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Gift of a Poisoned Chalice for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

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Naftali Bennett gives a statement at the Knesset, Sunday.
Naftali Bennett gives a statement at the Knesset, Sunday.Credit: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

After Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin deigned to announce that the new government would be sworn in on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to give it a poisoned chalice in the form of the inner cabinet’s rescheduling of the Flag March in Jerusalem for Tuesday, two days after the swearing-in.

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The Flag March shouldn’t be taking place at all during this tense period, not on a cautious route and certainly not on a provocative one. But in a country run by a gang of pyromaniacs, practical considerations are shoved aside in favor of unnecessary provocations.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman and other senior security officials demonstrated responsibility when they foiled the effort by the Religious Zionism party to hold the Flag March on Thursday, on a route passing through Damascus Gate into the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, which would have reignited the area. But rather than listening to the professionals, Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana ordered Shabtai to come up with alternate routes so that the march could still be held.

Make no mistake: Netanyahu has no substantive dispute with the police commissioner and the Jerusalem commander about the facts. Netanyahu knows perfectly well why Shabtai and Turgeman refused to approve the disruptive route of the Flag March. Every intelligent person, the prime minister all the more so, understands that the march could lead to resumed rocket fire on Israel and another outbreak of riots in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities. But as far as Netanyahu and his cheerleaders are concerned, these are reasons not to cancel the march, but rather to hold it. There’s no other way to look at it: Israel’s prime minister and public security minister, together with Religious Zionism racists Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, are trying to set the region aflame.

Tuesday’s inner cabinet decision, announced with a press release that began with the anodyne remark, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ascribed great importance to reaching a broad agreement on the holding of the march,” must be viewed as a cynical attempt by Netanyahu to undermine the new government in its early days. Netanyahu assumes that Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett, already under heavy attack by ultranationalists, elements, will have difficulty canceling the march. The fact that the new government’s imbroglio will inevitably harm Israelis does not figure into Netanyahu’s considerations. He seeks only to harm those who dared to end his destructive rule.

We must hope that, contrary to Netanyahu’s desperate desires, Bennett and his coalition partners will show genuine leadership and avoid the trap that has been set for them. This will be the first serious test of the change government.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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