The Palestinian conflict flared overnight as the Israeli military carried out airstrikes in Gaza in response to the launch of incendiary balloons by Hamas, the militant group that controls the region, that sparked as many as 25 fires near the border. Hamas said the balloons were in response to the march of at least hundreds of Israeli ultra-nationalists in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday. The procession, twice delayed, commemorating Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967 is considered a provocation by Palestinians. Marchers carried Israeli flags; some chanted, “Death to Arabs!” and “May your village burn.” Israeli police redirected the march away from the Muslim quarter of the city and fired rubber bullets at Palestinians, some throwing stones, trying to disrupt the march.
The back and forth threatens to undo a fragile cease-fire that has been in place since May 21 following 11 days of fighting, killing more than 250 people in Gaza and 13 people in Israel. In the meantime, however, the political landscape in Israel has shifted dramatically with new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett assuming control, ending former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule. The outbreak of fighting is an early test for Bennett’s 2-day-old coalition government, which came to power on the promise of moving on, focussing on practical socioeconomic challenges facing the country rather than acting out old provocations and replaying old conflicts over and over again.
The ascension of the Bennett-led coalition scrambled traditional right-wing political alliances in the country by including the left wing and an Arab party in the coalition government. That has suddenly turned many ultra-conservative settlers, like the organizers of Tuesday’s march, against Bennett, a former ally and hard-liner on a host of Palestinian issues. Despite sitting to Netanyahu’s ideological right and heading a party that only won seven seats in the 120-member Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, Bennett is now the unlikely leader of a “unity” government holding a single-seat majority. After a four-year cycle that saw Israel hold four elections, each resulting in failed attempts at forming a lasting government, centrist party leader Yair Lapid brokered the new coalition. As part of the deal, the far-right Bennett will hold the office of prime minister for two years before handing over the reins to Yair Lapid, who enjoys much broader electoral support and parliamentary representation.
Some of the orthodox Israeli marchers carried signs that read “Bennett is a liar” in response to his new political alignment. “Before the march, Mr. Bennett’s key Arab coalition partner, Mansour Abbas, warned that the protest by Israeli nationalists in Jerusalem could trigger a new spiral of violence like the one that rattled Israel last month,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “ ‘This is an attempt to set the region on fire for political purposes,’ said Mr. Abbas, leader of Ra’am, the first independent Arab Islamist party to join an Israeli coalition government.”