Netanyahu coalition slides into infighting over ceasefire plan


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Israel’s rightwing coalition clashed for a third consecutive day over a US-backed plan to end the war with Hamas, with ultranationalist finance minister Bezalel Smotrich threatening to oust Benjamin Netanyahu “with all strength and aggression” if the prime minister accepted it.

Smotrich, who heads one of two extreme-right groups in Netanyahu’s five-party coalition, said the proposal set out by US President Joe Biden on Friday was “dangerous” and “not binding for the Israeli government”.

“If, God forbid, the government decides to adopt this offer of surrender, we will not be part of it and will work to replace the failed leadership with a new one,” Smotrich said outside the Knesset.

Finance minister Bezalel Smotrich
Finance minister Bezalel Smotrich speaking outside the Knesset says the ceasefire proposal is ‘dangerous’ © Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

The broadside was the latest show of anger from Netanyahu’s far-right allies about a possible deal, and came after national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir accused Netanyahu of hiding details of it from him, and who also threatened to dissolve the government if it was enacted.

“We’re talking about a draft of a reckless deal, as presented by the President of the US — with an attempt to whitewash it being conducted right now,” Ben-Gvir said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted he will not agree to a permanent ceasefire before Hamas is defeated and the hostages it holds in Gaza are released. But facing competing pressures from members of his coalition government who favour a deal, he has stopped short of rejecting it outright.

Yitzhak Goldknopf, leader of United Torah Judaism, one of two ultraorthodox groups in Netanyahu’s coalition, said on Monday that his party would “support any proposal that will lead to the release of the hostages”, saying that there was “nothing greater than the value of life”.

At the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defence committee on Monday, Netanyahu said the war could be “stopped for the purpose of returning hostages” but what followed this would depend on “further discussions”, adding that Biden had not revealed all the details of a possible deal.

In a subsequent statement issued by his office, Netanyahu insisted the government was “working in countless ways to return our hostages”.

“We have gone a long way to return them while adhering to the objectives of the war, first and foremost the elimination of Hamas,” he said.

“We are insistent that we will achieve both. This is part of the outline, not something that I have just added. It is not something that I have added because of coalition pressure.”

Biden unveiled the contours of a possible deal on Friday — calling it an Israeli proposal — under which the fighting would be halted and Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza released. The ultimate goal, he said, was an end to the conflict.

On Monday, his fellow G7 leaders endorsed the plan, saying it would “lead to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages, a significant and sustained increase in humanitarian assistance for distribution throughout Gaza, and an enduring end to the crisis, with Israel’s security interests and Gazan civilian safety assured”.

The three-phase agreement would begin with a “full and complete ceasefire” over six weeks, including the withdrawal of Israeli forces from “densely populated” areas of Gaza, and the return of some hostages, in exchange for the release of some Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

The second phase would involve the release of all hostages and a “permanent cessation of hostilities” combined with a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. The third would involve the “reconstruction” of Gaza as part of a broader stabilisation in the Middle East.

The White House on Monday denied there were any “gaps” between the US and Israel over the plan. John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesperson, said the initiative was the result of intense diplomacy — and that Washington had informed Israel of Biden’s decision to speak about it publicly.

“We’re confident that it accurately reflects . . . a proposal that we worked with the Israelis on — so I know of no gaps to speak of,” Kirby said.

“I’ll let the Israelis really speak to their internal domestic politics. This is an Israeli proposal. The foreign minister himself acknowledged that, the prime minister has acknowledged that this is their proposal,” he added.



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