It is a fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a fight for his political life, and doing everything possible to remain in the top job. Apart from anything else, he doesn’t want to go to prison for fraud and corruption.
He has thus started to orchestrate mergers among small right-wing parties which do not cross the electoral threshold, so that he can get them in the Knesset and bolster his chance of being asked to form the next government. For example, he got Bayit Yehudi and Otzma Yehudit together despite their clear extremism and racism.
Netanyahu has also adopted controversial polices and measures to keep himself in power. Israeli writer Herb Keinon said last April that “[Netanyahu] has the political antennae to know what it takes to win, what is needed to enthuse his base and then goes after it – no matter what, no holds barred.” The most notable of his actions has been sold as US President Donald Trump’s so-called deal of the century.
Writing in Haaretz, Yossi Verter said that the deal of the century “was marketed to us as a historic development, virtually equal in significance to Israel’s Declaration of Independence… [It] was described by his people as the crowning glory of his 14 years as prime minister, the fulfilment of the dream of the nations of the world and the triumph of Zionism.” However, said Verter, the “peace plan” did not have the impact that Netanyahu wanted. The Likud leader has been “going crazy with frustration.”
The most important issue for Israeli politicians to attract votes is the annexation of the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and those on the periphery of the besieged Gaza Strip. Their “stability” is essential.
The issue of annexation was resolved as part of Trump’s deal and the Israeli government has started to implement it on the ground with the assistance of the Palestinian Authority, which is suppressing not only armed, but also popular Palestinian resistance to the occupation. Despite President Mahmoud Abbas’s rhetoric in response to the deal, the PA’s “sacred” security collaboration with the Israelis is continuing. PA security forces are even clamping down on the entirely peaceful Great Fajr (Dawn) Prayer protest. “We will not allow the Great Fajr Prayer to continue in order to maintain stability and tranquillity in the city,” insisted the governor of the West Bank city of Nablus, Ibrahim Ramadhan.
According to Nabil Abu Rudieneh, a senior advisor to Abbas, security cooperation is ongoing despite the warnings by the PA and Fatah officials that it would be stopped in protest against the annexation plans. Israel thus has a free hand to do whatever it wants, with the PA’s tacit consent, and has already stopped Palestinians from using Area B following orders from Defence Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been doing his best to keep the settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip as calm as can be expected. While trying to avoid military confrontations and loss of Israeli life, he has made those incursions which have taken place as short as possible by activating UN and Egyptian mediation with Hamas and the Palestinian factions.
An over- and underground fence is being built to block resistance groups from using tunnels under the nominal border; the Israeli Prime Minister has also strengthened the Iron Dome missile defence system to neutralise rockets fired by Palestinian resistance groups. He has even “eased” — which is an entirely relative term, of course — the siege imposed on Gaza in an effort to have the Great March of Return protests cancelled. Qatar’s Ambassador to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Mohamed Al-Emadi, has also been permitted to take cash assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza on a monthly basis.
Restrictions on cement being imported into Gaza have been lifted, and Netanyahu has allowed the import and export of some goods and “expanded” the fishing zone. The Palestinians are supposed to be grateful, but these are basic rights which we should enjoy normally in any case and not, as Israeli politicians would have the world believe, massive concessions to the people in the beleaguered enclave.
Netanyahu has been criticised for this, not least by former Foreign and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as well as the former Chief of Staff and current head of the Blue and White bloc, Benny Gantz. Both accuse the Prime Minister of surrendering to the Palestinian resistance and claim that he is bargaining the security and stability of the settlements near Gaza for a potential victory in next month’s General Election.
According to Lieberman, the latest “concession” was Netanyahu dispatching the head of the Mossad security agency, Yossi Cohen, and the Chief of the army’s Southern Command, Herzl Halevi, to “beg the Qataris to keep funnelling money into Hamas.” The far-right Lieberman also claimed that Egypt and Qatar are furious with Hamas and had decided to cut ties, but Netanyahu stepped in to persuade them otherwise.
Yesterday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man in Gaza and then scooped his corpse off the ground with an armoured bulldozer, in a macabre display of disrespect for the dead. A number of Netanyahu’s rivals told him that they would support a military offensive in Gaza, but he did not agree to go ahead. According to a statement by the Israel Defence Forces, he insisted on very limited action. Indeed, the IDF hinted that it would not annoy Hamas, but would only attack Islamic Jihad targets.
Journalist Baruch Yedid, who is close to Netanyahu’s Likud party, told me that the Prime Minister would not carry out a major offensive in Gaza in response to the rockets being launched from the territory “because of the election”. In order to calm his rivals, the Defence Minister ordered an attack in Syria which killed two Islamic Jihad operatives; Netanyahu was certain that there would be no retaliation to this.
It seems that Netanyahu is ready to pay any price in return for quiet in Gaza, which he believes will boost his chances of winning next month. According to Israeli writer Ben Caspit, the Israeli leader is ready to turn the current ceasefire arrangements with Hamas into a long-term deal, because it is “his own personal fate” which is at stake. How long is “long-term”? That is the big question.