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Chatham House: The Middle East Must Be Prepared For Netanyahu's Departure

21.03.2024
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According to N.Bar-Yaacov

Not long ago, D. Biden announced that a ceasefire agreement would be reached by March 4 and an exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners was expected. But despite weeks of painstaking mediation by Qatar, Egypt and the United States, a ceasefire was not agreed upon before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on March 11. The huge discrepancies between the positions of Hamas and Israel threaten serious regional escalation, although negotiations continue and new proposals for a shorter cessation of hostilities are on the table.

The ongoing fighting is making it much more difficult to combat the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip, as UN OCHA reports, with at least 500,000 people on the brink of famine and, since October 7, more than 30,000 people killed and some 72,000 injured. Washington has made it clear that its patience with Netanyahu has ended and it is seeking to improve relations with a possible alternative Israeli leadership.

In his State of the Union, Biden acknowledged Israel's right to self-defense but addressed its leadership directly, saying that "humanitarian assistance cannot be an afterthought or a bargaining chip." The extraordinary visit to the United States last week (despite Netanyahu's clear disapproval) by War Cabinet member Benny Gantz was unprecedented and clearly demonstrated the Biden administration's dissatisfaction with the Israeli prime minister.

Gantz, after talks with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin, also met with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron in London.

Even more stunning was the March 14 call by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the highest-ranking elected Jewish official in the United States, to hold elections in Israel to replace Netanyahu. He also called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

Three members of Netanyahu's war cabinet - his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkott - are all signaling their intention to challenge him as prime minister.

Israelis are ready for change. According to recent polls, about 75 percent expressed a desire to see Netanyahu leave. Even within his Likud party there is maneuvering over his possible departure, with challenges even emerging from the far-right ultra-Orthodox in his coalition. In such circumstances, the collapse of the coalition and the coming to power of a new government may only be a matter of time.

As long as Netanyahu is in power, no progress will, in all likelihood, be achieved. The only worrying question is how far he will go before he leaves, especially given that there will be a three-month period after the old government vacates until the new one is elected and formed.

The new government will also have to be convinced that a Palestinian state would be the best path to protecting Israel's security. This may seem obvious to the Arab states, but after October 7 it is not at all obvious to the Israelis. Israelis' real fears that a Palestinian state will not support another such attack must be addressed.

 

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