Naftali Bennett speaks at the 2015 Saban Forum. Naftali Bennett speaks at the 2015 Saban Forum. Photo: Ralph Alswang / Brookings Institution / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Israel’s incoming prime minister Naftali Bennett makes clear that the extreme oppression of the Palestinians has always been deeper than Netanyahu, writes Sean Ledwith

Last weekend Naftali Bennett took over as the new Israeli Prime Minister. He takes over after twelve years of rule by Benjamin Netanyahu whose leadership became synonymous with ruthless aggression towards the Palestinian populations in Gaza and the West Bank, and the promotion of Israel’s illegal expansion of Zionist settlements in the Occupied Territories which now includes around 600,000 people in 150 locations. 

One of the first acts of the new PM was to authorise the breaking of the ceasefire which ended last month’s eleven-day aerial bombardment of Gaza. This week the multi-billion dollar Zionist air force incongruously bombed Hamas targets in response to incendiary balloons launched across the border into southern Israel. There could be no clearer signal of the malign intent of the new regime to double down on the oppression of a population who have already endured over a decade of siege.

No problem

Netanyahu has been forced out partly because of his failure to quash the resistance during last month’s merciless hi-tech assault on Gaza which left over 250 Palestinians dead, including over 70 children. The Israeli death toll of twelve from Operation Guardian of the Walls indicates the grotesque disproportionality of opposing forces which is a historic feature of the conflict.

We should not be deluded into thinking, however, that Netanyahu’s downfall is because Israeli public opinion cannot stomach such brazenly callous destruction of civilian life. Bennett is even further to the right on the political spectrum and is best known for his infamous remark in 2013:

“I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.

Anyone but Bibi

Despite only winning seven seats out of 120 in the last election, Bennett’s hard-right nationalist Yamina Party has positioned itself as kingmaker among a motley collection of coalition partners whose only unifying idea is ABB – Anyone but Bibi (Netanyahu’s nickname). Prior to his elevation to the top political job, Bennett had cultivated a military career in the Israeli war machine and as a self-made tech plutocrat.

He does not hesitate to boast about his participation in some of the IDF’s most bloody operations of recent years, including the incursions into Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009.  It would be difficult to find a personality who more obviously personifies the rightward drift of the Zionist state over recent decades as it morphs into a giant barracks armed to the teeth with the latest military hardware and software supplied by its superpower benefactor in Washington.

Worse than Netanyahu

Bennett is on record as criticising from a hard right standpoint the 1993 Oslo Accords which created the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Mustafa Barghouti from the Palestinian National Initiative notes:

“Bennett advocated clustering Palestinians in Areas A and B, which is only 38 percent of the West Bank, and annexing the remaining 62 percent which is Area C… Continuing settlements in Area C means the assassination of the possibility of a two-state solution. He is definitely worse than Netanyahu.

Last week, Bennett stitched together a grubby parliamentary deal with Yair Lapid, leader of the supposedly centrist Yesh Atid party. Lapid leads the biggest party in the Knesset but was unable to win sufficient backing before the recent Gaza assault to form a government himself. The deal with Bennett allows Lapid to take over as PM in 2023-assuming the coalition lasts that long. The other key member of the ABB alliance of self-interest is Mansour Abbas from the United Arab List. This represents a collaborationist grouping who have effectively sold out the Palestinian resistance by agreeing to be the first Arab members of an Israeli government.

Even though they have ditched Netanyahu himself, a number of figures in the new government are closely associated with the outgoing PM so the Palestinians can expect no significant change of policy. Bennett served as both his Chief of Staff and Defense Minister on separate occasions. Incoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz is a former member of Netanyahu’s last coalition and the new Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked, served as Netanyahu’s Justice Minister.

Expanding resistance

This shabby concoction of careerists and opportunists is simply a reshuffling of the pack from a political system that is increasingly struggling to cope with crises inside and outside its borders. One of the most notable features of this year’s Palestinian uprising was the antagonism to the Zionist state demonstrated on the streets by Israel’s Arab minority which now consists of one-fifth of the population. Parliamentary chicanery by the likes of Bennett and Lapid will struggle to cope if a unified resistance of Arabs in Israel and the Occupied Territories continues.

The other uplifting aspect of the recent mass defiance in Gaza was the expanding wave of support it triggered around the globe. In the UK especially, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many young people identify wholeheartedly with the Palestinian resistance and perceive it as symbolic of wider struggles against imperialism and racism.

Israeli politicians such as the new Prime Minister and his possibly fleeting coalition partners are swimming against the tide of global public opinion that is running out of patience with the crimes inflicted on the Palestinians.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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