Arab world views Israeli unity government as precursor to Iran strike

Fatah sees opening for peace, but Hamas slams maneuver

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Netanyahu and Mofaz following their joint press conference (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Netanyahu and Mofaz following their joint press conference (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Arab world is intently following the Israeli political developments, with many spokespeople and commentators viewing the move as a cynical manuever by desperate politicians.

One exception was the Palestinian Authority, which urged the new Israeli unity government to utilize its wide base for peace talks with the Palestinians.

“The new coalition government must be a coalition of peace and not of war,” Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeinah told the PA’s official WAFA news agency. “This is the only way to confront the great risks facing the region as a result of the freeze in the peace process.”

Hamas, in contrast, slammed the move, saying the new coalition is a grave danger for Palestinians. “Mofaz believes in the killing of Palestinian civilians…including women and children,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

Hamas’s words were mostly in line with the rest of the Arab world.

Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera, the most widely viewed in the Arab World, broadcast the Netanyahu-Mofaz press conference live on Tuesday morning, with simultaneous translation by its Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Omari. Omari then commented on the speeches, saying that the leaders of Likud and Kadima wish to portray the unity deal as a national move, whereas it is merely a “cold-blooded” political maneuver, perhaps in preparation for an Israeli strike on Iran.

“Israeli unity government or a return to the elected General Staff?” reads the sarcastic headline of Palestinian news site Ma’an, a reference to Mofaz and Netanyahu’s similar military background. The site notes that the new government will be led by three men who served in the same elite military unit, Sayeret Matkal (the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit). Ma’an hints at a political conspiracy, claiming that current political analysis does not adequately explain why Netanyahu chose to rescue his opponent Mofaz when polls clearly showed the Likud leading with a large margin.

Ziad Halabi, an Israel analyst with Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya,  said Netanyahu needs Mofaz — a former chief of staff and defense minister — for a military strike on Iran, as well as to deflect American pressure regarding stagnation on the Palestinian track.

“Mofaz does not believe in a permanent solution, and proposes a long-term solution with the Palestinian,” he wrote. “He was defense minister when Israel implemented ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ in which it re-occupied the West Bank.”

Despite the leaders’ promise to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, and Mofaz being charged with responsibility for the “Palestinian portfolio,” Halabi does not envision such a scenario.

“American pressure will now be placed on a wide unity government, not a narrower right-wing government,” writes Halabi.

It will take time for substantial analysis to trickle down into Arab print media, but Al-Quds, a Jerusalem-based newspaper, is already dubbing the deal “a marriage of convenience” and a move to “rescue the sinking ship of Kadima.”


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