End of war is end of Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preempted a meeting Thursday of the War Cabinet by launching harsh criticisms against Hamas’ response to the American-Qatari-Egyptian proposal regarding a hostage swap deal and cease-fire in Gaza.

Israeli analysts view Netanyahu’s news conference Wednesday as an attempt to impose his stance on members of the War Cabinet. But they see that Netanyahu did not completely shut the door on the possibility of continuing negotiations with the Palestinian resistance group through mediators, which could pave the way for an agreement.

-Maneuvering against Gantz and Eisenkot

“Netanyahu’s actions in the news conference were a maneuver aimed at imposing his positions on the Israeli War Cabinet,” analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem told Anadolu. “Netanyahu didn’t wait for the War Cabinet meeting; instead, he went public to say that Hamas’s positions are rejected to impose this stance on War Cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot”

Gantz and Eisenkot, both from the National Unity party that joined the government after the war, supported a deal leading to the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Israeli observers said if no deal is reached to release the hostages, the National Unity party may leave the government. That move would not affect the government as it already has 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. But it could further inflame the street against extremist right-wing parties forming the government.

“The official Israeli stance on the Hamas paper will be issued by the War Cabinet, and Mossad Chief David Barnea will travel to Qatar to deliver it,” said Ben-Menachem.

He noted that “Israel may not outright reject the Hamas paper but rather ask intermediaries to pressure Hamas to change its positions and present different ones.”

Ben-Menachem pointed out two crucial points in the Hamas paper that Netanyahu and his government partners may find difficult to accept: a cease-fire and the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, for Netanyahu to accept a cease-fire without achieving its defined objectives,” he said. “Moreover, the paper demands the release of 500 prisoners serving life sentences, which is very difficult.”

At the news conference, Netanyahu said: “I openly declare what I believe in: continuing military pressure is a necessary condition for the release of the hostages.”

Netanyahu said that “surrendering to the delusional Hamas demands will not lead to the release of the hostages but will necessitate another massacre and a disastrous catastrophe for the state of Israel, which none of our citizens would be willing to accept.”

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested at a news conference Wednesday in Tel Aviv, following meetings with senior Israeli officials, that negotiations would continue.

“We had an opportunity today to discuss with the Israeli government the response that Hamas sent last night to the proposal that the United States, Qatar, and Egypt had put together to bring the remaining hostages home, and extend the humanitarian pause,” he said. “What I can tell you about these discussions is that while there are some clear nonstarters in Hamas’s response, we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached. And we will work at that relentlessly until we get there.”​​​​​​​

Blinken pointed out that “we’ve looked very carefully at what came back from Hamas, and there are clearly nonstarters in what it is put forward. But we also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations to see if we can get to an agreement, and that’s what we intend to do.”

“Clearly there are things that Hamas sent back that are absolute nonstarters. And I assume that’s what the prime minister was referring to, but I don’t want to speak for him. But at the same time we see, in what was sent back, space to continue to pursue an agreement. And these things are always negotiations. It’s not flipping a light switch,” said Blinken.

“It’s not yes or no. There’s invariably back and forth. And as I said, we see the space for that. And given the imperative, given the importance that we all attach to bringing the hostages home, we’re intent on pursuing it.”

Blinken’s statements were understood as a call not to completely close the door to negotiations.

The United States, represented by CIA Director William Burns, is a partner in the negotiations, which were initiated two weeks ago in Paris.

-Door remains open

Jonathan Lis, an analyst for the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, noted Thursday that “despite Netanyahu’s scorn for Hamas’ proposal, he leaves the door open for Israel to negotiate.”

“But despite the criticism, Netanyahu did not slam the door: He did not announce a halt to the talks or that Israel was giving up on them, or explicitly announce he would oppose the release of Palestinian murderers, except by saying that Israel did not commit to it,” he wrote in an article.

“The government has not met to discuss the offer since the arrival of Hamas’ list of reservations to the deal, and even the members of the War Cabinet will only meet on Thursday to discuss it. The prime minister chose to hold the press conference about Israel’s position after only consulting with his close advisors and with the heads of the security establishment,” said Lis, who noted that “Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, consulted his own list of contacts to study Hamas’ demands and formulate a position.”

Lis emphasized that “political sources estimated on Wednesday night that the prime minister’s remarks against Hamas’ response might actually lay the groundwork for continued negotiations in the coming days and weeks.”

He quoted an unnamed foreign source who said: “The document that Hamas laid out is one Israel clearly cannot accept, but it shows that the organization is ready to negotiate, perhaps even seriously negotiate, later.”

Lis considered that “Netanyahu’s messaging about Hamas’ response – against the number of prisoners they demand be released and especially his statements about the IDF’s expected entry into Rafah and two other refugee camps –may put pressure on the terrorist organization in hopes of softening its positions.”

But while Netanyahu may satisfy some parties on the right and extreme right in Israel, he risks widespread protests from the families of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

In recent weeks, families have intensified their activities to pressure the government to accept a deal to release prisoners, even if the price is the release of all Palestinian prisoners and a cease-fire in Gaza.

Many analysts and Israeli opposition leaders, however, have pointed out in recent months that Netanyahu is more concerned about his political position than the security of Israel or the fate of hostages in Gaza, which would also keep his position open to other options.

Since Oct. 7, Israel has been waging a devastating onslaught on the Gaza Strip, leaving tens of thousands of civilian casualties, mostly children and women, as well as an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe and massive infrastructure destruction, leading Tel Aviv to appear before the International Court of Justice to be tried for genocide.

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