After Biden’s push for a truce, Netanyahu believes Israel’s war plans have not changed

A day after President Biden called on Israel and Hamas to reach a truce, declaring it was “time for this war to end,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Saturday that Israel would not agree to a permanent ceasefire in Gaza while since Hamas still retains military and government power.

In his statement, Netanyahu neither explicitly endorsed nor rejected a proposed ceasefire plan that Biden had laid out in an unusually detailed speech on Friday. Two Israeli officials confirmed that Biden’s proposal was consistent with an Israeli ceasefire proposal that had received the green light from Israel’s war cabinet. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.

But the timing of Netanyahu’s comments, which came early the next morning, appeared to dampen Biden’s hopes for a quick resolution to the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza Health. Ministry.

“Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’ military and governance capabilities, the release of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer represents a threat to Israel,” the office said. Netanyahu in the statement issued Saturday morning. .

Biden administration officials and some Israeli analysts said they believed Israel still supported the proposal Biden outlined on Friday, and that Netanyahu’s statement on Saturday was more tailored to his domestic audience and aimed at managing members of his Cabinet. far-right, instead of fighting the White House. Biden is eager for the war to end, with the US presidential election just five months away.

But Netanyahu’s domestic political concerns could prove paramount. On Saturday night, two of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, threatened to resign from his government if he went ahead with the proposal. Ben-Gvir called the terms of the agreement a “total defeat” and a “victory for terrorism.” If both parties abandoned their coalition, it could mark the end of Netanyahu’s government.

Hamas immediately welcomed Biden’s speech on Friday and said it was willing to address “positively and constructively” any agreement that met its list of demands, including a complete Israeli withdrawal, a permanent ceasefire, the reconstruction of Gaza, the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes and a “serious prisoner exchange.”

As Biden described it, the plan did not specify who would govern the Gaza Strip after the war. Unless other deals are reached, that could leave Hamas in de facto charge of the territory, which the Palestinian armed group would likely consider a major strategic victory after nearly eight months of an Israeli military offensive.

Since the armed group’s devastating attack on October 7, which Israeli authorities say left 1,200 dead in Israel and another 250 taken hostage, Israeli leaders have vowed to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza. They have also said they will maintain “security control” in Gaza after the war, making a full withdrawal difficult.

Netanyahu has repeatedly promised the Israeli public an “absolute victory” over Hamas, arguing in April that such an outcome was just “one step away.” However, Hamas militants have waged a tenacious guerrilla war against Israeli troops in Gaza, and top Hamas leaders there have thwarted Israeli efforts to capture or kill them.

Analysts in Israel described Biden’s speech as an attempt to bypass Netanyahu, to make a direct appeal to the Israeli public, which widely supports the war effort, according to polls. Although Israeli officials have put forward proposals that include commitments to a sustained ceasefire, Netanyahu faces a series of competing pressures at home that could lead his government to pivot, they said.

“Biden is challenging Israel, saying, ‘I hope you allow this deal to go forward. Don’t sabotage it. Don’t pull the rug out from under him for political reasons,” said Uzi Arad, a former Israeli national security adviser during the Netanyahu government. “Put your money where your mouth is.”

Families of hostages held in Gaza have won public support for their call for a ceasefire deal, amid growing fears over the fate of their loved ones, with large crowds attending demonstrations in Tel Aviv. About 125 of the approximately 250 hostages remain in Gaza, and more than 30 of them are presumed dead, Israeli authorities have said.

Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat was kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri during the Hamas-led massacre on October 7, admitted that the deal would be difficult for some of the Israeli public to accept. But he said it was essential to reach an agreement to free the remaining hostages.

“If this deal does not come to fruition, whether because of Hamas or Israel, we are heading towards an eternal war, where we will sink deeper and deeper into the mud, dragging down Israelis, Palestinians and certainly hostages,” Dickmann said. . “It could be now or never.”

However, if Netanyahu were to accept the deal, he could have difficulty maintaining his governing coalition. Some of his far-right coalition partners have suggested they could abandon his government if there is what they see as a premature end to the war. And if Israel agreed to a truce that allowed Hamas to retain power, even moderate Israelis would probably wonder what the offensive in Gaza had actually achieved.

Netanyahu’s emergency unity government is already under threat: Benny Gantz, a rival who joined Netanyahu as a wartime measure, has threatened to leave unless the prime minister articulates a plan for postwar Gaza and brings bring the hostages home by June 8. Netanyahu has not yet announced any intention to meet Gantz’s demands.

On Thursday, Dickmann said he had met with Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, along with several other family members of hostages. Hanegbi told the group that the Israeli government was not in a position to accept a hostage release deal that included an end to the war, Dickmann said. Hanegbi also said earlier this week that he expected the fighting to last several more months.

Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, urged Netanyahu to accept the deal as President Biden outlined it. He repeated that his party would give Netanyahu a “safety net,” avoiding a no-confidence vote to topple the government should hardliners like Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister, resign in protest. a ceasefire agreement. .

Analysts said Netanyahu has tried to avoid that scenario, as it would make him dependent on some of his harshest critics.

Israel and Hamas first observed a week-long truce in late November during which 105 hostages and 240 Palestinian prisoners were freed. Since then, both sides have forged seemingly intractable positions: Hamas conditioned any new hostage release on Israel ending the war, while Israel promised there would be no truce until it destroyed Hamas and brought home its hostages.

The proposed ceasefire plan, as laid out by Biden, would begin with a six-week cessation of hostilities, during which Hamas would release women, the elderly and wounded hostages held in Gaza since the Hamas-led attack on October 7. . about Israel that started the war. Israel would withdraw from Gaza’s main population centers, release at least hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and facilitate the daily entry of at least 600 trucks of humanitarian aid.

During the first phase, hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians would return to their homes in northern Gaza for the first time in months. Israeli officials have said their forces would gradually withdraw to allow them to return largely unrestricted, should hostilities resume. They viewed the offer as a concession to Hamas, who they said could use the opening to rebuild its government in northern Gaza.

During the second phase, Israel and Hamas would effectively declare the war over, Biden said. Hamas would release the remaining live hostages, including male Israeli soldiers, in exchange for more Palestinian prisoners, while Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza. The third phase would then deal with the reconstruction of Gaza and Hamas would return the bodies of the remaining dead hostages.

Gershon Baskin, an Israeli activist who helped negotiate the 2011 release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held for years by Hamas, said the deal outlined by Biden underscored the need for a plan to politically defeat Hamas by building a alternative Palestinian government.

“The bottom line, in the absence of any coherent day-after plan to replace Hamas in Gaza, is that accepting the plan means giving in to Hamas’ demands,” said Baskin, who nonetheless supports the deal.

Biden admitted that there were still “a number of details to negotiate” to advance to the second phase of the agreement: the announcement of a lasting ceasefire. He said Israel and Hamas would negotiate during the first phase in an attempt to reach acceptable terms for a continued cessation of hostilities.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Leave a Comment