Hamas’s breach of the Israeli security system on October 7th gave pretext to the disproportionate and inhumane Israeli response in Gaza. Its focus on annihilating Gazans (be it an infant or elderly) has become the current defining feature of this historical conflict between Israel and Palestine. Israel has been on an outright war-crime spree in Gaza, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the longest-serving Israeli premier.
The Hamas attack came at a time when Netanyahu was struggling politically on the domestic front. In November 2021, he formed his government under his 6th term as Prime Minister, with the help of far-right coalition parties. However, a series of corruption charges against him compelled Netanyahu to initiate mala fide judicial reforms that enraged the Israeli public. To protect himself from conviction, he allied with the far-right and ultra-orthodox parties to initiate a judicial overhaul focusing on suppressing judicial oversight over his government. A few days before Hamas’s October 7th attack, the Israeli high court was hearing the challenge to a proposed law, which makes it harder to remove Netanyahu from office.
Amid the unfavourable political and legal circumstances, Netanyahu took the October 7th attack as an opportunity to revive and consolidate his political position. However, his quest to divert public attention from his tainted political endeavors towards the constant rhetoric of an all-out war against the Gazans has not given him the political stimulus he expected to achieve. According to Scott Ritter, former UN Weapons Inspector, and US Marine Corps Intelligence Officer, Benjamin Netanyahu was walking on thin ice politically even before October. The domestic events that have transpired since present an even grimmer political future for him. Halting normal political functioning, he established an emergency national unity government and a War Cabinet, which also comprised of opposition members. His attempt to pin the responsibility for the security breach entirely on the intelligence and military leadership drew much criticism, even from his Own War Cabinet, indicating a lack of confidence in his leadership.
Moreover, his initial rejection of accepting hostages from Hamas indicates that for him, the current conflict was more about saving his skin by keeping the stakes high in Gaza. It provided him an opportunity to continue bombing the population under the facade of crushing Hamas. His way of dealing with the hostage crisis caused uproar among the people, leading the families of the hostages to march towards his house. Given the pressure emanating from various political factions, international quarters, and the Israeli public, Netanyahu agreed to do a hostage release deal with Hamas, including a temporary truce for four days (from 24-27 November), extended for three more days. However, Netanyahu iterated to continue the war once this ‘humanitarian pause’ ends. In the meantime, violence in Israeli-occupied West Bank, and in Jerusalem continues.
After the initial rejection, his approval of this deal reflects the tightrope Netanyahu is treading politically. He is facing the heat of the disgruntled public, discontentment of his War Cabinet, and constant political attacks from his opposition due to how he navigated the ongoing conflict with Hamas. According to a recent survey, only 4% of Israelis find Netanyahu reliable. His traditional allies, political opponents, and even a pro-Netanyahu newspaper agree that he must step aside once the war ends. Thus, for Netanyahu, his political survival is attached to the continuation of his current assault on Gaza. The moment the assault ends, he would have to face the music of his domestic audience.
Even if Netanyahu somehow survives the current turbulent phase of his political life, it would be challenging for him to defend his position once the war is over because it will not end with the victory that Israelis have been made to believe. Netanyahu has projected an unrealistic dream of wiping out the possibility of a separate Palestinian state by adopting genocidal tendencies in Gaza focused on inducing fear and generational trauma in the people. But this will remain impossible since the idea of a separate Palestinian state would stand till the last Palestinian is breathing. This realisation of being fed false promises would strike the Israeli public more vividly once the current euphoria of the war is over. And that letdown the Israeli public faces, coupled with the prevalent discontentment for ‘Bibi’, will have a very stringent political price for him.
There is no denying that Netanyahu’s desire to escape the accountability of his corruption charges and be remembered as a war hero on the ruins of Gaza would drive him to continue bombarding the Strip once the humanitarian pause is over. Regardless of whether he remains in his seat for the remaining tenure of three years or gets desolated under pressure, he would be remembered as someone who, in his quest to gain political mileage, perpetuated the bombing of innocent children, including babies, men and women without any humanitarian consideration. All in all, his tainted political legacy would be characterised by his pursuit to attain absolute power, war fanaticism, advocacy for genocide, and dehumanisation of Palestinians.
Ajwa Hijazi is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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