Pro-settlement, neo-liberal government on Israel’s horizon

Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett (right) congratulate each other at the swearing-in of Israel's 19th Knesset (Photo: Indymedia.org)
Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett (right) congratulate each other at the swearing-in of Israel’s 19th Knesset (Photo: Indymedia.org)

Head of the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, the senior partners in Israel’s probable new government, are ardent neo-liberals who target Palestinian and ultra-orthodox citizens as being the root of all problems. The indifference of Yesh Atid toward questions related to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, combined with the Jewish Home’s settler militancy, makes the future coalition the most pro-settlement and economically right-wing government in Israeli history. Sergio Yahni introduces us to this new reality.

The newly formed Yesh Atid party showed a surprising performance in the January 22 elections to Israel’s 19th Knesset when it managed to win 19 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament.

Far from being democratic, Yesh Atid is headed by a former actor and news anchor, Yair Lapid, who alone determines the candidates on the party’s Knesset list and takes final decisions on political issues. Moreover, according to the party rules which he formulated, Lapid was appointed as party chairman for the terms of the next two Knesset terms.

Israeli analysts claim that the success of Yesh Atid is anchored in its public campaign which focused on Lapid’s well known personality and the party call for a change in Israeli civic priorities, including the promotion of a secular society and military draft for all. Yesh Atid’s civil agenda managed to capitalize on popular Israeli discontent, defeating Labour party hopes that it could return to the centre of Israel’s political stage by waving the banner of social democracy.

Despite his political inexperience, Lapid managed to understand three fundamental features of Israeli public consciousness: (1) the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict is not anymore a political question within Israeli society; (2) the Jewish ultra-orthodox parties capitalize on the politics of Jewish poverty; and (3) the middle classes blame ultra-orthodox and Palestinian citizens of Israel for their socio-economic problems.

This secular public consciousness is shared by national religious settlers, as expressed by the Jewish Home party headed by Naftali Bennettt.

Similarly to Lapid, Bennettt is a newcomer to national politics, although he is not a beginner. Bennettt served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff from 2006 to 2008, and during this period he ran Netanyahu’s primary campaign to lead the Likud party. On 31 January 2010 Bennettt was appointed as Director General of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of West Bank settlement municipalities, and led the subsequent struggle against Israel’s so-called “freeze” of settlements later that year.

Bennettt resigned from the Likud in 2011 and joined the Jewish Home party, while announcing his candidacy for the party leadership. On November 6, 2012 he was elected as head of the party, defeating its vieille garde.

As does Lapid, Bennett believes that the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict is no longer a political issue and both of them perceive Palestinian and ultra-orthodox citizens of Israel as a burden on the Israeli secular society. Lapid and Bennett identify the root of the country’s social problems in what they term the parasitic, welfare- dependant lifestyle of ultra-orthodox Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel. Consequently, they promote policies to force these communities into a “productive” lifestyle and military service.

Together, the political parties of Bennett and Lapid have 31 Knesset members, equal to Likud-Israel Beitenu. Together they managed to present an ultimatum to the incumbent prime minister: “you either accept our demands, or we will force you to give up your premiership.”

Netanyahu possessed no realistic alternative but to accept this ultimatum. The ultra-orthodox parties together have 18 MKs, and the Labour party was not ready to enter into the coalition unless Netanyahu would work to restore a welfare state.

Bennett and Lapid, who apparently will hold the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment and the Ministry of Finance respectively, are ardent neo-liberals who share socio-economic values with Netanyahu.

On the other hand, Lapid’s indifference toward questions related to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, combined with the Jewish Home’s settler militancy, makes the future coalition the most pro-settlement government in Israeli history.

Moreover, Yair Lapid is a façade for an almost anonymous list of Knesset members which includes two former mayors, one former head of the General Security Services (GSS), several academics, one rabbi and one police officer.

Shai  Piron, the rabbi and Yesh Atid candidate to become Minister of Education,  ruled on an Internet forum against the sale of real estate to Palestinians. Piron, who has a background in education and is largely seen as a progressive rabbi within the religious Zionist community, used to answer religious questions on Kippa, a website geared toward religious youth. In 2002, in response to a question concerning real estate in the city of Haifa, he wrote that it is “forbidden to sell a house to an Arab”.

In response to a report on Army Radio, Piron’s office said that the forum “dealt with questions of Jewish law and halachic responses on various matters,” but the rabbi no longer stood by his statements and has in recent years worked on Jewish-Arab issues.

The police officer, Mickey Levi, former chief of the Jerusalem police, played a critical role in repressing the Second Intifada in East Jerusalem, including by ordering closure of the Orient House, sending police troops to enter the Haram al Sharif compound of the Old City and overseeing the massive arrests of Palestinian activists. Levi was also part of the team that designed the route of the Separation Wall in and around Jerusalem, and has publicly expressed pride in having excluded Palestinian neighbourhoods, including the Shuafat refugee camp and Kalandia, outside the Separation Wall.

As the coalition negotiations come to a close, Netanyahu’s headache in his own Likud party begins. There remain only 15 government positions to be distributed among 31 members of his party, 11 of whom are not even members of the Likud but of Yisrael Beitenu. Netanyahu can present the members of his party with seven ministers, four deputy ministers, four heads of committees and the role of Knesset Speaker.

The defense portfolio was promised to the Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon, former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, and the Foreign Ministry portfolio will be held by Netanyahu pending conclusion of the trial against former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Other Likud members will have to fight amongst themselves for the remaining government portfolios, most of the socio-economic ones having already been promised to coalition partners.

If Netanyahu fails to present a government to President Shimon Peres by Saturday, he won’t be eligible to become prime minister. So far Netanyahu appears able and ready to present a neoliberal government which is incapable and unwilling to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict and which identifies Palestinian and ultra-orthodox citizens of the country as parasites.

* This article was published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

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