Pressure on Netanyahu amid row over Israel’s plan for ‘day after’ Gaza war

4 months ago 139

As Israeli military pounds Gaza and conducts raids in occupied West Bank, Hamas says no deal on captives until ‘aggression’ stops.

Published On 29 Dec 2023

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces growing pressure from his right-wing coalition government amid sharp disagreements over the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is nearing its 90th day with no end in sight to the war or a deal for a pause in hostilities.

Netanyahu cancelled a meeting of Israel’s war cabinet on Thursday night that was meant to discuss the plan for the “day after” the war after fierce opposition to the meeting from far-right members of the coalition.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the ultranationalist Jewish Power party said the subject was outside of the war cabinet’s mandate. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist party announced it was holding its own meeting in protest over his exclusion from the discussion.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are in the larger security cabinet but are not part of the war cabinet, whose main members are Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and opposition leader Benny Gantz.

“[Smotrich] didn’t want that discussion [on the day after] to take place,” Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said on Friday. “He is very much against the Palestinian Authority [PA] having any rule in Gaza post the war.”

Under such pressure, Netanyahu decided the war cabinet would not discuss the issue, which will now be taken up by the security cabinet on Tuesday.

The United States has suggested the PA should rule over Gaza after Israel achieves its stated goal of eliminating Hamas, whose October 7 assault on southern Israel triggered the war.

“Netanyahu cancelled the war cabinet, worried it would fracture his coalition, fracture his government and put his position as prime minister at risk,” Fisher said.

The war cabinet was also meant to “discuss a deal with Hamas – negotiated by the Americans, the Qataris and the Egyptians – about exchanging captives for Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails”, our correspondent added.

‘Between a rock and a hard place’

Ahmed Helal, the Middle East and North Africa director at Global Counsel, told Al Jazeera the cancellation of the war cabinet meeting had been a “long time coming” as the military establishment and political elite have grown further apart.

“The military elite has grown increasingly uncomfortable over the past 10 years, and they’re not pacifists by any means – they are not doves. But they understand what is strategically important for Israel, and they have been pushing against the overly militarist ambitions of the civilian government,” Helal said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to make another trip to the Middle East next week to discuss the Gaza war, in which the Israeli military has killed more than 21,000 people in Gaza alone. The revised death toll from Hamas’s attack on Israel stands at 1,139.

The top US diplomat is likely to face regional Arab allies increasingly pushing for a ceasefire, Natali Tocci, director of the Italian think tank Istituto Affari Internazionali, told Al Jazeera.

“At the moment, we don’t see the US actually putting pressure on Israel for a ceasefire,” Tocci said. “However, as that Egyptian role is actually increasing … in calling for a ceasefire, Blinken will basically find himself in between a rock and a hard place.”

Egypt, which borders the Gaza Strip, has taken more of a leading role in pushing for a ceasefire, including introducing a plan to end the fighting. It includes captive and prisoner exchanges between Israel and Hamas.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Thursday that the group will not release more Israeli captives without a “complete and full ceasing of aggressive activities against our people through negotiations that are aligned with our people’s interest”.

A Hamas delegation is to visit Cairo on Friday to consider the Egyptian plan to end the war, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported, citing a Hamas official.

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