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Analysis: Gaza genocide pushes Israel’s Netanyahu to the brink

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The controversial prime minister is running out of options as he faces both an angry public, pressuring him to bring back the hostages, and a bloodthirsty right, pressuring him to continue the war.

Israel’s genocide in Gaza is threatening to erode Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fragile grip on power.

Public trust in his leadership continues to dwindle, with only a fraction of Israelis now backing Netanyahu as premier. Most of the Israeli public is also furious at the way his war cabinet is responding to Hamas. A big majority holds Netanyahu principally responsible for the October 7 offensive.

All this adds to fierce public opposition against Netanyahu’s controversial hostage strategy in Gaza. Sharp divisions are also beginning to dominate his fragile war cabinet.

With no end in sight for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, domestic opposition to Netanyahu is set to intensify.

First, the Israeli PM is already struggling to retain the favour of key coalition partners, including the centrist “National Unity” party, to keep his present leadership intact. That includes war cabinet minister Benny Gantz and ally Gadi Eisenkot, whose consent was critical in the formation of Netanyahu’s emergency government in October.

Both have grown increasingly critical of Netanyahu’s belligerent military strategy in Gaza, questioning its effectiveness in securing the release of over 130 Israeli captives. Prompt release of hostages has been a firm red line for the Israeli public. It has triggered a wave of protests against Netanyahu, his war cabinet, and shot his popularity to record lows.

Prospects of a favourable shift remain bleak. Netanyahu rejected Hamas’ conditions for a hostage deal this month, refusing to withdraw Israeli forces in exchange. There are also reports that Netanyahu has deliberately obstructed high-level Qatari hostage release negotiations, dismissing facilitation as “problematic.”

All this contradicts one of the principal goals of Netanyahu’s emergency wartime government: to quell public anger and secure the release of Israeli hostages, no matter the cost.

In a sign of Netanyahu’s waning public credibility, relatives of Israeli hostages stormed the parliament this month and condemned the PM for putting their priorities on the back burner. Broader anti-government protests are also on the rise.

In late January, scores of outraged Israelis took to the streets to demand fresh elections in Israel, claiming that “the threat is no longer from Hamas, but from (Israel’s) criminal cabinet.”

The protests are the latest symptom of dwindling public trust in Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and in his ability to meet commitments that formed the crux of his war-time government.

Interestingly, recurring calls for elections are not confined to the public alone. In a telling interview, Israeli war cabinet minister Eisenkot claimed it was “necessary, within a period of months, to return the Israeli voter to the polls and hold elections in order to renew trust because right now there is no trust.”

This comes at a time when Eisenkot’s National Unity party has mustered a strong lead over Netanyahu’s Likud in wartime polls, threatening an ouster if snap elections were to materialise. Netanyahu’s own refusal to secure a hostage deal also leaves little space to manoeuvre between far-right and centrist coalition partners, weakening the case for a balancing act.

Netanyahu has long banked on the support of his extreme far-right coalition allies to claw his way back to power. November 2022 is a case in point. Netanyahu withstood serious corruption allegations, opposition campaigning and public distrust to steer his far-right coalition into office.

But pressure from the public to bring back the hostages and pressure from the right to continue the war spells little hope of a repeat victory.

Look no further than rising frictions within Netanyahu’s broader security cabinet. In a recent letter, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir hinted at an ultimatum for Netanyahu: either dial-up Israel’s assault on Gaza, or risk losing the support of his Jewish Power party.

Such an outcome could trigger early elections, and formalise the collapse of Netanyahu’s government. These veiled threats reflect hard-set red lines from Netanyahu’s far-right base about any pause in fighting. For them, a permanent ceasefire would be out of the question.

These constraints lay bare Netanyahu’s political vulnerability as the war drags on. Washington and Qatar’s ongoing hostage mediation efforts continue to put a premium on cessation of hostilities. That is an outcome unacceptable to Netanyahu’s core base, but remains a fundamental prerequisite to win back public credibility and give Netanyahu’s hostage rhetoric some weight.

From the outset, Netanyahu repeatedly assured Israeli masses that he will completely eradicate Hamas. Three months on, he has little to show. In fact, Israeli troops have been forced to retreat in northern Gaza, and a rising casualty count continues to unsettle Israel’s military establishment.

Billions in wartime spending didn’t change the fact that Hamas remains an integral party to any high-profile mediation or hostage release deal concerning Gaza. “We (Israel) have to stop lying to ourselves, to show courage, and to lead to a large deal which will bring home the hostages,” war cabinet minister Eisenkot said in a meeting earlier this month.

As a result, a “make-or-break” trade-off seems almost inevitable for Netanyahu now. Either he prioritises a hostage deal at the expense of his far-right coalition partners, or risks further political isolation that could drive his leadership to the ground.

Source: TRT World

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