing a lot of what Trump has charged about his election loss. What about the threat of violence from the extremist settler movement? After all, it was an extremist settler assassin who killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November, 1995. Is there any danger in your view of these extremist groups inside Israel and the violence that they could wreak?

Well, obviously, I think the answer is unquestionably yes. I mean, it would be foolish for me or you or anyone to speculate exactly who their target will be. But as you observed, when Yitzhak Rabin said he was going to trade land for peace, right-wingers incited for his death, including Netanyahu, and lo and behold, an extremist with apparently with some rabbi’s blessing killed Rabin. This is like other very potent, volatile, intractable problems that resonate internationally and that result in deaths internationally there, too. So there’s no way to answer “no: to your question. It’s an extremely unstable situation in which one people has been persecuted for 75 years, and there are going to be consequences.

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