Analysis |

Clash Over Jerusalem March May Create post-Netanyahu Government's First Crisis

The right-wing prime minister-designate Bennett would have a hard time explaining to his voters why he was working to stop the march, which security officials have warned against holding

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
People march with Israeli flags in Jerusalem before the annual Flag March was postponed, last month.
People march with Israeli flags in Jerusalem before the annual Flag March was postponed, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed in his mission to get approval for the Flag March that had been scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on Thursday. The security cabinet instead postponed the event to next Tuesday, two days after the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government is set to be sworn in. According to the security cabinet communiqué, the march will be approved, “subject to a route that will be agreed upon between the police and the march organizers.” This official wording, which makes the march subject to police agreement, is likely to ultimately lead to its cancellation, as the police commissioner objects to holding it at this time.

The bloc of parties set to form the new coalition assumed that the insistence by Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana on holding the event on Thursday was aimed at stirring up anger among Palestinians, leading to violent protests and causing the coalition to implode before it was sworn in. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had ruled Monday that Netanyahu could not choose the forum that would decide the route of the march, but had to convene the security cabinet, after security officials opposed the march, warning of its explosive potential.

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The official statement at the end of the discussion stated that “Netanyahu saw the importance of reaching a broad agreement on the march and therefore took a break at the security cabinet meeting and approached Defense Minister Benny Gantz to reach an agreement.”

According to one participant in the discussion, Netanyahu supported postponing the event in order to “dispel the concern that the discussion has a motive connected to the government swearing-in on Sunday.” But according to other sources, Netanyahu understood that the cabinet would not accept his proposal anyway due to opposition from the Kahol Lavan bloc. “Had he lost the vote on the eve of his presumed retirement, he would look like a pyromaniac trying to inflame the region, contrary to the recommendations of the police, the military and the Shin Bet,” a source involved in the discussion said.

Netanyahu is well aware of the international sensitivity surrounding the Jerusalem issue. The United States and European countries have repeatedly warned in recent weeks, during and after the latest military operation in Gaza, against any “Israeli provocation” in East Jerusalem. In recent days, following the publicity surrounding the march, requests for clarifications have been received from various countries. Holding the event could have caused a significant diplomatic crisis and made it difficult to continue the talks seeking to maintain calm on the Gaza front.

Instead of approving the march on its original date, Netanyahu made his first decision as opposition leader on Tuesday night: He rolled the hot potato into the hands of prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett. This move may become the first crisis of the fragile unity government: Bennett, who is right-wing, has made it clear that his government would have a “soft right” character and would have a hard time explaining to his voters why he was working to thwart the march.

But in practice, it became clear Tuesday that the new government is already functioning: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who will be keeping his post, acted on behalf of the future coalition when he blocked the march from taking place and emptied the security cabinet’s decision of meaning; it was Gantz who insisted on including coordination with the police in the final decision. Kahol Lavan sources said that the decision, as worded, would remove the parade from the agenda and allow Bennett a quieter entry into office.

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