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Jerusalem March was Netanyahu’s Land Mine for Bennett’s Government

The original goal of the second Flag March through Jerusalem, which was supposed to have taken place last week, was to replay the events of May 10 – inflaming tempers in the capital and setting off a chain reaction in the Gaza Strip – and thereby sabotage the efforts to form a government without Benjamin Netanyahu.

But when Netanyahu, then still the prime minister, realized that the plan wouldn’t work and that the defense establishment opposed holding the march along its original route,

Plan B was launched. The march was postponed until this Tuesday, thereby planting a land mine in the path of the new government that was formed despite Netanyahu’s best efforts.

The march took place amid heavy police security and efforts to separate Jews and Palestinians (which, as usual, came at the Palestinians’ expense), but without the masses of religious teenagers who usually attend. Only hard-core participants came – a smaller group of far-right activists and teenagers, some of whom created friction with East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents.

As expected, tensions flared near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, and this in turn sparked incidents elsewhere in East Jerusalem.

Gaza’s Hamas government made threats over the past few days, but in vaguer language than it used a little over a month ago, before it fired rockets at Jerusalem. Hamas has an interest in maintaining the balance of deterrence against Israel that served it so well during the last round of fighting, when it positioned itself as Jerusalem’s defender, capable of responding militarily on the Palestinians’ behalf to Israeli moves in the city.

The organization also has reasons of its own to be mad at Israel, which has delayed the monthly infusion of cash from Qatar and kept its border crossings with Gaza partially closed. Israel wants to condition any further easing on progress in negotiations to return its MIAs and captives from Gaza.

Nevertheless, another Israeli operation in Gaza doesn’t seem like it would serve Hamas’ interests right now. Moreover, Egyptian intelligence has put heavy pressure on Hamas leaders to avoid escalation.

Instead of rockets, Palestinians launched incendiary balloons from Gaza at fields near the border, which caused Israel to retaliate overnight by launching airstrikes at Hamas targets in the Strip.

Hamas also organized a small demonstration near the border and prepared its night squads to instigate provocations there. The organization may also consider going even farther by launching a few rockets at southern Israel, as those can always be blamed on a rebel Palestinian faction.

But even the current level of violence poses a dilemma for the new government, because after last month’s military operation ended, the outgoing government and defense officials promised that Israel would seek to establish a new balance of deterrence with Gaza.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who just took office this week, can’t afford to show restraint against Hamas violence when Netanyahu, now opposition leader, is attacking him from the right.

Thus, the army will have to recommend a response strong enough to be suitable but not so strong that it sparks renewed fighting.

Netanyahu – who, incredibly, is still using the prime minister’s official residence for photographed meetings with visitors from abroad – has already shown us what his first months in the opposition will look like.

At least until the new government has stabilized and passed the 2021 budget, he plans to challenge it ceaselessly and nourish a constant feeling of violence in the air.

It’s reminiscent of his behavior after the Oslo Accords were signed, except that this time, there have been no serious terror attacks. His rhetoric is already aggressive, his social media disciples are hysterical, and together they create a growing risk of violence.

Coping with these challenges will require close coordination among Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as well as close consultation with defense officials. And the next test is already waiting – evacuating the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, which settlers built last month near the Tapuah Junction.

First, Gantz will let Bennett try to arrange a peaceful evacuation. But if that doesn’t work, the eviction will be in Gantz’s court.

The defense establishment thinks a quick eviction is necessary for three reasons.

First, the land’s legal status is unclear (the army initially said it was privately owned by Palestinians, but is now investigating further).

Second, protecting an outpost deliberately located amid several Palestinian villages isn’t easy.

And third, defense officials fear establishing a precedent that permanent settlements can be built in the West Bank during military operations in Gaza.

Source: Amos Harel – HAARETZ