Palestinians unmoved by prospect of new Israeli leadership

No change in policies expected from coalition formed to oust Benjamin Netanyahu

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett gestures during a special session of the Knesset whereby Israeli lawmakers elect a new president, at the plenum in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza mostly dismiss the prospect of change in Israeli-Palestinian relations under Israel's next government, saying the nationalist leader expected to replace Benjamin Netanyahu will probably pursue the same right-wing agenda.

Naftali Bennett, a former head of Israel's main West Bank settler organisation, is expected to be the country's next prime minister under a patchwork coalition put together on Wednesday.

The next day, he placed much of the blame for the conflict on Palestinians.

"The truth must be told – the national struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is not over territory. The Palestinians do not recognise our very existence here, and it would appear that this will be the case for some time," he told Israel's Channel 12 TV station.

Speaking before Mr Bennett's remarks, Bassem Al Salhi, a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the prime minister designate was no less extreme than Mr Netanyahu: "He will make sure to express how extreme he is in the government."

Similar sentiments were voiced elsewhere. "There is no difference between one Israeli leader and another," said Ahmed Rezik, 29, a government worker in Gaza.

"They are good or bad for their nation. And when it comes to us, they are all bad, and they all refuse to give the Palestinians their rights and their land."

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, said it made no difference who governs Israel.

“Palestinians have seen dozens of Israeli governments throughout history, right, left, centre, as they call it. But all of them have been hostile when it comes to the rights of our Palestinian people and they all had hostile policies of expansionism,” spokesman Hazem Qassem said.

In what will be a first in Israel, a governing coalition will include an Islamist party elected by members of Israel's 21 per cent Arab minority, who are Palestinian by culture and heritage and Israeli by citizenship.

Its leader, Mansour Abbas, said the coalition agreement would bring more than 53 billion shekels ($16 billion) to improve infrastructure and combat violent crime in Arab towns..

But he was criticised in the West Bank and Gaza for siding with people they see as the enemy.

"He is a traitor. What will he do when they ask him to vote on launching a new war on Gaza?" said Badri Karam, 21, in Gaza.

"Will he accept it, being a part of the killing of Palestinians?"

Mr Bennett was a strong advocate of annexing parts of the West Bank that Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 war. But in his first public remarks on the issue in recent days, he appeared to propose a continuation of the status quo, with some easing of conditions for Palestinians.

"My thinking in this context is to shrink the conflict. We will not resolve it. But wherever we can [improve conditions] – more crossing points, more quality of life, more business, more industry – we will do so."