Netanyahu may be forced to choose between a ceasefire and the survival of his government.

For months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to offer a timeline for ending the war against Hamas in Gaza, a reticence that his critics see as a political tactic. But it was put in a bind this weekend by President Biden's announcement outlining a proposed truce.

Netanyahu, a conservative, has long juggled competing personal, political and national interests. Now he appears to face a difficult choice between the survival of his tough, uncompromising government and the return home of the hostages held in Gaza, as he sets himself and Israel on a new course away from growing international isolation.

The prime minister's critics have painted him as indecisive and say there are two Netanyahus: one who functions pragmatically in the small war cabinet he has formed with some centrist rivals, bolstering his public legitimacy; and another who is himself effectively held hostage by far-right members of his governing coalition, who oppose any concessions to Hamas and who ensure its political survival.

Biden on Friday outlined the general terms that he said were presented by Israel to American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators who pushed for a deal to pause fighting and free hostages held in Gaza. Israeli officials confirmed that the terms corresponded to a ceasefire proposal that had been given the green light by the Israeli war cabinet but not yet presented to the Israeli public.

Now, analysts say, a crucial moment has come for Netanyahu, or Bibi, as he is popularly known.

Biden “threw Netanyahu out into the open of ambiguity and presented Netanyahu's proposal himself,” Ben Caspit, Netanyahu's longtime biographer and critic, wrote in Sunday's Maariv, a Jewish newspaper. “Then he asked a simple question: does Bibi support Netanyahu's proposal? Yes or no. No nonsense and hot air.

The leaders of two far-right parties in the coalition – Bezalel Smotrich, Israel's finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister – have explicitly threatened to topple Netanyahu's government if the prime minister accepts the deal. outlined by Biden before Hamas is completely destroyed. Some hardline members of Netanyahu's Likud party have said they will join them.

At the same time, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, two former military leaders who joined the emergency government throughout the war, have threatened to withdraw support from their centrist National Unity party by June 8 if Netanyahu does not step up. will move forward. with a clear path to follow. And opposition parties began organizing to try to overthrow the government.

The ceasefire proposal includes three phases. They would see the release of large numbers of hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons; a temporary ceasefire would turn into a permanent cessation of hostilities, with the third phase involving an internationally supported effort to rehabilitate Gaza.

Last November, more than 100 hostages were released under a more limited agreement. An estimated 125 hostages, dead and alive, are still held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza.

Ophir Falk, Netanyahu's top foreign policy adviser, said in an interview with Britain's Sunday Times that Biden's proposal was “a deal we agreed on.” Adding that many details still need to be worked out, Falk said: “It's not a good deal, but we long for the hostages to be released, all of them.”

The Israelis were left with the task of analyzing the two statements following Biden's speech that Netanyahu's office released, unusually, on Shabbat. The statements neither strongly supported the proposal nor denied that it had been presented to the mediators. Instead, they were conditional and open to interpretation – apparently designed to leave Netanyahu's options open.

The first statement said that Netanyahu had authorized the Israeli negotiating team to present a proposal that would see the release of the hostages and also “allow Israel to continue the war until it achieves all its objectives, including the destruction of military and Hamas government”. .”

The second reiterated the conditions for ending the war and added: “The idea that Israel will accept a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are met is a failure.”

Noticeably absent, though, was Netanyahu's oft-stated goal of a “total victory” over Hamas in Gaza — a slogan that Biden on Friday dismissed as a vague goal that would mean indefinite war.

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