The Guardian: "There's one thing standing in the way of a Gaza ceasefire"

Simon Tisdall analyzes for the Guardian how Netanyahu was caught in a trap

by Sededin Dedovic
The Guardian: "There's one thing standing in the way of a Gaza ceasefire"
© Amir Levy / Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, must compromise on the unresolved details of the proposed ceasefire agreement and Hamas' counter-offer over the weekend – and immediately halt Israel's criminal bombing of Gaza and reckless military incursions into areas around Rafah populated by refugees, writes Simon Tisdall, a foreign policy commentator for The Guardian.

On the other hand, Hamas must respect previous understandings about the staged release of Israeli hostages and cease its rough bargaining at the last minute, especially regarding how many Palestinian prisoners exactly and who will be released in return.

His priority should be alleviating civilian suffering in Gaza, not scoring points. His demands for Israel to agree to a "permanent" ceasefire at this stage have always been unrealistic. Equally unrealistic is Netanyahu's stance, adopted immediately after the massacre of Israeli civilians on October 7, that the only true measure of victory is the complete destruction of Hamas.

This is the single biggest obstacle to peace. Since this goal, and it always has been, is practically unattainable, Netanyahu is caught in a trap of his own making, compelled to wage an endless, unwinnable war. "The heart of the dispute has revolved for months around one issue.

Hamas insists any deal includes a cessation of hostilities and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, with guarantees... Netanyahu refuses to agree to this, as it would mean admitting he has not achieved the war's stated objectives and could thus open a political hornet's nest," wrote Haaretz analyst Amos Harel.

The key problem, as many Israelis and foreign diplomats see it, is that the ongoing war is actually Netanyahu's preferred choice.

Prime Minister of the State of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he exits after speaking during the United Nations General Asse© Michael M.

Santiago / Getty Images

He fears that even a ceasefire or pause, let alone a lasting peace, could hasten his political demise, his ousting as prime minister, and potentially his indictment on various longstanding corruption charges.

In power, he's protected. Powerless, he's toast. Hoping Netanyahu will do the decent thing is a bit like hoping it won't rain in Manchester. But around him are powerful people, like Benny Gantz, a member of the security cabinet and longtime opponent, who could force his hand.

The opposition, led by Yair Lapid, wants snap elections. Still, this prospect further incentivizes Netanyahu to stick to his guns. Elections would be preferable because Israel could potentially rid itself of the unrepresentative, hard-right coalition supported by extremist ultra-Orthodox Zionists like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Over the weekend, Ben-Gvir reiterated that nothing less than Hamas' "complete defeat" and "absolute surrender" would suffice. The behavior of these individuals and their supporters since October 7 continues to undermine Israel's interests and its broader hopes for peace.

The fact that Netanyahu has become dependent on such zealots is reason enough to oust him. One Israeli official response to Hamas' revised stance was to dismiss it as a "trick" designed to portray Israel as the disobedient party in the eyes of the world.

The mass killing of civilians in Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces since October achieved precisely that result without any help from Hamas. Israel's international reputation lies deservedly in tatters. However, Hamas leaders must also stop playing politics with innocent lives and show that their decisions are not solely driven by internal rivalries.

Hamas' overall chief, Ismail Haniyeh, who safely resides in exile in the Gulf, enjoys the company of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There are reported rifts between him and Yahya Sinwar, Hamas' leader in Gaza, who advocates for an unconditional end to the war.

Media reports suggest that one of the latest sticking points is Hamas' chilling insistence on distinguishing between hostages who are still alive and those who are dead. In Hamas' view, releasing a living hostage is "worth" more than the return of the body of a deceased hostage, measured by the number of Palestinians who will be released in exchange.

Like Netanyahu, Hamas leaders have a responsibility that outweighs their selfish personal interests. Now is the time to fulfill that. At this critical juncture, with hope for peace, or at least a halt to the killing, hanging by a thread, the United States – by far the most influential external party in the conflict – continues to tread too cautiously, particularly concerning Israel's concerns.

Excessive caution is a hallmark of the Biden presidency. His reluctance to risk confrontation with Russia brought Ukraine to the brink of defeat two years after Vladimir Putin's invasion. Likewise, Biden's refusal to confront Netanyahu forcefully and early over Gaza has greatly contributed to deepening the catastrophe – and Biden's critical loss of support among American voters.