As Israel prepares for a visit by US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has named Moshe Yaalon, a right-wing former armed forces chief, as his defence minister.
Yaalon – who favours defence before diplomacy – shares Netanyahu’s reluctance to give up the occupied West Bank and make way for a Palestinian state.
Presenting his cabinet, the prime minister said Yaalon’s experience was needed to tackle the challenges in a turbulent Middle East.
However, Yaalon is reportedly more cautious than Netanyahu about any attack against Iran to curb its nuclear programme.
That topic – along with the Middle East peace effort – will be high on the agenda during US President Obama’s visit to the country where he is not popular. That starts on Wednesday.
Obama will be on a listening tour of Jerusalem and – briefly – to Ramallah in the West Bank, with the White House playing down hopes of progress.
The right-wing makeup of the new Israeli government, which followed weeks of difficult negotiations pleased Jewish settlers.
Settlement resident Shani Taragn said: “I think that with those that are now in charge I think that there is a tremendous future for building in the settlements. I think that the government now represents the people’s desires to continue building here, recognising the necessity of building in the area of Judea and Samaria.”
But in Gaza Dr. Salah Bardaweel, Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council member, lamented: “If the previous government was considered a fundamentalist one, then this one is even more fundamentalist with the addition of these two parties (Yesh Atid and Jewish House). So I don’t think with this government there is a political horizon or even a humane one. The situation will be even worse in the future.”
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat tried to be upbeat. He noted the cabinet includes – as justice minister – Tzipi Livni who is expected to put strong pressure on Netanyahu to take a softer line toward the Palestinians.
Erekat said the Palestinians would be happy talking to Livni, and urged the new government to work towards a two-state solution: “The formation of the new Israeli government is a domestic Israeli matter. We hope that this Israeli government will announce its acceptance of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders. We need to hear this sentence from them.”
Other Palestinians preferred to send Obama the message that Israel is an oppressor, pointing out they will not even allow 3G mobile access
They erected posters in Ramallah reading: “President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah, you won’t have mobile access to Internet. We have no 3G in Palestine!”