Home News Netanyahu may face choice between truce and government survival

Netanyahu may face choice between truce and government survival

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For months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to offer a timetable for ending the war against Hamas in Gaza, a silence that critics have viewed as a political ploy. But President Biden’s announcement puts him in a difficult position. Propose a ceasefire.

Netanyahu, a conservative who has long juggled personal, political and national interests, now appears to face a stark choice: Continue with his hardline, hawkish government or bring the Gaza hostages home while setting himself and Israel on a path away from growing international pressure. isolation.

The prime minister’s critics see him as indecisive and say there are two Netanyahus. One, they say, functions pragmatically in a small wartime cabinet formed with some centrist rivals, giving him public legitimacy. The other is effectively held hostage by far-right members of the ruling coalition who oppose any concessions to Hamas and are ensuring his political survival.

On Friday, Biden outlined Israel’s broad conditions for the U.S., Qatari and Egyptian mediators who have been pushing for a deal to suspend fighting and release Gaza hostages. Israeli officials confirmed that the conditions matched a ceasefire proposal approved by the Israeli cabinet but not yet presented to the Israeli public.

Analysts say this is a critical moment for Bibi, the widely known Prime Minister.

Biden “brought Netanyahu out of his equivocation closet and presented Netanyahu’s proposal himself,” Ben Caspit, a biographer and longtime critic of the prime minister, wrote in the Hebrew-language daily Maariv on Sunday. “He then asked a simple question: Does Netanyahu support Netanyahu’s proposal? Yes or no. No nonsense and empty words.”

The leaders of the two far-right parties in the ruling coalition — Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir — have pledged to overthrow Netanyahu’s government if he accepts Biden’s deal before Hamas is completely destroyed. Some hard-line members of Netanyahu’s Likud party have also said they would join them.

Meanwhile, two former military chiefs who joined the emergency government during the war, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, threatened to withdraw their support for the centrist National Unity Party by June 8 if Netanyahu fails to offer a clear path forward. Start organizing Trying to overthrow the government.

Ceasefire proposal Involving three stagesUnder the plan, Israel will release a group of hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, the temporary ceasefire will be turned into a permanent ceasefire, and Gaza reconstruction will be carried out with the support of the international community.

More than 100 hostages were freed under a more limited deal last November. An estimated 125 people remain held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, but dozens are believed dead.

Israelis were left to parse two unusual statements issued by Netanyahu’s office on Shabbat after Biden’s speech. They neither strongly endorsed the proposal nor denied that Israel had presented it to the mediators. The statements were conditional and open to interpretation, seemingly designed to give Netanyahu options.

The first statement said Netanyahu had authorized the Israeli negotiating team to present a proposal that would lead to the release of the hostages while “enabling Israel to continue the war until all of its objectives are achieved, including the destruction of Hamas’ military and ability to govern.”

The second report reiterated the conditions for ending the war, adding: “The idea that Israel would agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are met is unworkable.”

Tellingly, though, Netanyahu’s oft-cited goal of “total victory” over Hamas in Gaza was not achieved — a slogan Biden dismissed on Friday as a vague goal that would imply an open-ended war.

While some of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters have begun wearing blue baseball caps emblazoned with the “Total Victory” logo, the weekend statement from the prime minister’s office appeared carefully crafted to align with the war goals articulated by Israel’s military and defense establishment, as well as Biden.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Galant reiterated that “in any process to end the war, we will not accept Hamas rule.” He said Israel would “isolate Gaza,” clear it of Hamas elements and “send forces to form an alternative government,” but he did not elaborate on who those forces might be.

Netanyahu’s opponents accuse him of dragging out the war to delay elections and avoid a public reckoning with Israeli intelligence and policy failures that led to Hamas’ devastating Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which triggered an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip and caused massive loss of life and destruction.

But now much is up in the air, and Netanyahu finds himself at a political and strategic crossroads.

Since forming his current government 17 months ago – the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history – Mr Netanyahu has Growing tensions and Mr. Biden. Although the four top congressional leaders Formal invitation Congress will schedule him to appear before a joint session of Congress and deliver a speech on Friday, but the specific date has not yet been determined.

The bipartisan unity overshadowed the fierce behind-the-scenes debate over the prime minister’s meeting, as there are deep political divisions in the United States over Israel’s war on Gaza.

Biden said the ceasefire was not only a way to stop the bloodshed in Gaza, but also a path to a larger Middle East deal that could integrate Israel more deeply into the region and include “a potential historic normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia.” Biden said Israel “can be part of a regional security network to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

Biden acknowledged that some in Netanyahu’s coalition would not agree to the proposal and would rather continue fighting for years and occupying Gaza. He urged the Israeli leader to “stick to this deal no matter what pressure you face.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Sunday that he would fully support Netanyahu and the government in reaching a deal to return the hostages. Although the president’s role is largely ceremonial and he lacks executive power to help Netanyahu if his government falls, his voice should be cohesive and reflect the national consensus.

After Netanyahu’s office released a statement about the ceasefire proposal, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby sought to dispel any doubt about the proposal’s origins. “This is an Israeli proposal,” he said on ABC News on Sunday. “We have every reason to believe that if Hamas agrees to this proposal, the Israeli proposal that was conveyed to them, then Israel would agree to it.”

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

“Whenever he was faced with a choice between what was good for the country and what was good for the extremist fanatics, or even good for his own party, he always chose the extremist fanatics,” Professor Hazan said. Mr. Netanyahu also learned how to say “yes, but …” to the Americans, he said, and then “wait for Hamas to say ‘no’ and delay it as long as possible.”

Hamas, for its part, said in a statement on Friday that it viewed Biden’s speech “positively” and expressed its willingness to deal “in a constructive way” with any proposal based on a permanent ceasefire and other terms he proposed.

Professor Hazan said that given the US political timetable, Netanyahu only needs to engage in “survival politics” until Labor Day in late summer, after which the government will focus on the presidential election in November.

“Is Netanyahu ready to do a 180 and do what’s good for the country?” Professor Hazan said. “Everyone is anxious about this right now. Don’t worry too much,” he warned. “President Biden’s speech does not mean we have a new Netanyahu.”

Zoran Kano Jans Reporting contributed by Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

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