Palestine Pulse

Cease-fire agreement sends tremors through Israeli Knesset

Article Summary
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cease-fire agreement with Gaza led Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to submit his resignation, it also led the opposition to call for early elections.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Israeli opposition withdrew Nov. 21 motions to dissolve the Knesset due to the lack of majority support for such motions within the Knesset. If the opposition submits proposals now and these are voted down, then it would not be able to submit them again for another six months, according to Knesset procedure.

Haaretz newspaper reported that the opposition is waiting for a more opportune time to reintroduce the motions as it wants the government to be unstable in order to guarantee that they would pass.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni had called Nov. 14 for the dissolution of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and for holding early general Knesset elections. This came after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced his resignation to protest Netanyahu's cease-fire agreement with the Gaza Strip on the evening of Nov. 13. Liberman deemed such an agreement as a kind of deference to terrorism. His resignation went into effect Nov. 18.

Residents of southern Israel have also expressed their rejection of the cease-fire by taking to the streets in protest of the Israeli government’s decision. They called for a war on Gaza to ensure their safety and so Israel could regain its deterrent power against Hamas.

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Meanwhile, Netanyahu managed to persuade leaders of the coalition parties to preserve the government's stability without following in the footsteps of Liberman. This, according to Netanyahu, would also ensure the stability of the coalition government and enable it to move forward.

Netanyahu stands against early elections for security reasons. At a Nov. 18 press conference, he said that Israel is “in one of the most complex security situations. At a time like this, we do not topple a government and hold an election. It’s irresponsible. We have a year left.”

By law, elections must be held by November 2019, but the opposition is seeking to hold them in March.

Israeli military analysts have warned that early Knesset elections would affect Israel's front with the Gaza Strip and could lead to war on Gaza. During speeches delivered at the annual Jerusalem Post conference Nov. 21, three Israeli ministers launched an attack on Gaza and Hamas leaders — namely the movement's leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar — threatening to wage a war against Gaza and deal a heavy blow to Hamas.

This prompted Netanyahu to call on his government ministers to keep mum about the security situation with the Gaza Strip and respect the cease-fire decision.

Mamoun Abu Amer, an expert in Israeli affairs, told Al-Monitor that Netanyahu wants to hold the elections amid a stable and calm security environment, and he has managed to portray his Gaza-related decisions — such as allowing the entry of Qatari funds and accepting the cease-fire agreement — as rational. After all, he said, it would not be logical to wage a war that leads to unknown results.

He said that a war on Gaza would be useless for Israel and would lead to human and material losses. Such a war, Abu Amer noted, would be "harsh and unsatisfying."

He cited Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi as saying, "A war on Gaza could lead to the launch of hundreds of rockets a day on Tel Aviv and paralyze Ben Gurion Airport for weeks. If we enter Gaza, at least 500 soldiers would be killed.”

Abu Amer added, “The minister's threats might be aimed at warning Hamas that [Netanyahu] is facing internal pressure and that the movement must maintain calm in the region.”

Netanyahu, he said, refuses to hold early elections because he is losing popularity. According to a poll published by Israeli TV Channel 2 on Nov. 14, the Likud Party led by Netanyahu would only win 29 seats in the event of early elections. This would be the worst result achieved since March.

Abu Amer added that the Likud Party is seeking to win 40 seats in the upcoming elections, and explained that Netanyahu would take decisions related to the elections based on his political interests. He said that since the start of negotiations with Hamas, Netanyahu has been betting on calm with Gaza, on his responsiveness to its demands to ease the siege and on his introduction of fuel and funds into the Gaza Strip to win popularity.

He pointed out that the escalation that started Nov. 12 and that came following an Israeli security operation in the Gaza Strip, whereby Israeli soldiers had infiltrated Gaza on Nov. 11 to carry out a special intelligence operation, was an Israeli breakthrough, and it was only normal for Hamas to counter it.

“The outbidding strategy that the opposition initially adopted against Netanyahu has diminished, especially considering that his position is now consistent with the position of the army and the military leadership,” Abu Amer noted.

Hassan Abdo, a political analyst close to Islamic Jihad, told Al-Monitor that there are conflicting political agendas in Israel. While Netanyahu is seeking to calm the situation with the Gaza Strip and form an Arab-Israeli alliance to confront Iran, the opposition is seeking to wage a full-scale war on Gaza. He pointed out that all of the Israeli parties’ electoral propaganda relies on the Palestinian bloodshed as a means to win more votes.

“Such conflicting agendas stand in the way of a consensus over a broad war against Gaza, but they do not prevent the launch of limited strikes that could lead to great media fanfare,” Abdo said.

He noted that Netanyahu could catch Gaza off guard and proceed to a limited escalation in the event he manages to achieve his political and security gains. Abdo also stressed that Gaza does not constitute an existential threat to Israel, especially considering that by simply easing the siege on the Gaza Strip, calm could be restored.

“The northern front — meaning Iran and Hezbollah — is the biggest threat to Israel, and Israel is trying to devote itself thereto,” he added.

Abdo explained that the threats made by Netanyahu's coalition ministers may have to do with the truce negotiations taking place in Cairo to entrench calm with Gaza and send a message to Hamas whereby any alternative to the truce would have a destructive effect on the movement. Such threats might have also been made with the aim of restoring the Israeli deterrent force in a bid to satisfy the internal public opinion.

Omar Jaara, a professor of political science at An-Najah National University, told Al-Monitor that Netanyahu wants to impose a security equation that would serve his political position and ensure his success in the upcoming general elections. He said, “Netanyahu might be able to restore his popularity by establishing calm with the Gaza Strip without resorting to war.”

He ruled out early elections or a war on Gaza, as the Israeli army has no strategic goals to target. Jaara expects a long-term truce with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Should this happen, he said, Netanyahu would have scored a win.

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Entsar Abu Jahal is a Palestinian journalist covering current events. She is currently pursuing a master's in journalism and works with several local and Arab journals, as well as various local stations.

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