Netanyahu may face a choice between a truce and the survival of his government

For months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has refused to provide a timeline for ending the war against Hamas in Gaza, a reticence that his critics see as a political tactic. But he was put in a difficult position before President Biden’s announcement outline a truce proposal.

Mr. Netanyahu, a conservative, has long had to contend with personal, political and national interests. Now he appears to be facing a difficult choice between the survival of his hard-line, hawkish government and repatriating hostages held in Gaza while putting himself and Israel at risk. into a new course away from increasing international development. Isolation.

The prime minister’s critics describe him as indecisive and say there are two Netanyahus. One, they said, operated pragmatically in the small war cabinet he had formed with some moderate opponents, to give it public legitimacy. The other is effectively being held hostage by far-right members of his ruling coalition, who oppose any concessions to Hamas and who ensure his political survival. .

On Friday, Mr. Biden outlined the broad terms he said were offered by Israel to U.S., Qatari and Egyptian mediators, who are pushing for a deal to halt the fighting and resolve the issue. hostage release in Gaza. Israeli officials confirmed that the terms were consistent with a ceasefire proposal that had been approved by Israel’s war cabinet but had not been presented to the Israeli public.

Analysts say that now is a difficult time for Bibi, because the prime minister is popular.

Mr. Biden “took Mr. Netanyahu out of his haze and presented Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal himself,” Ben Caspit, a biographer and longtime critic of the prime minister, wrote in the daily. Hebrew Maariv on Sunday. “Then he asked a simple question: Does Bibi support Netanyahu’s proposal? Yes or no. No nonsense and hot atmosphere.

The leaders of the two far-right parties in the coalition – Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister – have pledged to overthrow Netanyahu’s government if the prime minister follows through. Mr. Biden’s outlined agreement before Hamas is completely destroyed. Some hard-line members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party said they would join them.

At the same time, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, two former military commanders who joined the emergency government during the war, threatened to withdraw support from their moderate National Unity party before the 8th. June if Mr. Netanyahu does not appear. with a clear path ahead. And opposition parties have start organizing to try to overthrow the government.

Proposed ceasefire includes three stages. Under the plan, groups of hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, the temporary ceasefire would become permanent and an internationally backed effort would be launched. deployed to rebuild Gaza.

More than 100 hostages were released under a more limited deal last November. An estimated 125 people are still being held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, although dozens are believed to be dead.

Israelis must analyze two statements after Mr. Biden’s speech that Mr. Netanyahu’s office made – unusually – on the Sabbath. The statements neither strongly supported the proposal nor denied that it had been presented to the mediators by Israel. Conditional and open to interpretation, they appear designed to leave Netanyahu’s options open.

The first statement said that Netanyahu had authorized Israel’s negotiating team to come up with a proposal that would release the hostages and also “allow Israel to continue the war until all of its objectives are achieved, including the destruction of the army and government of Hamas.” ability.”

The second reiterated those conditions for ending the war and added: “The notion that Israel would agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are met is unfounded.”

Notably absent from Mr. Netanyahu, however, was the oft-proclaimed goal of “total victory” over Hamas in Gaza — a slogan that Mr. Biden on Friday dismissed as a Vague goals mean indefinite war.

While some of Netanyahu’s most loyal supporters have worn blue baseball caps emblazoned with the “Total Victory” logo, statements from the prime minister’s office over the weekend appeared to be tailored to consistent with the war goals set by Israel. military and defense establishments as well as Mr. Biden’s.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reaffirmed that “in any process to end this war, we will not accept the rule of Hamas.” He said Israel would “isolate areas” in Gaza, remove Hamas members from them and “introduce forces to help form an alternative government” without specifying who those forces might be .

Mr. Netanyahu’s opponents have accused him of prolonging the war to prevent an election and a public reckoning with Israel’s intelligence and policy failures that led to the devastating attack by Hamas on Sunday. October 7 targets Israel. That attack triggered Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, and widespread death and destruction followed.

But now everything hangs in the balance for Netanyahu, who is at a crossroads both politically and strategically.

Since forming his current government – ​​the most right-wing and religiously conservative government in Israel’s history – 17 months ago, Netanyahu has had an increasingly challenging relationship with Mr. Biden. And while the top four leaders of the Congress officially invited he will speak at a joint session of Congress on Friday, they have not yet set a date.

The bipartisan unity masked a bitter behind-the-scenes debate over hosting the prime minister, given deep political divisions in the United States over Israel’s prosecution of the war in Gaza.

Mr. Biden presented the ceasefire not only as a way to stop the bloodshed in Gaza but also as a path to a larger bargain in the Middle East that could make Israel more integrated into the region and includes a “potentially historic normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia.” Arabic.” Mr. Biden said Israel “can be part of a regional security network to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

Mr. Biden acknowledged that some parts of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition would not agree to the proposal and would rather continue fighting for years and occupy Gaza. He called on Israeli leaders to “stand behind this agreement, regardless of any pressure that comes.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Sunday that he would give Netanyahu and the government full support for a deal to bring the hostages home. Although the president’s role is largely ceremonial and he does not have executive powers that could help Netanyahu if his government collapses, his voice is seen as unifying, reflecting the national consensus.

After Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued statements on the ceasefire proposal, John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, sought to dispel any ambiguity about the origin. “This is an Israeli proposal,” he said on ABC News on Sunday. “We expect that if Hamas agrees to the proposal, as has been conveyed to them – an Israeli proposal – then Israel will agree.”

However, based on past experience, some Israeli analysts remain skeptical about Netanyahu’s willingness to abandon his far-right coalition partners. That will require “a new Netanyahu,” said Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“Whenever he had the choice to do good for his country or for his extremist fanatics, or even for his own party, he always went with those people,” Professor Hazan said. his extreme fanaticism”. He said Netanyahu has also learned to say “Yes, but…” to the Americans, then “wait for Hamas to say ‘No’ and drag it out as long as possible.”

For its part, Hamas, said in a statement on Friday that it viewed Mr. Biden’s speech “positively” and expressed its readiness to deal “in a constructive way” with any proposal based on on a permanent ceasefire and other provisions he outlined.

Professor Hazan said that with America’s political schedule, Netanyahu only needs to engage in “survival politics” until Labor Day. late summer, after which the administration will focus on the presidential election in November.

“Is Netanyahu ready to turn 180 degrees and do what is beneficial for the country?” Professor Hazan said. “Now everyone is worried about this. Don’t hold your breath,” he warned. “President Biden’s speech does not mean we have a new Netanyahu.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting Rehoboth Beach, Delaware


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