Proposed Gaza ceasefire puts Netanyahu at a crossroads

The ceasefire proposal announced by President Joe Biden has placed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a crossroads, with either path likely to shape the legacy of Israel’s longest-serving and deeply divisive leader.

The proposal offers the possibility of ending Israel’s war against Hamas, returning scores of hostages held by the Islamic militant group, quieting the northern border with Lebanon and potentially advancing a historic agreement to normalise ties with Saudi Arabia.

But it would also likely shatter Mr Netanyahu’s governing coalition, potentially sending him into the opposition and making him more vulnerable to a conviction in his corruption trial.

Israel Is Hamas Destroyed?
President Joe Biden’s ceasefire proposal (Evan Vucci/PA)

Mr Netanyahu’s rejection of the deal, on the other hand, could deepen Israel’s international isolation, worsen ties with an American administration eager to wind down the war and expose him to accusations of having abandoned the hostages to save his own skin.

The Israeli prime minister acknowledged the proposal, which has been shared with Hamas through mediators, but then appeared to contradict Mr Biden’s remarks.

He said Israel remains committed to dismantling Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and that any talk of a permanent ceasefire before then was a “nonstarter”.

On Monday, he said the destruction of Hamas is “part of the proposal” and was quoted as telling a closed parliamentary hearing that Israel reserves the right to return to war if its objectives are not met.

Israel Palestinians
People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

Mr Biden said Israel had degraded Hamas to the point where it could no longer carry out an October 7-style attack, and that by continuing the war, Israel risked getting bogged down in Gaza.

But Netanyahu appears to be seeking a much bigger victory.

Mr Netanyahu’s critics fear he will reject any ceasefire to appease his ultranationalist governing partners, finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

They want to continue the war, fully reoccupy Gaza and rebuild Jewish settlements there.

They have already vowed to leave the government if the proposal announced by Mr Biden comes to pass.

Mr Netanyahu’s political opponents have offered a safety net if he reaches a deal to release hostages but they are unlikely to help him stay in office long-term.

Israel Politics Netanyahu’s Motives
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is the most nationalist and religious in Israel’s history (Amir Cohen/AP)

Mr Netanyahu’s current government, formed in late 2022 after five consecutive elections, is the most nationalist and religious in Israel’s history.

Months before the war, it pushed policies that entrenched Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, deepened the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community’s reliance on state subsidies and set in motion an overhaul of the judicial system that tore the country apart.

The coalition initially had a slim majority of 64 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, enough to govern but with a fragility that would keep Mr Netanyahu’s fate tied to the whims of any of the smaller parties that form the government.

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