Netanyahu’s Refusals Pose a Challenge to Those Seeking to Quell the War in Gaza
Renzo Guolo 27 February 2024

Benjamin Netanyahu‘s consistent refusals pose a challenge to those seeking to quell the Middle East conflict. Despite global pressure, Netanyahu remains steadfast in his decision to advance the fighting towards Rafah. In this area, millions of Gazans find themselves trapped between the Israeli Defense Force’s Merkava tanks and Egypt’s increasingly fortified barrier, which serves as the final obstacle preventing further dispersal of Palestinians from the Strip.

The Israeli prime minister, who pins his own political survival on the war’s continuation, alleges that those advocating for an end to the conflict desire Israel’s defeat. In his perspective, this implies halting the final phase of the operation aimed at completely dismantling Hamas. According to military intelligence, Hamas still maintains four battalions in the border town with Egypt.

Operation Swords of Iron appears to be pursuing a policy of eliminating any threats along the border, and nothing short of the complete eradication of Hamas would be considered a significant achievement in this endeavor. Dismantling Hamas’ military capabilities, although dealing with their ideological influence presents a more intricate challenge, and eliminating Yahya Sinwar, if he has not already been killed in the bombings, is the definitive goal that Netanyahu aims to achieve through this operation. While war may be seen as an extension of politics through different means, ultimately, political considerations will reclaim their importance, sooner or later.

If Israel achieves military victory in the conflict, Netanyahu acknowledges that politically, the Palestinians, if not Hamas with its unyielding stance, could still emerge triumphant. Netanyahu and the ultra-nationalist, religious, and Kahanist factions backing him perceive any revival of the “two-state” solution as a concession to the Palestinian cause.

The objective of the two right-wing factions extends beyond merely neutralizing the Palestinian Islamist movement; it also aims to enforce the vision of “Gaza without Hamas; Palestine without a state.” This stance represents another form of the status quo politics that underpins Israel’s persistent inertia on the matter.

To stall for time and, significantly, in anticipation of a potential return of Trump to the White House, Netanyahu urges his government – which includes Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, viewed by Americans as a potential successor to Netanyahu – to distance themselves from the idea of a “two-state solution.” This move aims to constrain the options available to their ally-rival.

In taking this stance, he shields himself against any attempts to “unilaterally impose a Palestinian state” on Israel. The Prime Minister insists that any agreement with the Palestinians must be the result of bilateral negotiations, firmly reiterating his rejection of what he derides as an “international diktat.”

His reasoning is that the “unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, particularly following the October 7 massacre, would reward terrorism significantly… and hinder any prospects for future peace agreements.” However, he overlooks the fact that the so-called “diktat” primarily originates from the United States, Israel’s principal ally.

Yet, the question remains: how long can Netanyahu resist the mounting impatience of the U.S. president? With Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate in the November elections, his support for Israel might come at a cost. This stance could soon become untenable, especially considering the growing voice of discontent among young Americans and American Muslims, particularly those residing in pivotal Midwestern swing states crucial for the upcoming election.

America is advocating for a six-week ceasefire, a proposal that Netanyahu dismisses due to its significant political ramifications as a precursor to broader negotiations. These negotiations could pave the way for Washington to formally introduce the two-state proposal, ultimately leading to an agreement with Bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia and a collective pact aimed at ensuring Israel’s security.

A highly challenging deal to refuse. If Biden successfully severs the Gordian knot, Netanyahu will be compelled to acquiesce. At this juncture, the messianic right, already advocating for the annulment of the Oslo Accords should the “unilateral” recognition of a Palestinian state proceed, will hasten his downfall.

Rejecting the proposal for new elections, as suggested by the Prime Minister to reaffirm commitment to continuity, would hardly constitute a true rejection. Instead, it would underscore the importance of national unity amidst the ongoing state of war. Conversely, any hesitation from Biden would expose American weakness and result in significant political repercussions for Washington. If a purported global superpower fails to assert its influence, its political leverage stands to be severely compromised.

To prevent potential embarrassment for his ally, Bibi might consider a bold strategy: escalating the conflict to encompass Hezbollah, thereby inevitably drawing Iranian intervention. This action could prompt the United States to close ranks and firmly align with an ally increasingly dedicated to the principle of self-preservation. Such a “Machiavellian” maneuver would aim to eliminate the threat posed by Hezbollah while thwarting any prospects of a nebulous Palestinian statehood.

Among Bibi’s numerous refusals, the choice to limit access to the Esplanade of Mosques for Israeli Arabs during Ramadan stands out. This decision, championed by the extreme right-wing leader and Minister of National Security Ben-Gvir, goes against the advice of the Shin Bet. It’s purportedly justified by “security concerns” but in truth reflects the agenda of the messianic and annexationist faction within the government, aiming to assert sovereignty over the Temple Mount, significant in Jewish tradition.

A violation of religious freedom quickly condemned by Hamas, which called for a new intifada during the holy month, aiming to inject religious fervor into the conflict, further inflaming tensions.



This article was originally published by the Italian newspaper Domani (February 19, 2024). 

Cover Photo: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (L) speaks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd L) while US President Joe Biden (top C) and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) wait to make statements before a meeting in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP.


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