Netanyahu could be forced to choose between a ceasefire and the survival of his government.

For months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has refused to offer a timetable for ending the war against Hamas in Gaza, a reluctance that his critics see as a political tactic. But this weekend it has been in trouble after President Biden’s announcement of a truce proposal.

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 hard-line government and bringing home the hostages held in Gaza, as he and Israel steer a new course away from growing international isolation.

The prime minister’s critics have portrayed him as indecisive and say there are two Netanyahus: one who functions pragmatically in the small war cabinet he formed with some centrist rivals, boosting his public legitimacy; and another who is effectively being held hostage by the far-right members of his governing coalition, who oppose any concessions to Hamas and who guarantee his political survival.

On Friday, Biden outlined general terms that he said were presented by Israel to American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators who have been pushing for a deal to stop the fighting and release hostages held 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 yet been presented to the Israeli public.

Now, analysts say, is the decisive moment for Netanyahu, or Bibi, as he is popularly known.

Biden “brought Netanyahu out of the closet of ambiguity and presented Netanyahu’s proposal himself,” Ben Caspit, Netanyahu’s biographer and longtime critic, wrote in Sunday’s Maariv, a Hebrew daily. “Then he asked a simple question: Does Bibi support Netanyahu’s proposal? Yes or no. “No nonsense and mumbo-jumbo.”

The leaders of two far-right parties in the coalition – Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister – have explicitly threatened to overthrow Netanyahu’s government if the prime minister accepts the deal. outlined by Mr. Biden before Hamas is completely 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 government during the war, have threatened to withdraw support for his centrist National Unity party by June 8 if Netanyahu fails to run. with a clear path to follow. And opposition parties have begun to organize to try to overthrow the government.

The ceasefire proposal consists of three phases. They would see groups of hostages released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; a temporary ceasefire would become a permanent cessation of hostilities, and the third phase would involve an internationally backed effort to rehabilitate Gaza.

More than 100 hostages were freed last November under a more limited agreement. Hamas and other armed groups are still holding an estimated 125 hostages, dead and alive, in Gaza.

Ophir Falk, Netanyahu’s top foreign policy adviser, said in an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times that Biden’s proposal was “a deal we agreed to.” Falk added that there were still many details to be worked out, saying: “It’s not a good deal, but we desperately want the hostages freed, all of them.”

Israelis had to analyze the two statements after Biden’s speech that Netanyahu’s office issued, unusually, during Saturday. The statements did not strongly support the proposal nor did they deny that it had been presented to the mediators. Rather, they were conditional and open to interpretation, apparently designed to leave Netanyahu’s options open.

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

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

Noticeably absent, however, was Netanyahu’s oft-stated goal of a “total victory” over Hamas in Gaza, a slogan Biden dismissed on Friday as a vague goal that would mean an indefinite war.

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