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Little hope for change in Ramallah as Israel switches out governments again

Senior PLO official says Netanyahu, Bennett, Lapid not significantly different for Palestinians, slams Mansour Abbas for joining ‘extremist’ coalition

Azzam al-Ahmad, head of Fatah's Central Committee and delegation, speaks during a press conference at the end of two days of closed-door talks attended by representatives of 13 leading political parties held in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)
Azzam al-Ahmad, head of Fatah's Central Committee and delegation, speaks during a press conference at the end of two days of closed-door talks attended by representatives of 13 leading political parties held in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)

The Palestinian Authority reacted with indifference on Tuesday to the apparent collapse of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid’s government, with officials saying they expect little progress on peace regardless of who sits in the Israeli prime minister’s office.

“The question is — will we see a political horizon? I don’t believe we will see a dramatic change, whether Netanyahu, or Lapid, or Bennett is in charge,” said senior Palestinian official Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the executive leadership of the Fatah party and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Bennett and Lapid announced the early demise of the fragile, fractious Israeli government on Sunday night, following months of coalition infighting. Coalition leaders aim to begin dismantling the Knesset on Wednesday, with Lapid to be named prime minister of the interim caretaker government.

If lawmakers vote to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s fifth elections in three and a half years will likely be held in October or November. The vote could see the return of long-ruling former premier Benjamin Netanyahu at the head of a hard-right coalition.

“We weren’t shocked by the fall of the coalition, of course. And whoever comes next will be much the same, whether Netanyahu or someone else,” said another senior Fatah official.

Al-Ahmad dismissed the idea that the Bennett-Lapid government’s tenure had been better for the Palestinians than Netanyahu’s 12 years in power.

“Bennett’s government saw greater tension than any previous time in recent years. Arrests and raids, not just in Jenin, but everywhere, demolitions in Jerusalem and in the Jordan Valley,” said al-Ahmad.

Illustrative: Gunmen fire on Israeli forces during a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, May 13, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

In Gaza, the Hamas terror group celebrated the government’s fall as a sign of Israeli “weakness and fragility.”

“Any new Israeli government formation will not change the nature of our dealings with it as an occupation government that must be resisted and from which the full rights of our people must be wrested,” Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum told Shehab.

Bennett and Lapid’s government did not pursue peace talks, despite American urging to provide the Palestinians a “political horizon.” But the coalition did allow some measures to improve Palestinian daily life and strengthen the diminished Palestinian Authority.

Last year, Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed off on identity cards for about 10,000 undocumented Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Most were either foreigners who had married Palestinians or Gazans who had moved to the West Bank but been unable to update their address, leaving them without legal status in the West Bank.

Some Israeli and Palestinian ministers met their counterparts — a rare sight in recent years, when ties with Ramallah had been conducted by the Shin Bet and military liaisons. Officials from both sides met to discuss water, electricity, upgrading Palestinian telecom networks, and other bread-and-butter issues.

The PA leadership initially backed the approach, while consistently saying it was no substitute for a return to negotiations on a final settlement. But even the so-called “civilian” measures for Palestinians mostly stalled over the past few months as the coalition teetered.

Al-Ahmad dismissed what the Bennett-Lapid government had offered the Palestinians as “crumbs.”

“We don’t want economic ‘achievements’ at the expense of a political process. That’s just unacceptable. Family unification, address changes — this is all immaterial. It doesn’t impact anything,” said al-Ahmad.

The recent Israeli government saw an unprecedented move to include the Islamist Ra’am party, which became the first independent Arab party to join an Israeli coalition since the founding of the state.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hold a joint press conference in the Knesset, on June 20, 2022, announcing the collapse of their coalition government. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Party leader Mansour Abbas’s decision to join the Bennett-led government sharply split Arab Israeli society. Al-Ahmad called for Abbas “to reconsider his stance.”

“Everyone who joins such an extremist, right-wing government becomes an accomplice to its crimes, whether they like it or not,” said al-Ahmad.

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