Why Benjamin Netanyahu’s political fate is tightly entwined with the war in Gaza

Analysis Why Benjamin Netanyahu’s political fate is tightly entwined with the war in Gaza
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Many Israelis believe a failure of leadership by Benjamin Netanyahu resulted in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that set off the latest phase of violence in Gaza. (AP)
Analysis Why Benjamin Netanyahu’s political fate is tightly entwined with the war in Gaza
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Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on Monday, on Dec. 11, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 16 December 2023
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Why Benjamin Netanyahu’s political fate is tightly entwined with the war in Gaza

Why Benjamin Netanyahu’s political fate is tightly entwined with the war in Gaza
  • With poll ratings down and US support on the wane, the Israeli prime minister could be running out of political road
  • Experts say Netanyahu’s loss of public support stems from the manner in which he has managed the conflict with Hamas

LONDON: Hopes for a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas are contingent upon a change of leadership at the top of the Knesset, as it seems incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is convinced peace is not an option.

That, at least, is the view of several experts, who believe Netanyahu’s obsession with seeing the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as something that can only be managed, not brought to an end, has impeded all other alternatives.

“Netanyahu is irrelevant to peace,” Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations and associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House in London, told Arab News.




Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on Monday, on Dec. 11, 2023. (AP)

Mekelberg is of the view that Israel should be “looking for a future leadership,” adding that, despite not being in the “actioning peace” phase of the conflict, this would have to “start soon, if we don’t want another prolonged period of low intensity war.”

Despite having developed a reputation for survival and rebirth over his 20-plus years at the top of Israeli politics, Netanyahu’s poll numbers indicate his ouster in the near term is now a very real possibility.

Given the corruption charges awaiting him once he is stripped of the legal immunity afforded by high office, the stakes are particularly high.

A recent report by The Wall Street Journal found that support among Israelis for Netanyahu to remain in office for the long haul stands at just 18 percent, with 29 percent demanding he leave now and 47 percent seeing no place for him in government after the war ends.

Interviewed by The New Yorker, Dahlia Scheindlin, a political scientist and expert on Israeli public opinion, said that Netanyahu’s popularity had reached its nadir.

“By every possible indicator we have, and there have been lots of surveys done since Oct. 7, his popularity is abysmal,” said Scheindlin. “It’s the worst I’ve seen, certainly since 2009. I’d like to say ever, but I would have to check every single survey since the early 90s.”

That decline could have implications for how the war in Gaza is fought, with Netanyahu’s coalition, built in 2022, having lost its majority, dropping from 64 to 32 seats in parliament.




Israelis protest in Tel Aviv on December 15 following an announcement by the military that they had mistakenly killed three Israeli hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas militants. (REUTERS)

And yet, part of that loss of public support stems from the manner in which Netanyahu has sought to manage the conflict with Hamas, with many Israelis blaming his failure of leadership for the attack that set off the latest phase of violence.

Osama Al-Sharif, a Jordanian analyst and political columnist, believes Netanyahu’s political fate is tightly bound up with how the war has been fought.

“A more likely scenario over Israeli plans for the demilitarization of Gaza is that Netanyahu himself leaves the scene before Hamas does as the public begin to complain of the victory that may never come,” Al-Sharif told Arab News.

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And it is not just Israeli voters who seem to be running out of patience. US President Joe Biden’s support for Netanyahu and his hard-right government’s handling of the war have put him on the back foot as he moves into his own election year.

In off-camera remarks reported by Axios, Biden is reported to have said: “I think he (Netanyahu) has to change, and with this government. This government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move.”

For Tobias Borck, senior research fellow for Middle East security at London’s Royal United Services Institute, Netanyahu has been hamstrung from the start by his own perception of the conflict with the Palestinians, with his “manageable conflict status quo” having proved a failed strategy.

“His intransigence on only viewing Palestine as a problem to be managed is what’s impeding the emergence of new ideas,” Borck told Arab News.




Palestinians look for survivors of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah on Dec. 12, 2023. (AP)

It has created “this completely unsustainable middle thing: Neither one state, nor two states. It is not a solution to the problem. It is a confusion caused by the position Netanyahu adopted decades ago. That he has not come up with new ideas isn’t surprising.”

Following a seven-day truce, during which Hamas released several hostages in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails, the IDF’s bombing campaign resumed, bringing the civilian death toll in Gaza to more than 18,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Against this backdrop, several unnamed sources who spoke to US media have said that Washington may try to force Israel’s hand and impose an end to the violence by Christmas. Borck said he has heard these rumors, but is not convinced of their veracity.

What has become quite clear is that “the American tone is shifting and it is turning from open-ended to wanting it over,” he said.

“You can trace the shift over the past two months. The shift is continuing, and the end point is inevitable: Ceasefire now. All that matters is what the Americans perceive as the Israelis having achieved their war aims. Remember there are Americans still held hostage.”




Palestinians salvage their belongings after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on  Dec. 13, 2023. (AP)

Borck does not expect Israelis to simply lay down their arms the moment Washington barks “ceasefire now.” Instead, he expects to see them challenge and condemn a perceived US interference.

However, Washington’s change of tone could actually be Netanyahu’s best opportunity for political survival. Reuters has cited recent polling that indicates overwhelming public support for the war, despite the civilian death toll in Gaza.

One former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovich, told The New York Times that Netanyahu was focused as much on a pending election as he was on the war.

“He’s looking at a potential election campaign a few months down the road. This is going to be his platform: ‘I am the leader who can stand up to Biden and prevent a Palestinian state’,” said Rabinovich.

Biden appears to be keen on disassociating backing for Israel from support for Netanyahu. Earlier in the week, the US president said Israel was losing international support because of its indiscriminate bombing.




US President Joe Biden, shown in this photo with Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (right), has increasingly become impatient with the Israeli government's intransigence on the war in Gaza. (AFP/File)

Netanyahu, meanwhile, appears to be moving to identify himself in opposition to Biden, stating in recent remarks: “We are continuing until the end, there is no question. I say this even given the great pain and the international pressure. Nothing will stop us.”

Ahron Bregman, a senior teaching fellow at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, told Arab News he was hesitant about writing Netanyahu off just yet, noting that, after 30 years of writing political obituaries, it is still too soon to say.

Echoing others who spoke to Arab News, he is also skeptical that a change in leadership at the top of Israeli politics would result in any meaningful change for Palestinians.

“It doesn’t really matter, because whoever replaces him is likely to continue with the same policies, namely using brutal force to suppress the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel is unlucky in that at this critical time, it doesn’t have a (David) Ben-Gurion,” he said, referring to the founder and first prime minister of Israel.




Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet. (AFP)

It happens in the history of nations that often, at critical times, when one needs leaders who are brave, bold and able to think out of the box, they are not around.”

Bregman said that this has left Palestinians in an unenviable position, but suggested those supporting their cause would be best placed directing their energies “not so much to a long-term solution but to ensure that the Israelis, when this war is over, get out of the Gaza Strip.”

This meant also ensuring that if Israel wants a buffer zone separating it from Gaza, it will have to be built inside Israel, he said.

If, as some have suggested, the Israel Defense Forces is eying up the possibility of turning north Gaza into a buffer zone, Bregman said that any Israeli presence in the “tiny” Strip, even if only “temporary,” would only serve to “delay even further a long-term solution to the conflict.”

 


UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis

UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis
Updated 15 July 2024
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UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis

UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis

RIYADH: A UN official said he witnessed “one of the worst scenes he has seen in Gaza in the past nine months” during his visit to the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis on Saturday.
Scott Anderson, the director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza, said that “many of the injured were receiving treatment on the hospital floor without disinfectants due to insufficient beds and a lack of essential cleanliness equipment and supplies.” 
Nasser Medical Complex is under tremendous strain and burden, with children who are amputees, others paralyzed and deprived of medical treatment, the Saudi Press Agency quoted Anderson as saying.
The UN official also noted how parents were in despair about the conditions of their children.
He added that the United Nations team provided referral services on Saturday, along with additional tents, beds, stretchers, supplies and medications.
He also pointed out the obstacles hindering humanitarian operations prevented aid from reaching people, SPA added.


Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule

Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule
Updated 15 July 2024
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Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule

Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule
  • Syrians are voting for members of a new parliament in an election that is expected to hold few surprises
  • Syrians who’ve left their country due to the war are not eligible to vote in parliamentary elections

DAMASCUS: Syrians were voting for members of a new parliament in an election Monday that was expected to hold few surprises but could pave the way for a constitutional amendment to extend the term of President Bashar Assad.
The vote is the fourth in Syria since mass anti-government protests and a brutal crackdown by security forces spiraled into an ongoing civil war in 2011.
There are 1,516 government-approved candidates running this year for the 250-seat People’s Assembly.
The number of eligible voters has not been announced. In parliamentary elections, unlike presidential elections, the millions of diaspora Syrians — whose numbers have ballooned since the civil war — are not eligible to vote.
Some 8,151 polling stations were set up in 15 voting districts in government-held areas.
In the Druze-majority southern province of Sweida, where anti-government protests have been taking place regularly for nearly a year, many called for a boycott of the polls. Videos posted online showed protesters seizing ballot boxes off a truck in an attempt to stop them arriving to polling stations.
Elsewhere, campaigning was low key and candidates’ campaigns largely revolved around general slogans such as national unity and prosperity.
Assad’s Baath Party won 166 seats in the 2020 elections, representing nearly two-thirds of its membership, in addition to 17 members from allied parties. Another 67 seats went to independent candidates.
Vladimir Pran, an independent adviser on transitional political and electoral processes, said the competitive part of the Syrian election process comes before voters go to the polls, during the Baath Party primary process, when party members vote on which candidates’ names are sent to the party’s central command to make the final list.
“Elections are really already finished... with the end of the primary process,” he said. Once the Baath party list is completed, “you can check the list and the results, and you will see that literally all of them will be in the Parliament.”
The number of incumbents who made the final list this year was relatively low, suggesting a reshuffling within the Baath party.
Maroun Sfeir, a consultant on transitional electoral and political processes, said the 169 candidates put forward by the Baath party alone is past the margin of 167 MPs needed to propose a constitutional amendment, protect the president from being accused of treason and veto legislation.
Adding to that 16 candidates from Baath-allied parties running on the same list, he said, “you’re only three MPs short of three quarters of the parliament, which is required for (passing) a constitutional amendment.”
While that leaves 65 slots open for independent candidates, Sfeir said they should not be expected to present a real opposition bloc.
“They are all pre-vetted... to ensure that they’re all loyal or without any threat,” he said.
With Assad facing term limits that would end his presidency in 2028, the next parliament is widely expected to try to pass a constitutional amendment to extend his term.


Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
Updated 15 July 2024
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Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
  • The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The civil defense agency in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that 15 people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering war displaced where the Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists.”
The strike on the UN-run Abu Araban site in central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp was the fifth on a school-turned-shelter in eight days.
The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Schools in Nuseirat were the target for two of the earlier school strikes as Israel keeps up its offensive against Hamas Palestinian militants who triggered the war with their October 7 attack on Israel.
The Israeli military said its air force “struck a number of terrorists who were operating in the area of UNRWA’s Abu Araban school building in Nuseirat.”
It said the building had “served as a hideout” and base for “attacks” on Israeli troops.
AFPTV images showed the three-story complex standing, with clothes and bedding airing out over its railings. A wall bearing the UN logo had been blown out, and rooms inside were damaged.
On July 6, Israeli aircraft hit Al-Jawni school, also run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in Nuseirat. UNRWA said about 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.
The following day, four people died in a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, according to the Civil Defense agency.
On Monday, Israel hit another Nuseirat school, again saying it was targeting “terrorists.”
The next day, a hospital source said at least 29 people died in a strike at the entrance to Al-Awda school in the Khan Yunis area, southern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas uses schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure for military purposes. Hamas denies the accusation.
France and Germany on Wednesday called for an investigation into the school strikes.
After the Al-Jawni strike, UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma told AFP that when the war began “we closed the schools and they became shelters.”
UNRWA is the main relief agency in Gaza but more than half, or 190, of its facilities have been hit — “some more than once” — in the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, she said.
 

 


As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
Updated 14 July 2024
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As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
  • About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian

TEL AVIV: Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a “low profile” since Oct. 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.
He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed East Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.
“You never know where your place is, and that is not the right atmosphere to perform,” said Nahas, the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel’s north.
He said that his theater depends on government subsidies “like 99 percent of cultural spaces” in Israel.
But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.
One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.
Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel. Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.
“I have had to go into exile to practice my art,” he said in a Tel Aviv cafe.
“I don’t wear my ‘Free Palestine’ bracelet anymore, and I take care of what I put on social media. I have friends who the police have visited.”
Nonprofit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel’s Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work, and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.
Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that said “the only victor is God.”
Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of “death threats.”
About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.
They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that “a cultural silence has taken hold since Oct. 7.”
“There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect” for the war’s victims, she added.
“There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem,” Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by most of the international community.
“Now people don’t go out.”
And it is primarily exiles “who give a voice to Palestine,” said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant, who played at the Coachella music festival in the US in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.
Palestinians still express themselves through their “living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh,” a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.
Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.
“You turn on the television, and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work,” Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem’s Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.
The theater, founded in 1984, “has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years” and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.
“Running a theater is always difficult, but after Oct. 7 things became even more complicated,” he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.
“It is a game, like censorship. It comes and goes.”

 


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
Updated 14 July 2024
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UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday
  • The aid includes supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries and insulin

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”