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Israel: Palestinians worried about Netanyahu's comeback

Tania Kraemer West Bank
November 10, 2022

Palestinians are concerned about the return of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the prospect of a coalition government that included a far right-wing group.

A Palestinian in a wheelchair stands in front of an Israeli vehicle during protests
Image: Nasser Ishtayeh/ZUMA/IMAGO

A sense of normality has returned to Nablus, a Palestinian city in the center of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Shops have reopened and fruit stalls are back on the street.

In mid-October, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) locked down the city for almost three weeks in search of Palestinian militants who ambushed and fatally shot an Israeli soldier in a nearby settlement. 

In his family’s bookstore at the entrance to the Old City, Yousef Kandakji described the past weeks as "very difficult." 

"The two main entrances to Nablus were closed, sometimes the army allowed you to enter and not to leave or vice versa," he said as customers browsed books in the shop. "That killed all movement in and out of the city."

Israeli forces have stepped up raids across the West Bank in recent months to counter what Israeli officials describe as a growing threat of terrorism. Starting in March, Arab Israeli citizens and Palestinians carried out a series of deadly attacks which killed at least 16 Israelis and two foreigners in Israel, according to UN figures. 

In addition, at least four Israelis - among them two soldiers - have been reported killed in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent weeks.

At the same time, Israeli forces have killed more than 100 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank so far this year, including children, according to the UN's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in a statement released in October.

Settler violence against Palestinians has also increased, according the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The United Nations said that this year is set to be the deadliest for Palestinians since 2005. 

At the end of October, Germany, France, Italy and Spain made a joint statement, saying "ongoing tensions and an increasing number of casualties on both sides in the occupied Palestinian territories is highly alarming."

Meanwhile, the likelihood that Benjamin Netanyahu, who won the majority in last week's Israeli elections, will include the far-right alliance, Religious Zionism, in a coalition government leaves Palestinians concerned.

"Netanyahu doesn’t really want peace at all. He only wants destruction, we all know him and the disasters he can bring over the Palestinian people," Kandakji, the bookshop owner, believes.

"And now with the even more extremist faction, we also know Ben-Gvir very well from his actions in Jerusalem," said the young Palestinian, referring to Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the leaders of the Religious Zionism alliance. "He creates a lot of tensions."

Others echo similar sentiments. "Ben-Gvir does not invoke anything good," said Ayat Bustami, a young Palestinian woman shopping in the Old City. "I want to be optimistic, but it’s increasingly difficult." 

Another shopper, Randa Jaish, added, "It’s just getting bleaker every day."

Palestinian residents walking towards the Old City of Nablus
Palestinians are worried about the far-right possibly joining a coalitionImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

'No partner for peace'

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that election "results confirm that we have no partner in Israel for peace." He called on the international community to "provide protection for our people from the aggressive Israeli policies after the rise of racist parties to power." 

With the strong showing of the far-right, which advocates for the expansion of settlements and, eventually, the annexation of the West Bank, any hope of peace talks towards statehood appears more distant than ever for Palestinians.

The last direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials took place in 2014 under the auspices of then-US Secretary of State John Kerry. 

"The problem is, we're not finding that the Israeli public is willing to vote or elect a government that's willing to deal with the core issue, which is the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem," said political analyst Sam Bahour in Ramallah. "They continue to ignore the elephant in the room."

Several United Nations resolutions classify Israeli settlements built in the West Bank, which Israel captured and occupied in 1967 in the wake of the Six-Day War, as illegal under international law. They compartmentalize the West Bank into isolated towns and make the prospect of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state unlikely. 

Although the increasing right-wing movement in Israeli society is "troubling," said Bahour, it's only "incrementally troubling" because policies applied to Palestinians have been "rather consistent throughout all Israeli administrations."

Palestinians and left-wing Israeli activists demonstrate against settlements on the right side of the street, ultra-nationalist Israelis stage a counter protest on the opposite side in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem
Protests against settlements have been taking place in the Sheik Jarrah district in east Jerusalem for years; recently far-right Israeli demonstrators have staged counter-protestsImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

Concerns in East Jerusalem

Almost every Friday afternoon for more than a decade, a small group of left-wing Israeli and Palestinian activists have been protesting against the settlements in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem.

This time, on the opposite side of the street, a handful of right-wing protesters wave Israeli flags and posters of Itamar Ben-Gvir. Police officers separated the two groups.

For some Israeli activists, the election results haven’t really sunk in. "The fact people like Ben-Gvir can have 14 mandates in parliament with his horrible, racist, black and white thinking, ... it’s horrible," said Ada Bilu.

"I see the settlers are feeling empowered," said Amir, another activist.

Ostjerusalem Sheikh Jarrah
Far right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir could join a Netanyahu-led CabinetImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

Itamar Ben-Gvir, who said that he wants to become the next public security minister, supports settlement activities in Sheikh Jarrah where Palestinian residents and Israeli nationalists often clash.

As a member of the Knesset, Ben-Gvir has twice set up a temporary "office" among Palestinian homes — a provocation for residents there. 

"He put his table in front of our house and wouldn’t leave," said Fatima Salem whose family home is threatened by a — temporarily frozen — eviction order. She is worried that the next Israeli government could further empower settlers. "Only God knows what will happen next." 

Since 2009, settler organizations have taken control of four Palestinian properties in the neighborhood; about 75 families are threatened with eviction, according to the Israeli nonprofit organization Ir Amim. Settlers claim the land belonged to Jewish residents before Jordan captured East Jerusalem in the 1948 war.

In May 2021, the potential eviction of several families was one of the factors that sparked fighting between Israel and the militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Jawad Siyam has joined the demonstration from Silwan, a neighborhood south of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Parts of his family house were taken over by settlers after a long court case.

"Israelis are on the right, and the little that is left of the Israeli left-wing has no voice anymore," said Siyam. "Actually it will get worse, but again, how much worse can it get?" 

Edited by: Robert Mudge, Nicole Goebel

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