Netanyahu rejects Hamas-proposed deal for hostage return
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu reaffirmed his hardline position against a Palestinian state on Saturday, shortly after a telephone discussion with Joe Biden in which the US president suggested a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Bibi’s office threw cold water on the idea, clarifying that “[A]fter Hamas is destroyed Israel must retain security control over Gaza to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel, a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty."
While Bibi claims his strategy will safeguard Israel's security, others see it as an attempt to appease right-wing elements in his coalition government. That’s not sitting well with allies abroad, including US Democrats. One of them, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, is advancing an amendment to the use of US national security aid, obliging countries receiving American military aid to use the weapons in accordance with US law, international humanitarian law, and the laws of armed conflict. As of Friday, the bill had 18 Democratic cosponsors.
And there’s division in Israel
On Sunday, Bibi rejected a deal proposed by Hamas that would have seen Israeli hostages released in exchange for Israeli troops withdrawing from Gaza, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and recognition of Hamas' government of Gaza. He said the terms would leave Hamas intact and encourage them to attack again.
But not everyone agrees with his tough stance. The Hostages and Missing Families Forum began a protest outside Netanyahu's residence, vowing to stay put until he accepts a deal. Even before the prime minister rejected Hamas' offer, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Tel Aviv on Saturday demanding new elections.
Bibi's stance is also dividing the Israeli cabinet and the country’s military. Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chief now serving in the war cabinet, stated, "It’s an 'illusion' to believe that the hostages could be rescued alive through military operations." According to four senior military officers interviewed by the New York Times, the twin objectives of freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas are now mutually incompatible.
We’ll be watching to see whether increased pressure makes him change gears — or leads to a change of leadership.