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‘Netanyahu can’t say ‘no’ to Biden’: Will the US’ plan stop bloodshed in the Middle East?

Hamas deal might get Israeli prime minister in trouble but pressure is mounting on him to accept it

More than six months since Israel and Hamas exchanged prisoners, another deal seems to be in the making. 

According to a recently revealed proposal, presented by US President Joe Biden on May 31, there will be a complete halt to the war in Gaza, with Israel withdrawing its troops from populated areas and allowing Gazans to return to their homes in the north of the enclave. Israel would also facilitate an increase of humanitarian aid to the impoverished strip. In return, it would see the release of some of its hostages: those living and those dead.

The Biden administration believes that if the first stage proves to be successful, the two sides could go to implementing the deal’s second stage – a permanent end to hostilities and the release of the remaining living hostages.

Deal around the Corner?

That same plan also presupposes a major reconstruction plan for Gaza, which would only take place at a third stage.

“It seems that right now there is a more than a fifty-fifty chance that the deal will go through,” said Amir Oren, a Tel Aviv-based political analyst.

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“First of all, Netanyahu cannot say ‘no’ to Biden, especially because it was his own offer from the start, and especially if he wants to go to the Congress and address it in a joint session. And, secondly, public pressure keeps on growing, with evidence showing that the military pressure on Hamas did not get our hostages back,” he added.

But Netanyahu might tilt to accepting the deal also because of strong American pressure, the analyst believes.

“Biden doesn’t want to see any additional flare up,” said Oren, suggesting that if the war in Gaza continues, another conflict — one with Hezbollah in the north — might erupt, and that “could very well leapfrog over into an Israeli-Iranian war.”

“We shouldn’t forget that Biden is facing the nominating convention of the Democratic Party, and then, in November, the presidential campaign.”

“There is a lot of resentment in the left wing of the Democratic Party regarding what’s happening in Gaza, so a deal is a selling point for him. For him, it is almost crucial that when he gets to the November elections, there will be peace and quiet in Gaza, as well as along the Israeli-Lebanon border.”

Dr Saad Nimr, an expert on Israel-Palestine relations based in Ramallah, agrees that this time around the US administration is applying plenty of pressure on Israel to force it to reach a deal.

This is not only because of the mass demonstrations on campuses across the US, or the dissatisfaction with Biden’s policies within his own political party. It is also because of the mounting pressure coming out from America’s staunch allies in Europe.

In the end of May, three European states — Norway, Spain and Ireland — recognized Palestine despite the pressure applied on them from the US not to do so. On Tuesday, Slovenia followed suit and a number of other countries promise to take similar measures soon, showing they will be acting independently of American interests.

“This is a serious blow to Biden’s foreign policy and he wants to save face ahead of the elections. But will these outside factors be enough to force Israel to stop its war? I am not entirely sure,” said Nimr.

IDF fires artillery shells into Gaza as fighting between Israeli troops and Islamist Hamas militants continues.

©  Ilia yefimovich / picture alliance via Getty Images

Cracks in the Coalition

One of the main reasons for this, Nimr believes, is the pressure Netanyahu is facing from within his own coalition.

Striking a deal with Hamas will put him in a tough spot with the hawkish members of his own government, namely Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who have already indicated that they would collapse the bloc if Netanyahu moved ahead with the agreement.

But there is more to it. Netanyahu, says Nimr, is also afraid that an end of the war will also bring about the end of his political career, and perhaps land him in jail.

“As long as the war goes on, Netanyahu will remain the Prime Minister of Israel. Once it is over, the court will be waiting for him.”

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Even before the war, Netanyahu was facing a trial on breach of trust and corruption charges in a series of graft probes that included receiving gifts from a rich donor and buying positive media coverage. When the October 7 events happened, court hearings were halted and even when they resumed, Netanyahu’s defense has argued that the war efforts prevent him from dealing with anything else but the security situation. Right now, if the war ends, Netanyahu might not have excuses, the trial will go on and this is something he seems to be seeking to avoid.

However, it won’t be the only trial for Netanyahu. The PM has already admitted that he, along with other officials and the military, were to blame for October 7 events. They were the ones who overlooked the threat posed by Hamas, and who acted too slowly when the attack happened. Israel’s public will want to hold them accountable. It may also want to see many of them, including Netanyahu, behind bars.

“This is why, I believe, they will continue to stall and delay the deal. And even if an agreement is reached, it will be temporary. It will allow Netanyahu to push away the pressure, both domestic and international, and when this is done, Israel will resume its bombardment of Gaza,” Nimr predicts.

This, so it seems, is also what the Israeli public wants. In February, channel 14 — associated with the right-wing circles — released a poll, according to which more than 60% of Israelis supported the continuation of the war in Gaza, even if that meant bidding goodbye to the idea of bringing the 124 hostages back.

For many Israelis, the mission in Gaza will only be complete when Hamas is eliminated and the enclave doesn’t pose a threat to Israel’s security but, the way it stands now, almost eight months after the war erupted, these goals are still rather remote.

Although Israel did establish control over the Philadelphi corridor, cutting off the oxygen that connected Hamas to the outside world, through which the group smuggled weapons, money and militants, the Islamic group has managed to stay on its feet. It continues to launch rockets able to reach Israel’s center and it still boasts at least 15,000 active militants ready to give the Jewish state a fight.

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli air forces targeting a shopping center in Gaza Strip, Gaza on October 07, 2023.

©  Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“[The leader of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza ] Yehya Sinwar is not interested in the continuation of the war. He wants to give the people of Gaza, where more than 36,000 have already found their death, a break but he will keep on fighting as long as Israel does.”

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The question is for how long will Israel be able to continue at such a pace. Since the beginning of the war, it has lost more than 600 soldiers. Thousands have been injured and many are in critical or serious conditions. Psychological problems have also been on the rise. The state of the economy has gotten worse, with prices on food, fuel, accommodation and transportation skyrocketing as never before.

“Sooner or later, Israel will need to stop this war simply because they will not be able to afford it. Gaza has become a swamp for them. They are bleeding economically and socially,” said Nimr.

“But they need to end it with some sort of a victory. This victory cannot come from the ground because Hamas is still there. So, they rely on the US to create for them a diplomatic solution.”


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