The Palestinians do not believe that an Israeli government headed by Yamina head Naftali Bennett will advance the peace process with Israel because of his far-right political positions, but his hi-tech background as a software entrepreneur could open opportunities for economic cooperation between the two sides, a Palestinian official said on Thursday.
“The man has proven that he is more right-wing than [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” the official said referring to Bennett. “Therefore, we do not expect someone who supports annexation and settlement expansion to make any progress on the political track.”
Asked if he thought there was hope for boosting economic ties between the Palestinians and Israel under a Bennett government, the official replied: “Absolutely. It seems the man has been very successful in his business career and has adopted a liberal approach on economic issues. We are ready to work with any Israeli leader who will help us strengthen our economy. But Bennett and other Israelis need to understand that the Palestinian issue is not just about the economy or improving the living conditions of people.”
A Palestinian businessman from Ramallah said that the Palestinians would “welcome” any plans for boosting the Palestinian economy, “even if they come from someone like Bennett, who is an extremist when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a politician, Bennett is bad for the Palestinians. But if he wants to work with us on economic issues, we say ahlan wa sahlan (welcome).”
Palestinian Authority officials refused to publicly comment on the political drama in Israel and the prospects of Bennett heading the new government.
In private, however, some said they would be “more than happy” to see an end to the Netanyahu era.
The officials said that the PA was ready to deal with any Israeli government that believes in the two-state solution and the implementation of all United Nations resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“The Palestinian Authority is closely following the political developments in Israel,” said one official. “We are confident that the departure of Netanyahu and his extremist right-wing government will be good not only for the Palestinians, but for the Israelis as well.”
Another Palestinian official said that the chances of reviving the stalled peace negotiations with Israel would be much higher once Netanyahu is out of office.
“We are currently working with the Biden administration, the European Union, Egypt and Jordan to resume the political process” with Israel, the official said. “There is hope that these efforts will be successful under a new Israeli government. There is no real difference between Bennett and Netanyahu, but some elements of the new coalition are committed to the peace process.”
Palestinian political analysts, meanwhile, said that they did not expect “real changes” toward the Palestinian issue under a Bennett-led government.
“Bennett is dreaming of annexing parts of the West Bank and he is opposed to a Palestinian state,” said political analyst Eyad al-Ahmed. “Those who think that the new government in Israel will change Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are deluding themselves.”
Ahmed said he and other analysts do not share the view that Bennett could promote economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. “You can’t promote economic cooperation when you hold hostile views toward the Palestinians,” he remarked.
Sufian Abu Zaida, a senior official with the ruling Fatah faction and former PA prisoners affairs minister, said that the new government will avoid making decisions related to the conflict with the Palestinians and instead “focus on fixing what Netanyahu destroyed internally.”
Hamas officials said that the Palestinians are not banking on any government in Israel.
“Our Palestinian people do not count on any Israeli government,” said Hamas official Ezzat al-Risheq. “We only rely on our resistance and unity to extract our rights.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that his group does not differentiate between Israeli politicians.
“They are all the product of a Zionist project,” Barhoum said. “The new government will not change the nature of the conflict with the occupier.”
Meanwhile, several Palestinians and Arabs denounced Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party, for signing an agreement to support the new coalition.
Arabs from the Gulf states described Abbas as the “head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Israel,” and accused him of hypocrisy for supporting the new coalition. Palestinians described the agreement Abbas reached with the coalition as “shameful.”
“In the Israeli political circus, there is a clown named Mansour Abbas,” commented Palestinian political analyst Yousef Zaatreh. “He leads a group called the Islamic Movement. This is far from the reality. In fact, it is the remnants of the movement headed by Sheikh Raed Salah. Mansour Abbas is worse than [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas.”