Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Notations From the Grid (Special Edition): On Change in @Israel

Our team pulled together an update courtesy the team at JStreet & PeaceNow that we hereby present for review:

 J Street


I’m writing to you from Israel, where for the first time in 12 years, we’ve woken up to a new Prime Minister. Benjamin Netanyahu is officially out of the prime minister’s chair, with his government replaced by a complex new coalition headed by right-wing hardliner Naftali Bennett.

Although Bennett will serve first in a rotation agreement with center-left leader Yair Lapid, he’ll be far more constrained in his actions than Netanyahu was since he must maintain the backing of a much broader cabinet and coalition. Parties in the new government span the ideological spectrum from progressive to Islamist to centrist to far-right, united by the common goal of defeating Netanyahu -- and little else.

The policies and longevity of the new government will depend on what common consensus can be formed between a group of parties who have conflicting views on many key issues, but must work together to maintain a 61 seat majority government.

Below, we've included a rundown of exactly who’s who in the new coalition. Feel free to forward this to friends and family who may be interested. Of course, they can join J Street themselves here!

Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister

Naftali Bennett 

Bennett and his party Yamina are affiliated with the religious Zionist movement and closely tied to the settlement movement as well. They are situated on the right or far-right on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They support the annexation of much of the West Bank with Bennett going as far as to say that Palestinian statehood would be “national suicide” for Israel. He celebrated Donald Trump’s election by claiming “the era of a Palestinian state is over!”

With six seats, Yamina will have three ministers: Bennet as PM, Ayelet Shaked as Minister of Interior and Matan Kahana as Minister of Religions.

Yair Lapid, Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister

Yair Lapid 

The largest party in the new governing coalition, Yesh Atid, is a center-left party. Lapid led the complex and successful negotiations to bring this coalition together. He campaigned on ending corruption, strengthening oversight and limiting the power of the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society. Yesh Atid favors a two-state solution and may seek to limit the construction of new settlements, though the Israeli-Palestinian issue is far from their top priority.

With 17 seats Yesh Atid will have seven ministers: Lapid as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and (after the rotation with Bennett) as Prime Minister, Merav Cohen as Minister for Social Equality, Yoel Razbozov as Minister of Tourism, Karin Elharar as Minister of Energy, Meir Cohen as Minister of Welfare, Orna Barbivay as Minister of Economy and Elazar Stern as Minister of Intelligence. Yesh Atid will also have Miki Levy as Speaker of the Knesset.

Benny Gantz, Defense Minister

Benny Gantz 

Gantz was Netanyahu’s main opponent through a series of elections in 2019 and 2020, but ultimately joined with Netanyahu to form a unity government as the pandemic intensified. That controversial move split his party’s alliance with Yesh Atid and angered many of their voters. He will remain Defense Minister in the incoming government, a position with significant authority over the occupied territories. Blue and White is not pro-settlement per se, but the party has said in the past that it plans to strengthen the main settlement blocs in the West Bank.

With eight seats, Blue and White will have four ministers: Gantz as Minister of Defense, Pnina Tamano-Shata as Minister of Absorption and Immigration, Hili Tropper as Minister of Culture and Sports and Orit Farkash Cohen as Minister of Science and Innovation.

Merav Michaeli, Minister of Transportation

Merav Michaeli 

The Labor Party, once the most dominant force in Israeli politics, has flirted with electoral oblivion in recent elections. Now, however, the party is relatively resurgent under the progressive, unapologetically anti-Netanyahu leadership of Merav Michaeli, who campaigned on gender equality, economic justice and supporting a two-state solution. While Labor does not tend to prioritize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the party is likely to be a voice against settlement expansion and other destructive measures.

With seven seats, Labor will have three ministers: Michaeli as Minister for Transportation, Omer Barlev as Minister of Internal Security and Nachman Shai as Minister for Diaspora Affairs.

Nitzan Horowitz, Minister of Health

Nitzan Horowitz 

Meretz is the most ideologically and vocally progressive member of the coalition, offering loud and enthusiastic support for a Palestinian state and Palestinian equality in Israel. They will likely be one of the few members of the coalition consistently raising concerns about the ongoing occupation and the cycle of injustice and violence. The party also campaigns on equal rights, social justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and action on climate change and will be in charge of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Its leader Nitzan Horowitz is the first openly gay leader of a major Israeli political party.

With six seats, Meretz will have three ministers: Horowitz as Minister of Health, Tamar Zandberg as Minister for the Environment and Issawi Frej as Minister for Regional Cooperation.

Gideon Sa’ar, Justice Minister

Gideon Sa’ar 

The New Hope Party is on the opposite side of the coalition’s ideological spectrum from Meretz. Sa’ar is a former leading member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party who split off in the midst of Netanyahu’s corruption trials in an attempt to create a new, Netanyahu-less Likud. New Hope is committed to permanent control of the West Bank, supports settlement expansion and opposes Palestinian statehood.

With six seats, New Hope will have four ministers: Sa’ar as Minister of Justice, Yifat Shasha Biton as Minister for Education, Zeev Elkin as Minister of Housing and Yoaz Hendel as Minister of Communication.

Avigdor Lieberman, Finance Minister

Avigdor Lieberman 

Lieberman is another former Netanyahu disciple who has positioned himself as something of a powerbroker and wildcard in the making and breaking of governments. His party, supported primarily by Israel’s large minority of Russian and Soviet immigrants, is right-wing on many issues. Lieberman himself has trafficked in anti-Arab rhetoric, but tends to focus on domestic issues and works with secular Israeli parties in countering the influence of the ultra-orthodox.

With seven seats, Yisrael Beiteinu will have three ministers: Lieberman as Minister of Finance, Oded Furer as Minister of Agriculture and Hammed Amar as Minister in the Ministry of Finance.

Mansour Abbas

Mansour Abbas 

For the first time in decades, this Israeli government will include a party of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. Ra’am is a socially conservative Islamist party that finds some common ground with conservative Israeli Jews. Ra’am’s support for the coalition hinges on promises to benefit Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel in urban planning, housing and protection from violence. Abbas is also looking to repeal discriminatory laws which privilege Jewish Israelis to the detriment of Arab Israelis.

Despite holding four seats, Ra'am will have no ministers in the new government. They will, however, have a significant say in policies related to Palestinian citizens of Israel.

With such a broad mix of parties, agreeing on a common agenda going forward will be difficult. Israeli coalitions don’t have the best track record for sustainability at the best of times, and this one can be assured to face unrelenting and incendiary attacks by Netanyahu as Leader of the Opposition.

As this new government finds its feet and seeks to craft a policy agenda, we at J Street will do all that we can to stand with and strengthen our Israeli allies who continue to advocate for the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to freedom, security, equality and self-determination -- both those who now have a foothold in government as well as the advocates and activists working outside the Knesset. 

At this time, the signals sent from American policymakers have the potential to make a significant impact on the decisions of this nascent government. That’s why we’re pushing for our leaders in the United States to make a clean break with the failed policies of the past and commit to articulating and supporting a vision of the future that guarantees the right to peace, security and self-determination to both Israelis and Palestinians.


Nadav Tamir,
Executive Director, J Street Israel

The Day after Netanyahu: our work is more necessary than ever
Yesterday was an important day. A new government was sworn in in Israel, replacing more than two years of political deadlock and four general elections. Benjamin Netanyahu was unseated after 12 consecutive years in office. Like many Israelis, we were relieved to see Netanyahu go; his premiership was characterized by divisiveness and incitement. Crucially for us at Peace Now, the conflict was merely managed and the occupation--- and the need to end it--- were completely off the table. We welcome this change, but know there is a lot of work to be done; to ensure that the new government works to bring a political solution to the conflict, to end the occupation, and to ensure a future of peace for all, Israelis and Palestinians alike. 

This change and this new government is a result of mass protest over the past year. We were there at the protest to remind that unseating Netanyahu is crucial but not enough, and that there is no democracy with occupation. We marched from Silwan in East Jerusalem to Balfour street in its West--- the street that had become synonymous with Netanyahu's rule and the location of the largest weekly protests against him. The day after Netanyahu is leaving Balfour, we continue our work, which is necessary more than ever. 

 Today we chose to share with you the reflections of one of our brilliant interns, who worked with us from the US in a crucial report we had published. Your support--- in all ways--enables us to continue our work, to ensure the message of ending the occupation and peace for all remains on the table no matter who is in office. 

"Escaping Lockdown, Pursuing Israeli-Palestinian Peace:

My Covid Era Internship Experience with Peace Now

by Avraham Spraragen

​In an all-important 2011 “message to American friends of Israel,” the late Israeli literary giant and Peace Now co-founder, Amos Oz urged U.S. Jews and non-Jews alike to support the preeminent Israeli peace movement and its sister movement, Americans for Peace Now (APN). Having been raised in America by two Hebrew-speaking parents on the writings of Amos Oz, the Shir LaShalom (“A Song for Peace”), and on the legacy of pro-peace Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, I deferred my acceptance to Cornell University in 2015 to explore the barriers to Israeli-Palestinian peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My gap year atop Har HaTzofim, in Rothberg International School classrooms shared by Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, taught me the importance of Oz’s message in breaking down barriers to peace, including the West Bank separation barrier. (I wrote of this view from my Rothberg classroom window in a piece, “Total Immersion In Jerusalem,” for the Times of Israel). Peace Now, born out of the 1978 Egypt-Israel Camp David Accords, identifies illegal Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank as a leading barrier to an equitable and enduring peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The movement works to “ensure Israelis embrace the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two states,” i.e. Israeli and Palestinian states living side-by-side in peace and security. Last summer, with the two-state solution under threat by the Israeli government proposal for unilateral West Bank annexation, I acted upon the message of Amos Oz and joined APN’s campaign to combat annexation. While threats of de jure Israeli annexation were temporarily neutralized, de facto annexation persists, compelling me to continue in my advocacy as a spring 2021 remote intern for Peace Now amid Covid-19.

​Through authoring an APN report  “Jordan Valley Annexation - A Security Liability, Not an Asset” and drafting an educational series for APN about the societal costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was prepared to return to the region digitally to assist the Peace Now Settlement Watch team in Tel Aviv. This team is internationally recognized for tracking Israeli settlement activity to prevent further illegal construction that would destroy the prospects of two states. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I was unable to intern in Israel but instead partnered with Peace Now remotely as part of my spring semester fellowship with Embodying Peace (a global network of volunteers that supports civil society peacebuilding organizations in Israel-Palestine). In addition to my online peacebuilding efforts as an EP fellow, I assisted Peace Now Director of Development and External Relations Dana Mills with the publication of the April 2021 Report “Do Not Settle! Why there are No ‘Legitimate’ Settlements.” Despite being quarantined on the Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York, I managed to escape from lockdown virtually and contribute to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. In Zoom meetings with Dana, I was assigned to a variety of Hebrew-English translation, writing, editing, and researching tasks in preparation for the “Do Not Settle!” campaign launch. My first Peace Now intern task was to translate the original Hebrew report to English. Thereafter, I was assigned to write additional prose and to edit the English version. The proofreading process required research into unaddressed topics and potential rebuttals. Given my background as a former Cornell Daily Sun political staff writer and research intern at foreign policy think tanks worldwide, these assignments were both highly suitable and supremely engaging.

From the confines of my Cornell dormitory, I was also tasked with preparing for the “Do Not Settle!” campaign launch at the virtual 2021 National Conference hosted by J Street: The Political Home for Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Americans. This involved assisting with video scripts for use by the Peace Now team at the J Street Conference. On April 18, 2021, the report was published on the Peace Now website along with a “short video with the main findings” (click here to watch). I am immensely proud of my contributions to the report and corresponding video, and am deeply honored to have been placed with the historic Peace Now organization during my Embodying Peace fellowship. “Do Not Settle!” outlines the requirements for viable Palestinian statehood and demonstrates that settlement expansion is a barrier to its establishment. The report warns against a policy of distinguishing between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” settlement expansion that would only serve to legitimize the settlement project, thereby harming the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The full report, including detailed maps that illustrate the dangers of Israeli settlement expansion to the viability of a future Palestinian state, can be downloaded here and covers the history of “past experience” with counterproductive distinction policy that previously legitimized settlements. In characteristic Peace Now fashion, the conclusion of the report courageously reads as follows: “What we need from our allies is not another surrender to the despaired voices but a firm clear voice to wake us up from the illusion that we can keep building in settlements and at the same time achieve peace and agreement.” My spring semester with Peace Now, and Embodying Peace, in the Covid era was a lesson in affecting change in spite of geographic limitations and in times of global crisis. As a diaspora Jew who longs for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security, I could not allow Coronavirus to keep me and the Jewish state apart. Pandemic was no excuse to ignore the seemingly perpetual irresolution endemic to Israel-Palestine. With the outbreak of the pandemic, I was sent home from my junior year abroad at the London School of Economics, where I had written a piece for LSE’s Middle East Centre Blog entitled, “The Israeli-Palestinian ‘Battle for Peace’ Continues.” At the time of that writing, Israel was entering a third round of elections and I urged readers to “hearken Amos Oz’s five immortal words: ‘Let us strive for peace!’” While the fourth election that Israel endured was then unimaginable, these words are still of tremendous import as Peace Now remains on the front line in the ‘Battle for Peace.’ Now, after being welcomed into the Peace Now family, I encourage fellow students and young advocates to join us in striving for a peaceful future. Youth involvement is key to the mission of keeping the candle of peace aflame. Indeed, a future of Shalom, Salaam, Peace for Israeli and Palestinians depends on it!"

Peace Now march from Silwan to Balfour, Februrary 2021.

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