Opinion| A Political Circus in Israel and Biden Intervenes to Save Netanyahu

Hatem Sadek
6 Min Read

Anyone following the quarrels and disputes within the Israeli Cabinet can clearly see the extent of the acrobatic tricks each party performs to achieve its goals. The main scene confirms that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is exerting all his efforts to maintain his mini-government despite not achieving significant gains in the war against Hamas.

He is under tremendous pressure from the extremist wing, represented by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the “Religious Zionism” party, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the “Otzma Yehudit” party, who have pledged to topple the government if it adopts the hostage release agreement and ceasefire proposed by US President Joe Biden.

In fact, the proposal was initially an initiative by Netanyahu to resolve the tense situation, but he preferred it to be issued by Biden to avoid embarrassment in front of the extremists in his government who are demanding the eradication of Hamas from Gaza, regardless of the release of the Israeli hostages.

This is exactly what Smotrich and Ben Gvir do not find in the proposal. In contrast to the far-right reaction, National Unity Party leader and War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz called for a war cabinet session to be held as soon as possible “to formulate steps forward to implement the proposal given that the war cannot continue forever.”

Netanyahu’s recent actions indicate his intention to manipulate the two far-right leaders by deliberately withholding crucial details of the proposal. This tactic was evident when Ben Gvir expressed his dissatisfaction during a press conference, stating that he would not remain in a government that supports Hamas.

He further mentioned that he couldn’t form an opinion on the proposal due to the Prime Minister’s deliberate omission of key information, particularly regarding the resolution of the Gaza conflict and the future of Hamas.

Netanyahu’s strategic move serves to solidify his government and mitigate the influence of extremist elements within the cabinet. His actions suggest efforts to appease Ben Gvir and Smotrich by allowing them to reject the proposal during the vote without risking the stability of the fragile coalition.

Netanyahu is currently experiencing his worst fear as his conservative allies within the government hold 14 seats on a single list in the upcoming 2022 elections. These right-wing partners play a crucial role in maintaining the ruling majority within the fundamental coalition, which comprises 64 members. Any defection from this coalition would not only result in a significant blow to the government but also pave the way for Netanyahu’s political and criminal trial.

The deception of Israeli politicians continues unabated. Recently, Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, reiterated his commitment to providing a political safety net for Netanyahu’s government, ensuring it doesn’t collapse due to the American proposal.

However, Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, will not offer support to the coalition on other matters. Lapid emphasised the urgency of concluding a deal to prevent further harm to hostages in Gaza, but it seems that nobody is willing to listen.

Lapid criticised Ben Gvir and Smotrich for their threats to withdraw from the government, viewing it as a betrayal of Israeli national security, the hostages, and the residents of the north and south. He went on to describe the current government as the worst and most reckless in the country’s history, accusing them of evading responsibility, lacking effective management, and experiencing complete failure.

Lapid believes that Netanyahu’s downfall will not lead to his own success in early elections. Instead, it will empower extremists in future elections. Therefore, Lapid suggests that it is better for Netanyahu to remain on the political scene, rather than become an easy target for the extreme right.

The Shas party, the largest partner in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, with 11 seats in the Knesset, has announced its full support for a potential agreement to release hostages held by Hamas, even if it involves taking drastic measures in the Gaza war. This stance deals a significant blow to Netanyahu’s partners, Ben Gvir and Smotrich.

Benny Gantz’s party, which joined the coalition shortly after the Hamas attack on October 7, shares a similar perspective and has threatened to withdraw unless Netanyahu makes key strategic decisions regarding the conflict by June 8. With only eight seats, Gantz’s party’s departure would not immediately topple Netanyahu’s government, but the absence of the two far-right parties could pose a challenge in the long run.

Netanyahu faces the looming possibility of his government collapsing at any moment, especially if he faces criminal charges in ongoing corruption cases or backlash following the events of October 7. However, the intricate political manoeuvres of Israeli politicians will ultimately determine whether he can hold onto power.

Dr Hatem Sadek is a Professor at Helwan University

 

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