(R to L) Israel's incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid look on during an address at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 13, 2021. - Featuring Israeli political veterans and a record number of female lawmakers, a motley coalition including two left, two centre, one Arab Islamist and three right-wing parties came to power Sundayin an eight-party alliance united by animosity for outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo by Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Bennett-Lapid Government: The First 100 Days

New Faces of Israel’s Settler Colonial Occupation and Apartheid

I Oppose a Palestinian State
(Israel’s PM Naftali Bennet, 14 September 2021)

A new Israeli government was sworn on 14 June, ending 12 years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule. The new coalition includes a broad spectrum of parties that agreed on one central point: putting an end to Netanyahu’s premiership.

The guiding principles of the new government do not include any reference to achieving a political solution with Palestine, endorsing the two-state solution, recognizing signed agreements, or accepting Israel’s obligations under the Quartet (Road Map) principles. Instead, senior officials have publicly supported the approach of “shrinking the conflict,” which is nothing else than reframing the occupation in terms of perpetuation of Israel’s belligerent military occupation of the land and the people of Palestine. Additionally, the government’s budget, which already passed in the first readings at the Israeli Knesset, has prioritized securing financial support for Israel’s colonial settlement enterprise. This budget added 20 million shekels for illegal colonial-settlement installations (outposts) that Israel must dismantle according to the Quartet principles1.

While certain officials have changed the tone regarding the Palestinian people, including references to the two-state solution, Israel’s illegal policies haven’t changed on the ground. Headed by Naftali Bennett, former head of the settlers’ (Yesha) council devoted to expanding and consolidating Israel’s colonial-settlement project, the government is referred to as the “coalition of change” that has agreed to continue administering a system that denies the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, openly violating the basic principles of international law, human rights, and UN resolutions.

This report examines the first 100 days of the Bennett-Lapid government regarding its narrative, policies and practices vis-à-vis the Palestinian people, and the prospects of a comprehensive peace agreement based on the internationally agreed-upon principles.

“SHRINKING THE CONFLICT”

Before the swearing-in of the new Israeli government, PM Bennett clarified his vision for dealing with the Palestinian people: “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.”

“Shrinking the conflict” is an alternative term for Israel’s colonial-settlement policy of strengthening its control over the land and the people of Palestine while supposedly providing Palestinians with “greater freedom.” In reality, the advocates of this approach simply seek to perpetuate Israel’s military control, normalize crimes including Israel’s colonial-settlement project and annexation schemes as “facts,” negate the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights, and eliminate the prospects of ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Thus, a continuation of what was set by the Netanyahu Administration.

On 29 August, after a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas, several steps were announced by Minister Benny Gantz, including the issuance of 5,000 Palestinian IDs and the acceptance of 4G technology in the occupied Palestinian territory. The announcement, which implies a partial implementation of signed agreements, reflected at least three cardinal impediments for Palestinian development: Israel’s control over the Palestinian population registry, borders, and the electromagnetic sphere.

Although the announcement fell short of Israel fulfilling the minimum of its obligations under signed interim agreements, an off-the-record source from Bennett’s office was clear when referring to the meeting: “there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, and neither will there be one.” Israel’s rejection of a political solution remains a clear-cut policy. Even when Foreign Minister Yair Lapid suggested that there could be a solution “in the future,” Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Bennett’s partner in the Yamina party and one of the most extremist figures of the Israeli government, tacitly explained that this would be the end of this Israeli government: “No Palestinian state will be established in a government that we (Yamina) are party to. This thing is known to Lapid and (fellow coalition members on) the left. It was clear that this government won’t deal with such contentious issues.”

Following statements from other government members, Gantz himself declared that “Abbas is still dreaming of the 1967 lines (as the basis for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and an end to the conflict) – this won’t happen (…) he has to realize we’re staying there… We’re not taking down settlements.” As such, however, the so-called “dream” of President Abbas ” is much in line with International law, considering Israel’s colonial settlements as illegal and constitute a war crime under the Rome Statute.

Also, Naftali Bennett has opposed the US intention to reopen their Jerusalem Consulate by stating that “Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and no other country.” He as well incited against president Abbas for taking legitimate action for the protection of the Palestinian people: “I see no logic in meeting Abbas when he’s suing our soldiers in The Hague and accuses our commanders of war crimes. In my opinion, the Palestinian Authority is a failed entity.” Similarly, Ayelet Shaked added, “Abu Mazen pays money to terrorists who murder Jews. He sues IDF soldiers and commanders at The Hague and therefore is not a partner. The prime minister won’t meet with him and doesn’t intend to meet with him.”

ANTI-PALESTINIAN INCITEMENT AND RACISM

Anti-Palestinian incitement and racism remained a fixed policy and practice for both opposition and government politicians. On 15 June, the new Israeli government approved a march organized by religious Zionist extremists in occupied Jerusalem, who chanted “death to the Arabs,” “may your village burn,” and a “second Nakba is coming.” Israel’s Public “Security” Minister, Omer Ber Lev, authorized the march stating that “the right to demonstrate is a right in all democracies”. The same day, The Israeli occupying forces assaulted Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem for waiving the Palestinian flag.

Moreover, and even though an Islamist party (Ra’am) joined the Israeli government coalition, incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel has continued, particularly against some of its top representatives in the Israeli parliament, including the head of the Joint List MK Ayman Odeh, whose party Hadash calls for the two-state solution on the 1967 border, and supports Arab-Jewish coexistence and equality. MK Amichai Chikli, from Bennett’s Yamina party, made several statements against Palestinian citizens, such as a post on Facebook saying: “I just sent a letter to the government’s judicial adviser, Avichai Mendelblit, requesting that a criminal investigation be opened against the head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, for a series of serious misdeeds that constitute an incitement to violence, sedition, and action against the existence of the state of Israel (…) When facing supporters of terrorism and those undermining Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and Democratic state, there is no room for smiles, activists in the studios and no place for shaking hands”.

ISRAEL’S RACIST BAN ON PALESTINIAN FAMILY REUNIFICATIONS

There are at least 65 laws that only discriminate against the Palestinian people, inside Israel, the occupied State of Palestine, and in exile, which condition all aspects of the lives of the Palestinian people, including the right to be in Palestine and form a family. Such laws aim to guarantee Jewish supremacy in the entire territory of historic Palestine.

The new Israeli government made significant efforts to extend the racist ban on Palestinian family reunifications, an amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians from occupied Jerusalem from unifying with spouses that hold Palestinian IDs. The same applies to citizens and residents of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran. On the other hand, such rules don’t apply to Jewish citizens of such countries nor to Israeli settlers living in occupied Palestine, effectively targeting the right of Palestinian families from both sides of the Green Line from the right to live with their families. It is estimated that this amendment to the law affected over 45,000 Palestinian families, including at least 9,000 from occupied Jerusalem.

To justify their support for the extension of the law, Lapid made an unequivocal statement: “We shouldn’t hide the essence of the Citizenship Law (…) It’s one of the tools aimed at ensuring Israel’s Jewish majority.” Other Israeli officials continued to justify the law based on security “concerns”. And although the law was not extended, the Israeli Ministry of Interior still refuses to process requests for Palestinian family reunifications.

A GLIMPSE OF THE REALITY UNDER THE BENNETT-LAPID GOVERNMENT

In addition to raiding Palestinians’ homes, villages, and cities, the new Israeli government has continued to kill, injure, and arrest Palestinians and protect and encourage Israeli settlers to actively violate the national and human rights of the Palestinian people.

Between 14 June and 14 September 2021, Israel carried out more than a hundred demolition operations against Palestinian homes and structures, in which its occupying forces demolished or seized nearly 300 structures, including 49 structures that Palestinians were forced to self-demolish and 59 donor-funded structures. Consequently, over 420 Palestinians were forcibly displaced, more than half of them were children2.

Additionally, according to a report issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Israel has continued to attack Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in occupied Jerusalem and Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Between 14 June and 19 September, the Israeli occupation authorities have committed at least 220 violations and assaults, including over 65 raids by the IOF and Israeli extremists into Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and the prevention of the prayer call in Al-Ibrahimi Mosque for 160 times, besides closing the mosque for four days.

Examples of Israeli Violations:

23 June: Less than ten days after assuming its functions, the new Israeli government advanced the construction of 31 settlement projects.

30 June: The Israeli government reached an agreement with Israeli settlers that had established an illegal colonial installation on Sbeih Mountain in Nablus Governorate3 that connotes not allowing Palestinians to go back to the mountain.

3 July: the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) killed Mohammad Hassan, 20, from Qusra village near Nablus, as Palestinians confronted Israeli settlers that had stormed their village.

8 July: IOF demolished the home of the Palestinian detainee Muntaser Shalabi in Turmus Ayya (north of Ramallah), collectively punishing his wife and three children.

8 July: IOF demolished tent dwellings of at least 63 Bedouins in Khirbet Humsa village, declared by Israel as a “firing zone.” The Norwegian Refugee Council stated that around 35 children were among those at risk of forcible transfer.

11 July: Israel’s security cabinet voted to withhold NIS 600 million ($184 million) from Palestinian money collected as tax revenues for the Palestinian government in violations of signed agreements.

13 July: Israel prevented elected Palestinian leader Khalida Jarrar, inside Israeli jails, from attending the funeral of her daughter Suha.

July 14: Israel advanced the “E1” colonial settlement project, on the eastern gateway to Jerusalem, involving 3,412 settlement units.

14 July: Israeli settlers chopped more than 150 fully grown olive trees in the northern West Bank village of Burin, south of Nablus city.

20 July: IOF turned Silwan, in occupied Jerusalem, into a “closed military site.

22 July: The Israeli Ministry of Housing handed to the Planning Committee of the illegal settlement of “Efrat” a plan for the establishment of a new colonial settlement on land controlled by the Jewish National Fund in the a-Nahla area, also known as “E2” or “Givat Eitam,” in the Bethlehem Governorate. The plan covers an area of ​​about 300 dunams.

23 July: 43 years old Abdo Tamimi, from Jerusalem, died while in Israeli custody. His family was forced to conduct the burial with a limited number of people.

24 July: IOF shot and killed Mohammed Tamimi, 17, protesting against illegal-colonial settlements in the Nabi Saleh village.

25 July: IOF seized European Union-funded equipment intended to rehabilitate the electricity grid in the Simya area, south of the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

27 July: IOF shot to death Shadi Salim, 41, near Beita village.

1 August: Israel renewed the decision to prevent the Governor of Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith from entering the rest of the occupied West Bank.

2 August: Israeli settlers from the settlement of “Ibi Hanahel” opened a road for the use of settlers on privately-owned Palestinian land from the village of Kisan.

10 August: Israeli occupation authorities began to unilaterally build infrastructure for the benefit of Israeli settlers in the Ibrahimi Mosque of Hebron.

16 August: IOF raided Jenin refugee camp, killing four Palestinians.

17 August: Illegal settlers kidnapped 15 years old Tareq Zubaidi, tied him to a tree, and brutally assaulted him.

2 September: IOF fired live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, and tear gas canisters from their positions on the Green Line towards protestors near the perimeter fence east of Gaza City, which resulted in several injuries and suffocation cases.

17 September: an Israeli settler attacked and stabbed Mohammad Abu Nab, a Palestinian bus driver from Silwan, in West Jerusalem. Abu Nab suffered moderate wounds after being stabbed twice in the back.

THE EUROPEAN UNION AND ISRAEL: “THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION” AND “WHATEVER IS HUMANITARIAN.”

FM Lapid addressed the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 12 July. In his speech, he declared: “It is no secret that I support a two-state solution. Unfortunately, there is no current plan for this (…) What we need to do now is make sure that no steps are taken that will prevent the possibility of peace in the future, and we need to improve the live.” It took less than 24 hours from Lapid’s EU address to understand that even the “whatever is humanitarian” approach was not government policy. Within this time, the Israeli occupying forces:

  • Forced Mohammad All-Husseini, a Palestinian resident of Silwan in occupied Jerusalem, to demolish his own home.
  • Demolished a pond for collecting water for agricultural purposes in the Marah area near Bardala village in the northern Jordan Valley
  • Issued a military order to confiscate 1,500 dunums of agricultural lands in the vicinity of “Rotem” settlement in the northern Jordan Valley under the pretext of turning it into a nature reserve.
  • Demolished five facilities (a blacksmith’s workshop, a carpentry workshop, a vehicle repair workshop, a car wash, and a store selling vegetables and fruits) in Haris village in Salif Governorate under the pretext of lacking permits.
  • Forced Ezzat Ziadeh to demolish his house in Beit Jala.
  • Allowed a group of settlers to set up seven caravans on the eastern side of the colonial installation of “Shvut Rachel” built on lands belonging to Jalud village.

The EU and Israel have an Action Plan (due to expire in 2022) and an Association Agreement that condition relations to respect human rights and international humanitarian law: both are systematically violated by Israel. The EU has never reviewed relations based on those principles, and accordingly, its engagement with the new Israeli government is not an exception. In effect, the EU is also disregarding the recognition of the State of Palestine, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, the two-state solution, and the implementation of signed agreements with the PLO.

The “positive” tone of the EU and some member states over the new government, which is actively implementing the same Israeli colonial-settlement policies, has been constant over the first 100 days, including with:

  • Calls to set a new Association Council with Israel.
  • Calls for “deepening” relations.
  • Welcoming the Israeli government’s announcements, such as Lapid’s Gaza speech, without clearly stating that any step must lead to the end of the Israeli occupation and the fulfillment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

Conclusion

The first 100 days of the new Israeli government have demonstrated that it won’t make any bold moves in any direction. Official statements were also clear that Israel will continue to manage and strengthen the current reality of colonial-settlement occupation and apartheid, putting more obstacles and barriers to fulfilling a just and lasting peace. Instead of taking concrete measures to hold Israel accountable, several international parties have praised this government despite the solid evidence of their illegal policies against the land and the people of Palestine and their stark violation of international norms and law.

The absence of an Israeli peace plan is blatantly evident despite having several ministers trying to push for a different agenda regarding Palestine, including namely statements by Meretz Ministers, Nitzan Horowitz, Tamar Zandberg, and Essawi Freij, who conducted meetings with Palestinian Ministers. Yet, the obsession of some members of the international community to reward a government that has not significantly changed any policies, compared to consecutive previous Israeli governments, has turned into an incentive for those who advocate perpetuating the denial of Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination.

On the other hand, the Palestinian position has been solidly based on the principles of rules-based world order, including international law, the importance of international organizations, and the respect for UN resolutions. However, the Israeli government has flagrantly shown its willingness to administer a system perpetuating inhuman policies and grave violations of human rights and international law.

1 Several international parties have constantly demanded from the Palestinian side the full adherence to the Quartet principles. With regards to colonial installations, the document states: “GOI (Government of Israel) immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001.”

2 The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory.

3 While Israeli settlers allegedly left the place under the agreement, the area was turned into a closed military zone, the buildings established by the settlers would remain in place. If the settlers can prove that the new colonial installation was not established on privately owned Palestinian land they will be allowed to take over the place, including the establishment of a religious school.

Palestine Liberation Organization – NEGOTIATION AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT

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