The Recent Hamas-Israeli Military Confrontation: Understanding Domestic, Regional Contexts and Implications

The recent military hostilities between Gaza-based Hamas and Israel were ignited by a confrontation between Muslim worshippers and extremist Jewish nationalist religious groups in Jerusalem and eviction of Palestinian families by an Israeli court from Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Analysts have pointed out the intra-Israeli and intra-Palestinian divisions and tensions as the background against which the recent confrontation took place.

Political Stalemate on Both Sides

In the first week of May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party and allies emerged as the largest group with 50 seats in the country’s fourth election in two years, failed the deadline to put together a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. Subsequently, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gave the leader of the centrist, secular opposition Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party of Yair Lapid a 28-day mandate to form a unity government.[i] What contributed to Netanyahu’s failure in forming a ‘right wing’ government was the refusal of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance to join a coalition supported by Arab Islamist the United Arab List (known by its Hebrew acronym Ra’am). Ra’am with its four seats has emerged as potential kingmaker, being courted by both Netanyahu’s Likud and the so-called ‘change bloc’ parties opposing Netanyahu.[ii] Given the influence of Arab parties in determining the fate of the government, extremist Jewish groups resorted to putting pressure on the vote base of these parties.

In the wake of the civil unrest between Israel’s Jews and the Arab population in mixed cities and conflict with Hamas, Netanyahu’s opponents’ plans to make a ‘government of change’ were derailed and pressure was mounted for forming a ‘rightwing’ government. Naftally Bennett, whose Yamina (Hebrew of “rightwards”) party has six seats and had refused to join hands with Netanyahu, was forced to suspend talks with Lapid.[iii] Labeled ultra-nationalist, Bennett’s party shares Likud’s agenda of supporting right of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and openly rejects the notion of two-state to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Still, Bennett, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2008 when the pair fell out, has been keen to form a unity government that will unseat Netanyahu and end political stalemate.