Analysis: Israel’s new coalition

Al Jazeera, March 25, 2009

Barak says Labor will provide balance to the new right-wing coalition [AFP]

Israel’s centre-left Labor party has voted at a conference to join a coalition government led by Benyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister-designate and Likud leader.

The move provides the parliamentary majority necessary for government, which will include the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister-designate, and the orthodox Jewish Shas party.

Ehud Barak, the Labor leader, says that his party will provide balance to a right-wing government, while others argue that Labor itself is moving to the right.

Al Jazeera spoke to three political analysts to get their view on the new coalition and the prospects for the region.

James Marlow, independent political analyst, in Jerusalem

“The Labor party are really tearing themselves apart right now. I saw some broadcasts earlier and they really had some harsh things to say against each other. This is usual stuff for the Labor party conference, but tonight went a little bit further. Nevertheless, Barak has got exactly what he wants.

“About seven or eight members of the Knesset [the Israeli parliament] have said they will not co-operate with Ehud Barak – does that mean he is only taking seven seats or is he taking all 13 [parliamentary seats Labor won in the elections]?

“Labor has been given five ministries, which is quite a lot for a party that has 13 seats, which they may not even bring into the party.

“Netanyahu has said that this is the most dangerous time in Israel’s modern history, since the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. They are facing battles from Hizbollah [in Lebanon], from Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, and of course Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [Iran’s president]. If the government stays for its full four years, very tough decisions are going to have to be made on the situation with Iran.”

Ghassan el-Khatib, Palestinian political analyst, in Ramallah

“Since the results of the last Israeli elections were declared, the Palestinians concluded that Israel as a state and in its public opinion has shifted dramatically further to the right. And that was not good at all as far as the peace process is concerned and as far as future relations with Israel is concerned.

“The addition of the Labor party to this right-wing government is not going to make any significant difference in this regard. First, because the Labor party is a very small and tiny minority within this government. And second, because Barak himself is a politician with proven right-wing tendencies, especially as far as the peace process is concerned.

“First, he was active in approving further orders to expand illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. Second, he was instrumental in the last, unnecessary aggressive war against the Palestinians in Gaza [in 2009].

“When he was prime minister in previous government he also failed in promoting the peace process and allowing progress to the peace process.

“Benyamin Netanyahu is going to further continue in the expansion of the Israeli Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Netanyahu will continue the attitude of refusing the principle of a Palestinian state and consequently will be preventing the resumption of any meaningful political process.

“I see that the next Israeli government is going to take the relations with the Palestinians towards more and more tension. The little chances of peace between the two sides are going to be reduced probably to zero.

“This dramatic and alarming situation will require stronger attention by the international community, especially the United States, otherwise dramatic deterioration might be expected.”

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera senior political analyst, in Doha

“Since the elections there is a sense among the Palestinians, but also among the Arabs in general, that Israel has significantly moved to the right.

“If you look at the number of parliament members that are within the right spectrum you come up to about 90 out of 120, which means around three quarters of the Israeli representatives.

“What happened [at the Labor conference] is that the leader that is most on the right, so much on the right that within Labor itself they call him the neo-fascist in Israel – Avigdor Lieberman – he has been baptised today by the very traditional Zionist movement called the Labor party, that’s going to enter into coalition with him.

“Lieberman was voted in by a number of Russians, recent immigrants into Israel, who feel left out and the best way to bring them into the process was to hate the Palestinian Arabs of Israel. So there is that racist approach in his programme.

“But now he is incorporated into a coalition government where Labor sits, and that for many in Labor – maybe more than one third – is considered a betrayal of Labor Zionism and that is again a testimony that the Israeli electorate is moving to the right.

“And the leader of the neo-fascist party in Israel is now a credible, legitimate member of the leadership in Israel.”

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