Israeli police detain a Palestinian during clashes at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 10 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ANMAR AWAD
Israeli police detain a Palestinian during clashes at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 10 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ANMAR AWAD

Tel Aviv — The worst violence between Israel and Palestine in years has complicated efforts to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and end a prolonged period of political paralysis.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist United Arab List faction, froze negotiations to join a potential coalition headed by the Jewish nationalist Naftali Bennett and secular centrist Yair Lapid, citing the ongoing flare-up that’s killed more than two dozen Palestinians and two Israelis, and wounded hundreds more.

It was an abrupt reality check to efforts to form one of the most unlikely governments in Israeli history, yoking not only nationalist and leftist factions in a government aimed at toppling the longtime Israeli leader, but also an Arab faction for the first time since the state’s 1948 founding.

The coalition could have been sworn in “in a few days”, Lapid said on Monday, as clashes raged between Palestinians and Israeli police at a Jerusalem shrine contested by Israel and the Palestinians. But the lethal surge in violence involving Gaza Strip militants hours later has made it awkward for Abbas to join a Zionist-led government at this time and set aside the historical identification between Arab Israelis and their Palestinian brothers and sisters in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Gaza militants have bombarded southern Israel with more than 250 rockets since Monday night, drawing dozens of Israeli air raids on their military facilities. The escalation followed weeks of skirmishes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem that intensified sharply earlier in the day.

Palestinian statehood

More than two dozen Palestinians have been killed, including children, some by a militant rocket that fell short and struck a house in Gaza, witnesses said. Two Israeli women died after rockets hit buildings in Ashkelon, and one person was badly wounded, Haaretz reported.

Netanyahu said the militants crossed a “red line” with rocket fire earlier on Monday near Jerusalem, and predicted that the current round of violence could last for “some time”. The shekel weakened as much as 0.8%, the most in nearly two months.

Abbas is not the only prospective coalition partner being squeezed by the deteriorating security situation. So, too, is Bennett, who opposes Palestinian statehood and will now face even more pressure from nationalists to abandon his planned union with left-wing and Arab factions who deplore his policies, said Eytan Gilboa, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

“The situation now points to the inherent problem in such a government,” said Gilboa, who puts the chances of success at a coin toss, down from 80% at the start of the week. “Even if the parties agree not to touch ideological and diplomatic policy for a period of time, you realise that such matters aren’t in your control.”

Bennett and Lapid, former ministers under Netanyahu, have vowed to piece together a government to avoid a fifth election in 2.5 years. They have three more weeks to deliver after the prime minister failed.

The political turmoil has been closely intertwined with Netanyahu’s corruption trial because if he loses power, he also loses his opportunity to derail the legal proceedings through legislation protecting an incumbent leader from prosecution.

Minority government

Netanyahu’s rivals could still form a minority government without Abbas’s party if it agrees to support the coalition in parliamentary votes.

Time may be working against them, though. The army called up 5,000 reserves, Israeli media reported, and said it will continue its military operation as long as necessary to quell Gaza militants.

Netanyahu and his allies, meanwhile, are pointing to the escalation to try to encourage more defectors from Bennett’s Yamina party after one member bolted over the potential hookup with Arab and left-wing parties.

“Now’s the time for a national, right-wing government,” Miki Zohar, an MP from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said on Twitter. He called on Bennett and another right-wing party opposed to Netanyahu “to put aside all other considerations in favour of the security of the citizens of Israel”.

Bloomberg News. For more articles like this, please visit Bloomberg.com

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