Netanyahu under increasing pressure at home following Biden’s Gaza proposal

AP
PROTEST. People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, June 1, 2024. / AP

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s prime minister faced growing pressure Saturday, June 1, 2024, after US President Joe Biden announced a proposed agreement to end the fighting in Gaza, with many Israelis urging Benjamin Netanyahu to embrace the deal but far-right allies threatening to collapse his government if he does.

Netanyahu called a permanent ceasefire in Gaza a “nonstarter” until long-standing conditions for ending the war are met, appearing to undermine the proposal that Biden described as an Israeli one.

A huge demonstration in Israel on Saturday night, led by families of hostages held by Hamas, urged the government to act now. Mediators the US, Egypt and Qatar pressed Israel and Hamas, saying the proposed deal “offers a road map for a permanent ceasefire and ending the crisis” and gives immediate relief to both hostages and Gaza residents.

But far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir said they would break up the government if it takes the deal. That could expose Netanyahu to new elections, scrutiny over security failures that led to the war and — if he loses the prime minister post — prosecution on longstanding corruption charges.

Netanyahu’s statement said that “Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel. Under the proposal, Israel will continue to insist these conditions are met before a permanent ceasefire is put in place.”

In a separate statement, Netanyahu accepted an invitation from US congressional leaders to deliver an address at the Capitol, a show of support for Israel while top ally the US shows frustration. No date has been set.

Biden on Friday, May 31, asserted that Hamas militants are “no longer capable” of carrying out a large-scale attack on Israel like the one on Oct. 7. He urged Israel and Hamas to reach an agreement to release about 100 remaining hostages, along with the bodies of around 30 more, for an extended ceasefire.

Talks on a deal halted last month after a push by mediators in hopes of averting a full-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. Israel says the Rafah operation is key to uprooting remaining Hamas battalions, even as the militants regroup elsewhere in the territory.

Israel on Friday confirmed its troops were operating in central parts of Rafah. Around one million Palestinians — almost half of Gaza’s population — have left Rafah, and the United Nations World Food Program has called living conditions “horrific and apocalyptic” as hunger grows.

Families of hostages said time was running out.

“This might be the last chance to save lives,” Gili Roman told The Associated Press. His sister, Yarden Roman-Gat, was freed during a weeklong ceasefire in November, but sister-in-law Carmel is still held. “Our leadership must not disappoint us. But mostly, all eyes should be on Hamas,” Roman said.

Families described an aggressive meeting Thursday, May 30, with Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, who told them the government wasn’t ready to sign a deal to bring all hostages home and there was no plan B.

Many hostages’ families accuse the government of a lack of will.

“We know that the government of Israel has done an awful lot to delay reaching a deal, and that has cost the lives of many people who survived in captivity for weeks and weeks and months and months,” Sharone Lifschitz said. Her mother, Yocheved, was freed in November but her father, Oded, is still held. / AP

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