Reshaping Palestine: Inside Israel's new 'annexation cabinet'
The state-run Israeli Kan-Reshet Bet radio station reported that the cabinet's agenda will include dealing with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Iran - which Netanyahu says is an existential threat - international legal moves against Israel (stemming from the occupation) and "the question of sovereignty" in the occupied West Bank.
Jordan has issued a stern warning to Israel against annexation of territory, most of which is along its own border with the West Bank. Analysts are divided over whether the largest cabinet in Israeli history will proceed with the potentially explosive step, which would violate the UN charter's ban on acquiring territory by force.
But it appears to have a green light from the US administration of Donald Trump.
Seen through the eyes of the predominantly Palestinian Joint List grouping, which scored a stunning fifteen seats in the March election and comprises the second largest opposition party, both Netanyahu and Gantz are anti-Palestinian racists.
|Analysts are divided over whether the largest cabinet in Israeli history will proceed with the potentially explosive step of annexation
"Our main discussion is that the current parties are racist," Sami Abu Shehadeh, a Joint List MP, told The New Arab. "We're trying to promote our political agenda, which is to make Israel a normal democracy, a state of all its citizens."
"There is a wide racist consensus against the Arab population," Abu Shehadeh added, noting that Gantz could have formed a coalition with the Joint List's backing but chose Netanyahu instead.
He predicts the government will probably remain intact at least for its first two years. "I don't think Gantz is as weak as everyone is describing him. He's racist but he is not so weak. I think this government can be stable for at least its first half because Netanyahu wants to continue being prime minister."
|Read more: The day after annexation: Israel, Palestine and the
Of the possible Jordan Valley annexation in the West Bank, which could take place in July, Abu Shehadeh said: "We are against any widening of the occupation and finishing the Palestinian dream."
But he said it is not a foregone conclusion. "Annexation depends also on what the Palestinians and Jordanians do."
Within Israel, much discussion has focused on the sheer size of the cabinet and the expectation that it would waste vast sums of taxpayer money at a time of severe economic crisis caused by Covid-19. The unemployment rate now stands at twenty two percent.
All told, there are 36 ministers and fifteen deputy ministers, something that reflects Netanyahu's preference for pampering loyalists over having a streamlined government.
"I expect quite a lot of dissent from the public about the size of the government," predicted political scientist Eran Vigoda-Gadot, dean of the social science faculty at the University of Haifa.
Terming the size "outrageous" he added "there is a discrepancy between the rough economic situation of families and the waste of public money. People feel the government is not sensitive enough to the weaker segments of society."
|Netanyahu feels this is a time in history when Trump is still in power, he feels it's a window of opportunity. He wants to go down in history as the one who started annexation
The cabinet is a result of an alliance between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) party. Gantz had vowed during election campaigns to oust Netanyahu but went back on his promise to the dismay of many of his voters.
According to the coalition agreement, Gantz, a lacklustre former army chief of staff, will serve as defence minister under Netanyahu for two years and then become prime minister, with Netanyahu remaining as his deputy.
Netanyahu goes on trial next week for four counts of corruption, including allegedly conspiring to financially benefit a newspaper in exchange for favourable coverage. The court could decide that he is unfit to be prime minister, which would force him out and trigger new elections.
|Read more: Remembering 72 years of the Nakba in the shadow of
Likud party central committee member Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the US, said application of Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley would depend on US approval. He said the strategic nature of the Jordan Valley means it must remain under Israeli control, but he declined to specify whether or not he favours formal annexation.
Shoval did not back Netanyahu on the size of the new cabinet. "Its main task is how to cope with corona[virus] and the impact of corona[virus] on the economic sphere, so forming this government (with Blue and White) was inevitable. But all in all, such a big government is not good. Its functions are so split up it is not clear who is responsible for what."
Vigoda-Gadot, the University of Haifa political scientist, predicts that the new cabinet will move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
"I think Netanyahu feels this is a time in history when Trump is still in power, he feels it's a window of opportunity. I think there will be some move towards limited annexation, maybe only in the Jordan Valley. I think Netanyahu wants to go down in history as the one who started annexation."
Ben Lynfield is a journalist currently based in Jerusalem.