Israel's new leader faces first test as nationalist march threatens to renew fighting with Hamas

The new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett waves a photo with the new government ministers in the President's residence in Jerusalem - Shutterstock / Shutterstock
Naftali Bennet faces his first major test as Israeli Prime Minister just hours after taking office, as a nationalist march through Jerusalem is due to take place on Tuesday that risks a return to widespread violence.
The right-wing leading the ousting of Benjamin Netanyahu has been warned that Hamas will use the march as a pretext for firing rockets at Israel.
The march was scheduled to take place on May 10, Jerusalem Day, a holiday for nationalist parades in Israel, but was postponed when the conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out in Gaza.
It was eventually postponed until Tuesday by the Netanyahu administration, in a move that put the matter in the hands of Mr Bennett.
Palestinians regard the march, organized by pro-settlement groups, as a deliberate provocation, while Israel protests that it is only commemorating the capture of Jerusalem in 1967.
Hamas in Gaza is closely monitoring preparations for the march and has warned that if it continues, it will launch an attack on Israel.
The Islamist group reportedly renewed these threats on Monday, warning that if the march were to take place, a response "no different than last month" will be triggered, referring to Hamas' shooting down of Jerusalem.
File image of the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting a Hamas missile during the Gaza conflict in May 2021 - Reuters / Amir Cohen
On Monday, Israel's new security minister, Omer Bar-Lev, said the government had given permission for the march and was seeking advice from the police to avoid clashes.
"In a democracy, it is legal and important to demonstrate within the limits of the law," said Barlev. "We will conduct a police assessment of the events and act according to the recommendations of the police."
The march is supposed to pass through Palestinian quarters in the old city of Jerusalem, but Israeli police have insisted it not pass through the Damascus Gate, a hotspot for violence last month.
The Israeli military has reportedly increased its presence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in anticipation of clashes on Tuesday.
"At the same time, air defense readiness is increasing in the face of threats from Hamas to respond to the march in Jerusalem," an Israeli security source told Israeli news website Walla.
Security analysts say Hamas may resort to sending incendiary balloons across the border into Israel instead of firing missiles, as the latter would likely provoke a military response from Israel.
On Monday, Mr. Bennett held a brief delivery ceremony with Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem that lasted only 30 minutes.
Mr Netanyahu has vowed to return to power - AFP
It came after Mr Netanyahu angrily condemned the new government as "dangerous" when he promised to overthrow the coalition in his new role as opposition leader.
Netanyahu's former coalition partner, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, has also said it is praying for the impending collapse of the government.
"All curses that appear in the Torah apply to the government," said the party's former housing minister, Yaakov Litzman.
But the new administration was welcomed warmly by President Joe Biden, who telephoned Mr. Bennett to congratulate Mr. Bennett just hours after his election as Prime Minister. "President Biden emphasized his unwavering support for decades for US-Israel relations and his unwavering commitment to Israel's security," said a US government spokesman.
"The leaders agreed that they and their teams would consult closely on all matters relating to regional security, including Iran."
Yair Lapid, the centrist leader who will step down from Mr Bennett as Prime Minister in two years' time, has announced that it will rebuild relations with Mr Biden's Democratic Party, which has suffered under Mr Netanyahu's rule.
"Relations with the Democratic Party in the United States have been negligent and dangerous," he said. "We have to change the way we work with them."

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