nytimes – Far-right march tests new Israeli coalition, amid threats from Hamas

JERUSALEM – Israel’s fragile new coalition government has faced a first test of its unity after allowing far-right Jewish activists to pass through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, angering parts of the country. alliance and arousing threats from the militant group Hamas.

The march is a rescheduled version of an aborted far-right procession originally slated for last month, which the group cited as justifying rocket fire into Jerusalem on May 10, sparking an 11-day air war between Hamas and Israel.

The situation highlighted the weaknesses of the new coalition, which replaced Israel’s longest-serving leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening in a confidence vote in parliament that passed with one voice – 60 to 59 , with one abstention. The bloc is a heavy alliance of the hard right, left and center, as well as, for the first time, an independent Arab party, sharing little common ground beyond a desire to prevent Mr. Netanyahu to return to power.

For the right-wing and many centrist members of the alliance, including Naftali Bennett, the new far-right prime minister, the march is a matter of national pride: a celebration of their right to pass through areas of Jerusalem captured by Israel. during the 1967 war. Arab-Israeli war, which Israel now considers part of its undivided capital. Known as the “March of the Flags,” the event takes place annually and features thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags, but was aborted in May due to rocket fire from Gaza.

One of the last acts of the Netanyahu government was to postpone the march until Tuesday. The move was confirmed on his first day in office by Omer Bar-Lev, the new center-left Minister of Public Safety – to the praise of his new right-wing allies.

“I congratulate the Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev for his decision to organize the flag dance tomorrow”, tweeted Nir Orbach, a far-right coalition member who almost pulled out of the alliance before the vote of confidence. “The flag dance is part of the culture of religious Zionism and takes place regularly. It doesn’t have to be a political dance or a show of governance, it has to be a show of joy. “

But for Arab and left-wing members of the coalition, this is a provocative move. This offends the Palestinians, who do not celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem, which is still considered occupied by much of the world, and who hope that it will one day become the capital of a Palestinian state. Palestinian families living on the route of the march often barricaded their homes and shops in anticipation of abuse and violence from protesters.

Following the decision to authorize the march, the main United Nations envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, warned of rising tensions and called on all parties “to avoid any provocation that could lead to another round of confrontations.”

The US State Department has banned its employees from entering Jerusalem’s Old City, where protesters must pass through Palestinian neighborhoods en route to the Western Wall, a sacred site of Judaism.

Inter-communal violence between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem and across Israel has formed the backdrop to the recent war, and some fear a resurgence.

Mossi Raz, an MP from Meretz, a leftist party that controls three ministries in the new government, compared the march to holding a pride parade in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.

“If we know it’s dangerous, why do we need it? He said Tuesday in a radio interview. “They are interested in provocation.

Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam, an Arab Islamist party within the coalition, said he had not raised the issue with Mr Bennett, and played down the idea of ​​letting it become a wedge between partners of the coalition.

“If we argue over everything, there is no doubt that this coalition will fall apart,” Abbas said in a radio interview on Tuesday. But he nevertheless also called the march a provocation. “I hope it goes without escalation, but Jerusalem is a sensitive city,” he said. “The whole world is watching and reacting to what’s going on there.”

The march is already risking further escalation in fighting with Hamas, which threatened a violent retaliation, while hinting that it might not resort to something as drastic as rocket fire.

“What is certain is that we cannot remain silent in the face of the march of flags, which is deeply provocative and is part of the internal politics of the occupation,” said Mohammad Hamada, spokesperson for the group. activist. “If the occupation indulges in this arrogance, we have several options before us. Armed resistance from Gaza is not the only option. We have the Jerusalem and West Bank fronts, where we can participate in popular resistance. But we don’t rule out armed resistance either.

On Tuesday, fires broke out in southern Israel, which Israeli firefighters attributed to incendiary balloons dropped by militants in Gaza.

Gaza has barely begun to recover from the fighting last month, which killed at least 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, and damaged more than 16,000 homes, 28 medical facilities and water and sewer systems in Gaza, according to the United Nations. Reconstruction has yet to really restart, and Israel and Egypt, which control access to Gaza, are still refusing key financial and material assistance – all factors some analysts say will make Hamas reluctant to provoke Israel. in another round of airstrikes.

But others expect Hamas to want to quickly test the new government. And after trying to establish itself as a symbolic flag bearer for Palestinians in Jerusalem during the May conflict, the Hamas leadership may not want to back down so quickly.

For its part, the new government is under pressure to avoid appearing to capitulate to Hamas.

“Israel cannot be held hostage by a terrorist organization,” Amos Yadlin, the former Israeli military intelligence chief, said in a radio interview on Tuesday. “As far as Hamas is concerned, it is telling Israel what to do in Jerusalem – it has to be shown that it did not win here. “

Adam rasgon and Myra Noveck contributed reports.

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