Israel’s lose-lose situation shows its crisis is just beginning

Israel’s lose-lose situation shows its crisis is just beginning

Oct. 7 gave Israel a historical dilemma that even Netanyahu’s Knesset majority most likely will not be able to resolve (AFP)
Oct. 7 gave Israel a historical dilemma that even Netanyahu’s Knesset majority most likely will not be able to resolve (AFP)
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Historically, wars unite Israelis. Not anymore.

Not that Israelis disagree with Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest war; they simply do not believe that the prime minister is the man who can win this supposedly existential fight.

But Netanyahu’s war remains unwinnable simply because liberation wars, often conducted through guerrilla warfare tactics, are far more complicated than traditional combat. Nearly six months after the Israeli attack on Gaza began, it has become clear that Palestinian resistance groups are durable and well prepared for a much longer fight.

Netanyahu, supported by far-right ministers and an equally hard-line defense minister, Yoav Gallant, insists that more firepower is the answer. Though the unprecedented amount of explosives used by Israel in Gaza has already killed or wounded more than 100,000 Palestinians, an Israeli victory — however it is defined — remains elusive.

So, what do Israelis want and, more precisely, what is their prime minister’s endgame in Gaza?

Major opinion polls since Oct. 7 continue to produce similar results: the Israeli public prefers Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity alliance, over the prime minister and his Likud party.

It has become clear that Palestinian resistance groups are durable and well prepared for a much longer fight

Dr. Ramzy Baroud

A recent poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper Maariv also indicated that one of Netanyahu’s closest and most important coalition partners, Religious Zionist Party leader and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, is virtually irrelevant in terms of public support. If elections were to be held today, the far-right minister’s party would not even pass the electoral threshold.

Most Israelis are calling for new elections this year. If they were to receive their wish today, the pro-Netanyahu coalition would only be able to muster 46 seats, compared to its rivals with 64. And if the Israeli coalition government — currently controlling 72 of the Knesset’s 120 seats — were to collapse, the right wing’s dominance of Israeli politics would shatter, likely for a long time.

In this scenario, all of Netanyahu’s political shenanigans, which have served him well in the past, would fall short of allowing him to return to power, keeping in mind he is already 74 years of age.

A greatly polarized society, Israelis have learned to blame an individual or a political party for all of their woes. This is partly why election outcomes can sharply differ from one election cycle to the next. Between April 2019 and November 2022, Israel held five general elections, and the people are now demanding yet another.

The November 2022 elections were meant to be decisive, as they ended years of uncertainty and settled on the “most right-wing government in the history of Israel” — an oft-repeated description of Israel’s modern government coalitions.

To ensure Israel does not return to its previous indecision, Netanyahu’s government wanted to secure its gains for good. Smotrich, along with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, hoped to fashion a new Israeli society that is forever tilted toward their brand of religious and ultranationalist Zionism.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, simply wanted to hold on to power, partly because he has become too accustomed to the perks of his office and also because he is desperately hoping to avoid jail time due to his several corruption trials.

To achieve this, the rightist and far-right parties have diligently worked to change the rules of the game, curtailing the power of the judiciary and ending the oversight of the Supreme Court. They failed at some tasks and succeeded at others, including an amendment to the country’s Basic Laws to curtail the power of Israel’s highest court, such as its right to overturn the government’s policies.

Oct. 7 gave Israel a historic dilemma that even Netanyahu’s comfortable Knesset majority most likely will not be able to resolve

Dr. Ramzy Baroud

Though Israelis protested en masse, it was clear that the initial energy of these protests, starting in January 2023, was petering out and that a government with such a substantial majority — at least, per Israel’s standards — will not easily relent.

Oct. 7 changed all the calculations.

The Palestinian Al-Aqsa Flood operation is often examined in terms of its military and intelligence components, if not usefulness, but rarely in terms of its strategic outcomes. It gave Israel a historic dilemma that even Netanyahu’s comfortable Knesset majority most likely will not be able to resolve.

Complicating matters, on Jan. 1, the Supreme Court officially annulled the decision by Netanyahu’s coalition to strike down the power of the judiciary. This news, however significant, was overshadowed by the many other crises plaguing the country, mostly blamed on Netanyahu and his coalition partners. These included the military and intelligence failures leading to Oct. 7, the grinding war, the shrinking economy, the risk of a regional conflict, the rift between Israel and Washington and the growing global anti-Israel sentiment.

The problems continue to pile up and Netanyahu, the master politician of former times, is now only hanging by the thread of keeping the war going for as long as possible to defer his mounting crises for as long as possible.

But an indefinite war is not an option either. The Israeli economy, according to recent data from the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics, shrank by more than 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023. It is likely to continue its freefall in the coming period.

Moreover, the army is struggling, fighting an unwinnable war without realistic goals. The only major source of new recruits can be obtained from ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have been spared the battlefield to instead study in yeshivas.

Seventy percent of all Israelis, including many in Netanyahu’s own party, want the Haredi to join the army. The Supreme Court last week ordered a suspension of state subsidies allocated to these ultra-Orthodox communities. If this were to happen, the crisis would deepen on multiple fronts. If the Haredi lose their privileges, Netanyahu’s government is likely to collapse; if they maintain them, the other government — the post Oct-7 war council — is likely to collapse as well.

An end to the Gaza war, even if branded as a “victory” by Netanyahu, will only further the polarization and deepen Israel’s worst internal political struggle since its founding on the ruins of historic Palestine. A continuation of the war will add to the schisms, as it will only serve as a reminder of an irremediable defeat.

  • Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and author. He is editor of The Palestine Chronicle and nonresident senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappe, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out.” X: @RamzyBaroud
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