Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's incumbent hard-right Prime Minister, and Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Coalition (usually called “centrist”, but perhaps better understood as soft-right) have reached an agreement for a coalition government, with the premiership rotating between them on an 18-monthly basis.
The coalition also includes the Labor Party, whose leader, Amir Peretz, will take up the role of Economy Minister. Yaakov Litzman, a religious-fundamentalist and outspoken homophobe who declared Covid-19 was a punishment from god before testing positive for it himself, will continue as health minister, a further indication of the growing power of organised right-wing religious bigotry in a once highly secular society.
The coalition agreement gives Netanyahu, whose trial for three charges of corruption is due to begin on 24 May, a veto over the appointment of a new attorney general and state prosecutor. The agreement also says that legislation to formally annex tranches of Palestinian territory to Israel can be brought forward from 1 July.
The threat of annexation is extremely serious, and would be a crushing setback for Palestinian rights and for democracy in Israel/Palestine. It would render Palestinians in the annexed territories as formally second-class citizens, moving Israel much closer to an apartheid-like system. The large Arab minority within Israel proper already face systemic discrimination and racism.
On Saturday 18 April, 2,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv for a “socially-distanced protest”, standing six feet apart on markings placed in the city's Rabin Square, to protest against Netanyahu. The protest was part of the “black flag movement”, a grassroots campaign of protest against Netanyahu's corruption and for democracy. Addressing the rally, Ayman Odeh, the left-wing MK and leader of the Joint List, an electoral bloc of mainly Arab parties, said: “It's not easy for me to be up here talking alongside politicians who I don't agree with. But we need to see the big picture. Be brave. Only Arab-Jewish partnership will win. We must defeat Bibi [Netanyahu].”
In an article for the Transform network, written before the new coalition was confirmed, Professor Dani Filc, from the left-wing Jewish-Arab Standing Together movement, wrote: “As with all radical-right populist parties, Likud [Netanyahu's party] sees Israeli politics as a conflict between the (cultural) elites and 'the people', understanding the latter as an ethnocultural unity, defined by the Orthodox religious view. Politics is presented as the perpetual conflict between foreign and internal enemies (Israeli Palestinians; asylum seekers, 'leftist elites' […]) on one side, and the 'true' people on the other […]
“The challenge is to build a social alliance built on a Jewish-Arab partnership […] that puts forward an alternative hegemonic programme and discourse that addresses the causes of radical-right populism's rise.”