Ceasefire or political survival? Gaza plan puts Bibi in a spot

For months, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to offer a timeline for ending the war against Hamas in Gaza, a reticence that his critics see as a political tactic. But he has been put on the spot this weekend by US Prez Biden’s announcement outlining a proposal for a truce.
Netanyahu, a conservative, has long juggled competing personal, political and national interests.He now appears to be facing a stark choice between the survival of his hardline, hawkish govt and bringing home hostages held in Gaza while setting himself and Israel on a new course away from growing global isolation.
Critics of the PM say there are two Netanyahus: one who functions pragmatically in the war cabinet he formed with some centrist rivals, boosting its public legitimacy; and another who is being held hostage by the far-right members of his coalition, who oppose any concession to Hamas and who ensure his political survival.
Biden on Friday outlined broad terms that he said were presented by Israel to the American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators who have been pushing for a deal to pause the fighting. Israeli officials confirmed that the terms matched a ceasefire proposal that had been greenlit by Israel’s war cabinet but not yet presented to the Israeli public. Now, analysts say, it is crunchtime for Netanyahu, or Bibi, as he is popularly known. Biden “booted Netanyahu out of the closet of ambiguity and presented Netanyahu’s proposal himself,” Ben Caspit, a longtime critic of the PM, told a Hebrew daily.
Members of two far-right parties in the coalition – Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s minister of finance, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister – have explicitly threatened to bring Netanyahu’s govt down if the PM goes along with the deal outlined by Biden before Hamas is fully destroyed. Some hardline members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party have said they will join them.
At the same time, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, two former military chiefs who joined the emergency govt for the duration of the war, have threatened to withdraw the support of their centrist National Unity party by June 8 if Netanyahu fails to come up with a clear path forward. And opposition parties have begun organising to try to topple the govt.
The ceasefire proposal involves three phases. They would see tranches of hostages released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; a temporary ceasefire would turn into a permanent cessation of hostilities, with the third phase involving an internationally backed bid to rehabilitate Gaza. An estimated 125 hostages, living and dead, are still held in Gaza.
Ophir Falk, the chief foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, told UK’s Sunday Times that Biden’s proposal was “a deal we agreed to.” Adding that many details still had to be worked out, he said, “It’s not a good deal but we dearly want the hostages released, all of them.” Israelis were left to parse the two statements that Netanyahu’s office put out: They neither forcefully endorsed the proposal nor denied that it had been presented to the mediators. Instead, they were conditional – seemingly designed to leave Netanyahu’s options open.


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