Israel’s Frail New Coalition Gets a Quick First Test

Less than a day after taking over from Benjamin Netanyahu, the new government was set to decide whether to postpone a far-right march that risks provoking Hamas.,

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s fragile new coalition government faced a first test of its unity on Monday after the Palestinian militant group Hamas vowed to respond if a far-right march through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem on Tuesday was allowed to go ahead.

The march is a rescheduled version of a procession originally planned for last month that was among the reasons the group cited for firing rockets toward Jerusalem on May 10, setting off an 11-day air war between Hamas and Israel.

The planned march posed an unwelcome dilemma for the coalition barely 12 hours after it succeeded the administration of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader. The government could either cancel or reroute the march, and risk the wrath of its right-wing members, who would consider that a capitulation to terrorists — or stick to the plan, angering its leftist and Islamist factions, while also raising the specter of either renewed rocket fire or confrontations between Palestinians and Jewish marchers.

The freighted choices underscored the frailties of the new coalition, which replaced Mr. Netanyahu’s government Sunday night in a confidence vote in Parliament that passed by just a single vote — 60 votes to 59, with one abstention. The coalition is an unlikely alliance of the hard right, the far left and the center, as well as — for the first time in Israeli history — an independent Arab party, all of whom share little common ground beyond a desire to keep Mr. Netanyahu out of office.

To avoid unnecessary rifts, the coalition leaders — Naftali Bennett, the new hard-right prime minister, and Yair Lapid, his centrist deputy — have pledged to focus on rebuilding the economy and improving infrastructure, and to steer clear of divisive questions like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Bennett is a former settler leader who opposes Palestinian sovereignty and supports settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. Members of his unlikely new government, however, seek an end to the Israeli occupation and support a Palestinian state.

The dilemma faced by the Bennett government on Monday morning showed how difficult these irreconcilable differences will be to ignore, even with the best of intentions. Later this month, further tensions are expected over pending decisions about whether to close a new unauthorized settlement in the West Bank, and whether to restore the delivery of Qatari financial aid to Gaza, a process suspended during the recent conflict.

ImageA flags march that was re-routed in Jerusalem in May.
A flags march that was re-routed in Jerusalem in May.Credit…Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

The office of the new public security minister, Omer Bar-Lev, said the minister would decide later Monday about whether to refer the decision about the procession, which is known as a “flags march” and involves far-right Jews walking provocatively through Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, to a group of senior cabinet ministers. Those ministers would then be briefed by intelligence officials before making a final call.

Hamas threatened violence if the march went ahead. “The so-called flags march that is slated to be carried out tomorrow by groups of settlers will be tantamount to setting off an explosion in a new battle to defend Jerusalem,” a Hamas spokesman, Abdel Latif al-Qanou, told reporters in Gaza.

“We call on our people in Jerusalem and the occupied interior to mobilize in order to resist the groups of settlers by way of different means and tools,” Mr. al-Qanou added.

Publicly, the new government projected an image of unity Monday morning, as its ministers gathered at the residence of the largely ceremonial president, Reuven Rivlin, for a formal photograph with the head of state. Mr. Bennett was also expected to meet later in the day with Mr. Netanyahu for a formal handover in private.

The government also made its first major move: Benny Gantz, the defense minister, issued a formal call for a commission of inquiry into the stampede at a holy Jewish site on Mt. Meron, northern Israel, in early May, which killed 45 worshipers. Mr. Gantz said it had not been possible to push for such an inquiry under Mr. Netanyahu, whose government depended on the support of ultra-Orthodox politicians opposed to an investigation.

The new administration continued to receive congratulatory messages from foreign governments, including Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates. The messages followed similar expressions of support on Sunday from Germany, Canada, Austria and the European Union, as well as phone calls from President Biden to Mr. Bennett and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to Mr. Lapid.

Mr. Bennett expressed opposition toward American-led efforts to restore a lapsed Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran. But analysts expect the Bennett government will mainly keep its disagreements private and seek greater bipartisan support in the United States for Israel than did Mr. Netanyahu, who grew close to former President Donald J. Trump after developing a fractious relationship with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The Palestinian Authority reacted with a shrug to news of Mr. Bennett’s government, saying that the Israeli approach to Palestinians remained the same from government to government.

“A government was formed in Israel without Netanyahu, yet it is inaccurate to call it a ‘government of change,'” the foreign ministry of the Palestinian Authority, which exerts limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank, said in a statement.

“We don’t consider the new government less worse than its predecessors,” Mohammad Shtayyeh, the authority’s prime minister, said separately.

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting.

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