Why Israel’s leadership change might benefit Palestinians
The dominant point of view in the Arab world today is that the exit of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister will make no difference, especially since Benjamin Netanyahu is being replaced by yet another anti-peace, right-wing extremist. While this idea might be generally correct, it fails to address a number of important changes that will take place as a result of Netanyahu’s exit.
Unlike the last Netanyahu government, which had been in a caretaker role for two years, the new government is a coalition that requires the constant support of all its partners, including the Arab Ra’am party headed by Mansour Abbas. It is true that the coalition agreement does not include any positions on the hot button issues, but the fact that any single member of the coalition can bring down the government at any time will mean that no major decisions are taken. This is both good and bad. It means no breakthrough in the peace process, but it also most likely excludes any major wars or settlement expansion. It is not only Abbas’ four Knesset members who could bring down the government, which survives on a majority of just one, but also those of the Labor Party and the left-wing Meretz.
The fact that Netanyahu will now be the leader of the opposition will ensure that the deep divisions exposed during the recent 11-day war on Gaza and the past few years of political deadlock due to his criminal trial will surface once again.
On a regional level, there is a good chance the new government will have better relations with its immediate neighbors, including Palestine, Jordan and Egypt. This might not be much, but Israel’s new government will most likely be more consistent and faithful toward existing agreements and pledges. For example, Jordan will be looking forward to re-establishing trust with an Israeli government that will honor the John Kerry-sponsored understanding regarding how to keep the situation calm in Al-Aqsa Mosque. The recent vicious attacks on the faithful and the constant ban on Muslim worshipers from attending their own mosque, coupled with the constant break-ins by radical Jewish groups, will certainly be reviewed and hopefully addressed if the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid coalition hopes to have good relations with Jordan. King Abdullah had for years stopped taking phone calls from Netanyahu because of the latter’s constant violations of the Al-Aqsa understandings and other commitments made to the king.
There is a good chance the new government will have better relations with its immediate neighbors.
But perhaps the most important change that will be seen in the coming months and years, if the coalition stays intact, concerns the image of Israel in the international community. If the struggle between Palestine and Israel is to be mostly won or lost on the public relations turf, the Palestinians will have a much stronger opportunity to make a major dent in Israel’s image in the absence of a cunning Israeli leader who was able, for many years, to bluff his way into the hearts and minds of many Western countries, using his mix of lies and his ability to articulate whatever position he wanted.
One only needs to remember that Netanyahu was able to convince the US Congress to invite him to speak against a sitting president at a joint session of both houses to understand the strength of his political and public relations power. Not only will such an event not be repeated by the new leaders of Israel, but the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic president will also not allow the leader of a small country to intervene in domestic US politics. While President Joe Biden is a strong advocate of Israel, it is also true that the Democratic Party, with its thin majority in Congress, cannot afford to antagonize its progressive wing and the strong Black Lives Matter movement, both of which are strong supporters of Palestinian rights.
It is fair to say that the new right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Bennett and his uncomfortable coalition of opposing ideologies will not make any major change in Israeli policies. But it is also true that the absence of Netanyahu and his strong grip on internal and external power, as well as his strong articulation skills, will make a difference in favor of the Palestinians. This difference might not be great, nor is it likely that we will soon see any major breakthroughs, but it is also clear that the days of Israeli leaders committing flagrant violations of human rights and war crimes with impunity are most likely over. There is, therefore, no doubt that the exit of Netanyahu is, in sum, more favorable to Palestinian rights than unfavorable.
- Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab