Nasser Abu Bakr, AFP
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new rightwing religious ‘government of war’ is a blow to an already stagnating peace process, Palestinians have said, vowing to fight it on the international stage.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation blasted Israel’s ‘extremist’ cabinet, after Netanyahu announced a coalition government that gave him a slim parliamentary majority and included ministers who oppose the internationally-sanctioned two-state solution.
‘This is a colonial settler cabinet, no doubt about that,’ senior official Nabil Shaath said on Thursday.
‘It’s a cabinet that includes all of those people who want to maintain’ Israeli occupation.
Netanyahu’s new government, which he formed at the 11th hour, several weeks after winning his third straight term in office, includes ministers intent on expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, an issue that has derailed round upon round of US-brokered peace talks.
As Netanyahu formed his government, Israel approved the construction of 900 new settler homes in a controversial east Jerusalem neighbourhood.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said before the March 17 election that he was willing to enter talks with whoever was reelected.
But Palestinian officials bristled at the cabinet line-up that emerged on Wednesday night.
‘The face of a new form of racist, discriminatory Israel has been revealed,’ chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement.
‘Netanyahu is vehemently leading the charge to bury the two-state solution.
‘The presence of the extremist (Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked), of the ultra-Orthodox and of settlers in the government is proof that it’s a government of war, and against peace and stability.’
Shaked last year likened Palestinians to ‘snakes’ in a post later removed from her Facebook page but widely reported on by the Israeli media, and said all Palestinians, including mothers of attackers, should be eliminated.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip and with which Israel fought a devastating 50-day war last summer, said the new cabinet line-up ‘reflects the growing racism among Israelis’.
Officials in the West Bank were careful, however, not to slam the door shut on any possible talks, but vowed to keep up pressure on Israel in the international arena.
The Palestinians demand that any peace deal include Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory, recognition of east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees who fled Israel after the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.
Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem its eternal, indivisible capital, and Netanyahu vowed during his election campaign to step up settlement building in Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.