Divided Israelis contemplate end of Netanyahu era as Palestinians remain apathetic

Despite longing for change, many worry about an unwieldy coalition that includes the hard-right Yamina party

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Opinions across Israel on the new coalition, dubbed the "change government", are divided, but most people agree that little change is expected of prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett, especially when it comes to any issues concerning Palestinians.

Sunday is likely to be the day the Knesset votes for the eight-party coalition, an unlikely alliance that includes both far-right and left wing parties, as well as – for the first time – a Palestinian Arab Islamist party.

Bennett is a far-right politician who is for the annexation of Palestinian land. He has previously lived in an illegal settlement himself

Mr Bennett, head of Israel’s right-wing Yamina party, is scheduled to take up the position as prime minister for two years.

He will be succeeded by centrist coalition partner Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, Israel's largest party after Mr Netanyahu's centre-right Likud.

While many consider the coalition to be fragile and possibly not long-lasting, it is set for a majority of 61 Knesset members out of a 120 total.

Hoping to prevent Sunday’s swearing in, Mr Netanyahu on Friday proposed to step down, offering the premiership to current Defence Minister and head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz, Israel’s Channel 12 reported. Mr Gantz declined.

On Thursday, right-wing Israelis staged a peaceful demonstration outside the Knesset, waving flags and demanding a cancellation of the upcoming change government.

“This is the biggest treason in our history, and I am both fearful and disappointed, said Anna Cohen, 51, one of Thursday’s protesters.

“Our country is divided, and I fear for our safety and security. The new government doesn’t share a common ideology and common values. It was formed for personal reasons, because Bennett wanted to take up leadership.”

Israel’s political scene has encountered a rocky patch in recent years.

With elections usually held every four years, this year's is the fourth in two years. Likud and Blue and White agreed on a coalition in April last year, which was dissolved six months later after the two sides could not agree on a budget.

"Economically, the new coalition should be able to pass a budget – something that hasn't happened in two years," said Mairav Zonszein, senior analyst for Israel/Palestine with the International Crisis Group.

But despite its name, both Mr Bennett and Lapid have indicated that “change” will not consider any policy shift on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

“It will focus instead on areas on which agreement is possible, such as the economy, infrastructure and basic government operations, which have been stuck as a result of the political deadlock of the last two years,” Ms Zonszein said, adding that “there won’t be any movement on the de-facto annexation and occupation of the West Bank.”

“Palestinian authorities will continue to be undermined, with no real strategy in place on how to handle the situation. There is no expectation that the situation for Palestinians will change. Even being anti-occupation is a very radical stance now; it didn’t used to be,” she said.

Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List, said that Mr Bennett’s eight-party coalition would spend billions of shekels on infrastructure and crime-prevention in Palestinian towns across Israel, and would also recognise several Bedouin villages.

But in recent weeks, tension has been running high in Jerusalem and other cities, even after an Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that ended an 11-day war and killed at least 256 Palestinians – including 66 children – and 13 people, including two children, in Israel.

In the past days, Israel has ordered either demolition or eviction of further houses in occupied East Jerusalem, making space for Israeli settlements, causing widespread outrage. According to international law, the settlements are illegal.

Palestinians widely agree that regardless of the new government, little will change for them.

"If anything, the situation will get worse," said East Jerusalem-based Palestinian activist Youssef Maswadeh.

“Bennett is a far-right politician who is for the annexation of Palestinian land. He has previously lived in an illegal settlement himself.”

Long-term activist Nafisa Ques, who has protested since the First Intifada, said that the Israeli government has never protected Palestinian land.

"They won't protect it going forward. I wish for everyone to live in peace, but I don't see a solution," she told The National.

But while Palestinians are largely apathetic about the swearing-in, Israelis are divided, with many – though not the majority – believing that an end to Mr Netanyahu's leadership is for the best.

“Netanyahu came to believe that he is the state,” said Uri Dromi, the Jerusalem Press Club’s director general and former spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments.

“Netanyahu recently passed Ben-Gurion in the number of years he’s been in power. It’s been too long. If the new government means that, for the first time, we get rid of Netanyahu, it’s a good thing. We are seeing the end of an era.”