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Netanyahu Navigates Coalition Strife Amid Ongoing Gaza Conflict

Published December 29, 2023
7 months ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is tackling significant pressure from within his coalition as clashes between Israeli military forces and Hamas continue to escalate in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. In a contentious move illustrating internal governmental discord, Netanyahu called off a critical war cabinet meeting planned to deliberate Israel's strategy for post-conflict governance in Gaza.

The cancellation came as a direct response to fierce resistance from right-wing coalition allies, especially National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, both of whom command influential positions within Netanyahu's government.

Understanding the intricate web of coalition politics in Israel is pivotal to dissecting this latest development. Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, leaders of parties with deep-rooted nationalist ideologies, are not members of the highly selective war cabinet, which traditionally comprises Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and opposition leader Benny Gantz amongst its key players.

Ben-Gvir's stance is that Gaza's future governance falls outside the war cabinet's jurisdiction, while Smotrich fiercely objected to being sidelined from a conversation with such far-reaching implications. The Religious Zionist leader declared his party would convene its own meeting in protest.

Such dissension amongst Netanyahu's own ranks complicates the Israeli Prime Minister's political calculus, as he strives to maintain a united front without alienating pivotal components of his coalition.

In the backdrop of these political maneuvers, regional and international actors are closely monitoring the situation. The United States, in particular, has put forth the suggestion that the Palestinian Authority (PA) should assume control over Gaza once Israel has met its objective of dismantling Hamas. This stance, however, is not without controversy in Israel — especially among those who hold little trust in the PA's capacity or intentions.

Further complicating matters is the proposal of a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, orchestrated with American, Qatari, and Egyptian involvement. This prospective deal, which hinges on a cessation of hostilities from both sides, heralds potential breakthroughs yet serves as another bone of contention amongst Israeli policymakers.

The disparate views between Israel's military establishment and political elite underscore a growing rift that Ahmed Helal, a key influence at Global Counsel, articulates has been brewing over a decade. This division is marked by the military's strategic priorities clashing with the increasingly forceful postures from civilian authorities.

Next week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit the Middle East, under the shadow of a daunting death toll — over 21,000 in Gaza and 1,139 in Israel resulting from the current conflict. Blinken's diplomacy will unfold against the momentum of regional demands—for a ceasefire—that he must navigate alongside the underlying agenda of his nation.

Egypt's proactive stance in advocating for a ceasefire reflects its geopolitical significance and its direct interface with the Gaza Strip. Cairo's plan includes detailed provisions for the contentious issue of captive and prisoner exchanges. On the eve of these diplomatic considerations, Hamas senior official Osama Hamdan issued a definitive stance, insisting on a full cessation of aggressive activities as a bedrock for any negotiations.

As Netanyahu and his coalition face a tumultuous week of political wrangling and strategic decision-making, the Israeli public, as well as the international community, await the outcomes with bated breath. The pressures mounting on Netanyahu's leadership may very well define his political legacy and shape the contours of Israeli-Palestinian relations for years to come.


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