Jerusalem (Agenzia Fides) - There is a new government in Israel, but the coalition that supports it "has very little that holds it together", and groups forces with antithetical positions regarding "the Palestinian question and the possibility to establish a Palestinian state". The analysis of the new political scenarios of the Holy Land proposed in an interview with Fides by Father David Neuhaus sj, Superior of the Jesuits in the Holy Land, starts from this simple and decisive observation.
Born in South Africa to German Jewish parents who fled Germany in the 1930s, Father David was in the past also Patriarchal Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Hebrew-speaking Catholics.
In the interview, the priest offers concrete and articulated food for thought on the real consistency of the so-called "political turning point" that took place in Israel, and among other things he takes for granted the confirmation of strong relationships between the most influential sectors of the Israeli leadership and the groups of "Christian Zionist evangelicals" who support Israel "on the basis of a fundamentalist reading of the Scripture and starting from the conviction that God has chosen Israel (understood as the modern State of Israel) and promised them victory".
The new Bennett/Lapid government wants to present itself as a "government of change", but according to Father David Neuhaus "the major change is that Binyamin Netanyahu is no longer the Prime Minister. The coalition that replaces him has very little that holds it together aside from the desire to push Netanyahu out". The new government structure "brings together Parties from the right and from the left which differ substantially in their vision of the kind of society they would like to promote. This is particularly true of how they relate to the question of the Palestinians and the possibility to establish a Palestinian State". The position of major figures in the new government, including "do not differ much from Netanyahu's position. They pushed Netanyahu out because he did not allow them to access positions of power and tried to crush them when they became too popular. Their vendetta against him was personal and organizational". To realize their revenge on Netanyahu - the Jesuit notes - "they have made an alliance with center and left parties that fundamentally oppose Netanyahu’s political vision and are more open to negotiating with the Palestinians and advancing towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. The burning question is right now whether the coalition will crumble, having succeeded to unseat Netanyahu or whether the collaboration to unseat him will draw these disparate components together sufficiently to rule the country. As long as Netanyahu remains a vivid political threat, they might indeed invest energy in staying united so that they can block any chance of his return to power.
Several Western media have emphasized the entry into the ruling coalition of an Arab party, presenting this event as a factor of strong discontinuity with respect to the past. Father David Neuhaus recalls that "This is not the first time Arab parties form part of a government in Israel, what is interesting this time is that Mansour Abbas (head of the Ra'am Party, the only Arab formation that entered the government coalition, ed.) claims to be a Palestinian nationalist and a traditional Muslim". On Abbas, the Jesuit expresses articulate and wait-and-see evaluations: "The Party he founded" notes Father David "is conservative on all social issues and in tension with the more progressive elements in Palestinian society in Israel, particularly with the more left wing Arab political forces with whom he was once allied. Abbas is a relatively young politician, born in 1974, from a town in Galilee (Maghar) where the Druze are the majority and where Christians are more numerous than Muslims. He has maintained that the time has come to promote the interests of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, pushing for equality rather than linking everything to the issue of the occupation in the Palestinian Territories conquered by Israel in 1967, the tendency of his former allies. It remains to be seen whether Abbas will be able to improve the lot of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and whether his support of this coalition will last. It is not yet clear whether he is naïve, not realizing the full extent of racism in the Israeli political system and the systemic nature of discrimination, or whether he is an accomplished politician, fighting for his people. For now, many Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are troubled that he has associated himself with parties that are seen as supporting both the occupation of Palestinian territories and discrimination against Palestinians who are citizens of Israel".
With respect to the discriminatory phenomena taking place in Israel, the Professor of the Biblical Institute of Jerusalem expresses clear considerations: "Discrimination in Israel against Palestinian Arab citizens touches every domain of life in a state that is defined as Jewish. Indeed, the State of Israel is legally, politically and ideologically defined as a Jewish state and promotes Jewish exclusivity in various domains, particularly in the domain of development. Whereas Palestinian citizens of Israel can vote in the elections, discrimination is clearly manifest in the distribution of resources to the Palestinian sector. This is perfectly visible in comparing Arab and Jewish towns and villages (infrastructure, development, municipal services), schools, parks, libraries, hospitals, etc. The state that is defined as Jewish consecrates a lion’s share of its resources to Jews. In 2018, a law was passed, the Nation State Law, that again emphasized that Israel is the State of the Jewish people, its language is Hebrew and its main aim is to promote Jewish interests. This has led some to suggest that Israel is in fact an “apartheid” state, notably Betselem, a prominent Israeli human rights organization". The ethnic-religious contrasts that tear Israeli society apart, fomented and fueled by logic of political utilitarianism, in recent days have had yet another emblematic manifestation in the story of the 'March of the Flags': "It is" - explains Father David Neuhaus "an annual event that celebrates the conquest of Arab Jerusalem in 1967. Those that march are predominantly from the religious right wing parties (including the settlers) and the march is an event that in their eyes emphasizes Jewish control of Jerusalem, the unity of the city and its Jewish character. The march always provokes tensions as it winds its way through Palestinian neighborhoods in the Old City of Jerusalem and some marchers inevitably chant racist slogans against Arabs and provoke people in the neighborhoods. This year, 2021, the march was cancelled at the last minute because Hamas began to shoot missiles into Israel from Gaza. Of course, this was only a further development in a series of events that began one month earlier, at the beginning of Ramadan, when Israel took unilateral steps to show who was boss in Arab Jerusalem and forbade Palestinians to gather, as is the custom, at Damascus Gate. Jerusalem is a tinder box, always ready to explode, and this march inevitably adds even more fuel for the flame. The extreme right, allies of Netanyahu, in the light of the earlier cancellation of the march that was due to be held on May 10, insisted that it be held on June 15. Netanyahu, knowing full well that this might provoke a first crisis in the new government, left his successor to decide what to do. Unwilling to immediately provoke the right wing, permission was given for the march to take place. However, the course of the march was altered so that there would not be too much friction between the marchers and the Palestinians. Furthermore, the USA and Egypt were mobilized to try and keep the flames low this time.
Israel prevented Palestinian election seats from being opened in the Arab part of Jerusalem, and this justified the postponement of the long-awaited electoral round to decide what the current balance of power between the Palestinian political forces is. According to Father Neuhaus, "It is unlikely that the new government will change its position on Palestinian elections in Arab Jerusalem. Palestinian elections in Jerusalem are seen as a threat to Israeli sovereignty in the Arab part of the city. This might change only if sufficient international pressure is brought to bear on Israel (particularly from the USA)".
Regarding the relations of the new government structure with the political leadership and with the influential US lobbies, David Neuhaus apparently believes that "the strong links that the former government enjoyed with Christian Zionist evangelicals are unlikely to change. These strongly anti-Arab, anti-Muslim friends of Israel support Israel on the basis of a fundamentalist reading of Scripture and the conviction that God has chosen Israel (yes, the modern state) and promised it victory. They are not only an important political lobby in the USA but they also send much money and personnel to promote Israel and its interests and the new government will undoubtedly seek their support as much as its predecessor. It is interesting though that the new government includes leftwing elements that are fiercely opposed to the traditional “family values” promoted by the evangelicals and this might lead to some interesting friction. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 17/6/2021)
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