Editorials

Netanyahu, forced to choose between risking Israel's isolation or securing his political future

A person holds a placard depicting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as people attend a protest calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, and for the government to step down, near the Kirya in Tel Aviv, Israel, 11 May 2024.
  |   A person holds a placard depicting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as people attend a protest calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, and for the government to step down, near the Kirya in Tel Aviv, Israel, 11 May 2024.

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Eight months into the war, Israel has not achieved its goals in Gaza amidst growing international pressure. Prime Minister Netanyahu is risking his future political career whether he chooses peace or to continue the war. Opting for peace could eliminate the risk of Israel's isolation.

Palestine’s recognition cannot in itself change realities on the ground

Spain, Norway and Ireland are at the top of a new list of countries that recognize the state of Palestine. Slovenia added its name to the list, and the number of countries that recognize Palestine has exceeded 140 out of 193 UN Member States. Even without this political gesture, Palestine had already gathered critical support to become a “non-member observer state” at UN level. All 4 states took this decision in the hope it would speed up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza.

As far as Palestine is concerned, its recognition by the 4 states does not alter the facts. It does, however, signal that the patience of Western chancelleries, some of which are Isarel’s close partners, is running really thin concerning Benjamin Netanyahu's policies of recent years, particularly now in the context of the war.

That doesn't mean that countries like France, for instance, will rush to follow suit. For its part, Paris has a simple explanation: right now, recognizing Palestine is a useless move. Moreover, in a telephone conversation between president Macron and the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, the French president conditioned any recognition of Palestine on serious and deep reforms of the Palestinian Authority.

Macron had previously accused fellow European Union members Spain and Ireland of recognizing Palestinian statehood as part of “political posturing” instead of a genuine attempt to seek a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In other words, France will wait, and so will Germany, a country whose support for Israel is second only to the United States.

Who benefits from the decisions of Spain, Norway, Ireland and Slovenia? Certainly not Palestine, but neither will Israel. We can notice, conversely, that the consensus required to secure support for Palestinian statehood at European level, even without the USA’s endorsement, is not there. Furthermore, an agreement between trans-Atlantic partners is just as unlikely. Much like Israel, the United States remain unyielding in their understanding that any recognition of a Palestinian state must be the result of negotiations between the two sides. Otherwise, the simple act of recognition changes nothing on the ground, where conditions are deteriorating with every passing day.

After eight months of war, Israel is yet to achieve its goals while its reputation has hit an all-time low

The timing of these statements made by Madrid, Oslo, Dublin and Ljubljana deserves proper scrutiny.

Never before in its 76-year history has Israel had a worse reputation than it does today, even though it was the victim of a massacre committed by Hamas terrorists on its own soil.

October 7, 2023 is a TRAGEDY that will go down in history books, yet for a politician like Benjamin Netanyahu this served as an opportunity to mend his relationship with the Israeli people who, prior to October 7, were taking to the streets by the thousands, trying to stonewall a reform of the Israeli legal system which, many critics argued, was an attack on the democracy of the Israeli state. All these domestic troubles, however, were overshadowed by the terrorist attack of October 7 and Israel’s mobilization to respond to this new threat.

From the very outset, the objectives were made crystal clear: the destruction of Hamas and the liberation of the hostages. But more than 240 days have passed since the start of the offensive in Gaza and the Israeli army itself admits that a third of the 124 hostages remaining in Hamas custody may be dead. Protests to block the overhaul of the judiciary have been replaced by new ones, calling for Netanyahu's resignation. Hamas is holding its ground and finds itself in a position to refuse truce terms.

The acknowledgment that hostages are in fact dead occurs the same week the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court sought arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza, as well as for Hamas leaders. His applications are still being examined by a special three-judge panel chaired by Iulia Motoc.

The recognition also comes after Israel was attacked for the first time by Iran, a country that wants to raze Israel off the face of the earth. Moreover, it also overlaps with pro-Palestinian mass demonstrations around the world, as well as with an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism, also fueled by the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu might lose regardless of choosing to make pace or continue the fight

Meanwhile, president Joe Biden himself raised the stakes and, without apparently warning the Israelis beforehand, has presented a new global ceasefire agreement that includes the release of all hostages, urging Hamas leaders to accept the offer that comprises three stages and is expected to put an end to the war.

Washington’s announcement, however, riled up Israel’s ruling coalition. The far right in the Netanyahu Cabinet has threatened to step down from the ruling alliance if such an agreement is accepted. Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to defend himself: he told the rabble-rousers in his own Cabinet that Israel had agreed to a temporary ceasefire, while at the same time ensuring his American partners that the terms of the agreement had been unanimously accepted by the war cabinet.

It's been months since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked to present a timetable for ending the war, a demand he deftly avoided. Joe Biden, a politician of equal skill, this time did not leave Netanyahu any choice. The Prime Minister’s balancing act between competing personal, political and national interests would this time be futile.

Therefore, the continuation of the war, perhaps also due to personal interests (basically, once fighting is over, the investigation into the October 7 massacre is expected to start, more specifically trying to ascertain how was it possible) today leaves Netanyahu in checkmate. Unless he takes a step back, Netanyahu risks isolating Israel, a scenario everyone seems to reject. Even if he reaches an agreement with Hamas along the lines dictated by the USA (another unlikely scenario since Hamas wants all or nothing), it would still not be enough. The support announced by opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has offered to provide Netanyahu with a political safety net (not because he actually wants to save his rival, but because, at a turning point for Israel, he wants to rid Netanyahu of the far-right pressure in his Cabinet, which seems adamant to accept any concessions made by Hamas), will make little difference in that regard.

Benjamin Netanyahu is at a crossroads, both politically and strategically. I doubt he will back down, which is something many would like to see, but I do trust his instincts. We might see a change of attitude in the near future towards accepting a truce in order to bring home the hostages. But this will be nowhere near enough, not in the least for the Israeli people!

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Ioana Dumitrescu




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