After Recent Clashes In Gaza, Netanyahu’s Government Hangs In The Balance

Recent clashes between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas in the Gaza Strip have placed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government into stormy waters.  Beginning on November 11, violence broke out between the IDF and Hamas, resulting in the deaths of 11 Palestinians and one Israeli commander and tens injured.  Gazan militants launched missiles into Israel, with many projectiles intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, while the Israeli Air Force struck more than 70 targets in Gaza, including Hamas’ TV broadcasting station Al-Aqsa.  These clashes could have resulted in a full-scale war between the two parties, but thanks to mediators they were able to reach a cease-fire.  However, several members of Netanyahu’s cabinet opposed the cease-fire, with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigning.  After this, there were fears of snap elections in Israel, with a coalition partner politician threatening to quit the government.

The politician in question, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said, “if the Prime Minister is serious in his intentions, and I want to believe his words from last night, I am saying here to the Prime Minister we are removing at this moment all of our political demands and will help you in the huge mission of making Israel win again.”  Mr. Bennett lobbied hard to become the new Defense Minister “so that Israel will go back to winning,” but was rebuffed by the Prime Minister, who has assumed the role of Defense Minister.  Meanwhile, in the ensuing domestic political turmoil, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “in such a period you don’t topple a government. In such a period you don’t go to elections.”  In terms of the international response, both the American envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt and some Central European governments condemned Hamas’ actions and defended Israel’s right to self-defense.  At the same time, the Turkish and Syrian governments were highly critical of Israel’s actions.

The recent outbreak of violence does not bode well of course for future peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.  With the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the accompanying violence that took place, it seems unlikely that the “Deal of the Century” will come about or succeed.  Meanwhile, neither is the ongoing development of Israeli settlements nor the lack of access to basic necessities for Palestinians will help. Though there is currently a cease-fire in place between Israel and Hamas, given the history of an almost immediate return to violence, it is at this moment overly optimistic that any breakthrough can occur.  To successfully maintain some modicum of peace and stability in the Levant, it will largely be up to the United Nations, the European Union, regional actors, and non-governmental humanitarian organizations to navigate the way through the situation’s complexities and encourage reconciliation.

Compounding the acrimonious relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is the current political crisis in Netanyahu’s government.  Facing charges of corruption by the Israeli Supreme Court, Netanyahu and his wife are under increasing scrutiny.  If found guilty he could face a vote of no-confidence, thus throwing the government into chaos.  However, despite criticism of the cease-fire by conservative elements in Israeli society, particularly among Netanyahu’s support base, he remains highly popular among the electorate.  Though the Prime Minister currently maintains a slim-majority in the Knesset of 61 out of 120 seats, it is likely that he would be re-elected, becoming the longest-serving leader in Israeli history.  Thus—despite the criticism—with much of the country behind him and his desire to maintain the right-wing orientation of the government, it is likely that Netanyahu will feel emboldened to pursue a harder line in the future.  For peace in the Levant and the wider Middle East, both the Israelis and Palestinians should work tirelessly through the grueling process of reconciliation and warming of relations.