Benjamin Netanyahu Confronts Minefields After Gaza War

Premier Faces Thorny Political and Diplomatic Future

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By J.J. Goldberg

Published August 07, 2014.

(page 2 of 2)

Netanyahu hasn’t discussed it publicly. He’s believed to be reluctantly in favor, seeing no alternative, but deeply worried. Giving Abbas a foothold in Gaza will allow him to present himself as a viable national leader and demand progress toward statehood. Yaalon says Abbas can be kept at the gates. Netanyahu isn’t sure.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, is against it. He sees Abbas’s government as a hostile force, promoting boycotts and threatening to join the International Criminal Court so he can charge Israel with war crimes charges. Liberman wants the United Nations to take over Gaza in a long-term trusteeship. So far he doesn’t have much support for the U.N. idea, but he might have the votes to keep Abbas in Ramallah.

Abbas will bargain hard on the border issue. Hamas’s success in putting up a fight over the past month has left him looking weak. He hasn’t gotten much for recognizing Israel and helping suppress terrorism. He needs something he can show his people. He doesn’t want to go to the criminal court, because it might end up indicting Palestinians for terrorism.

In Cairo, therefore, the Palestinian delegation will demand that Abbas take charge of the border crossings and then some. They want a Fatah-Hamas unity government in full charge of Gaza. Their unity agreement says the Palestinian government recognizes Israel even if Hamas doesn’t. It’s not unlike Netanyahu’s government accepting the principle of Palestinian statehood, even though its Jewish Home coalition partner doesn’t.

Netanyahu isn’t impressed. He’ll insist that Abbas’s border guards stay at the border. He might win that argument.

But his problem is bigger. He needs someone in the heart of Gaza to oversee reconstruction and prevent Hamas from arming. More than 10,000 homes were destroyed last month, by U.N. figures, leaving 485,000 people homeless. Rebuilding will require lots of cement. The last time Israel allowed cement into Gaza, it lined tunnel walls. Israel won’t allow that again.

There are only two practical ways to prevent Hamas from rearming. One is full Israeli control of Gaza. Hamas would resist. The IDF calculates it would take months of fighting and cost hundreds if not thousands of soldiers’ lives. Some Jewish Home politicians favor the option, but it wouldn’t pass the cabinet, the government or the Knesset.

The other option, backed by Netanyahu, most of the government and the opposition, is an international truce supervisory force. Not the sort that patrols south Lebanon with Fijian and Irish troops, but a U.S.-NATO force. That will be the focus of talks in Cairo in the coming days.

It will get sticky. Israel lost a lot of ground in Europe because of the Gaza death toll. Governments mostly backed Israel, but public opinion erupted. On the first weekend in August the collapse began: Britain announced it was reevaluating arms sales to Israel, Spain canceled them altogether and France called for an imposed two-state solution. Netanyahu has signaled that the extent of rebuilding that Israel will allow will depend on the extent of verified demilitarization. Europe is signaling back that the extent of demilitarization will depend on the extent of progress toward a two-state agreement.

Does that sound like a naïve pipe dream? It’s not so clear. Israeli science minister Yaakov Perry of Yesh Atid, a former Shin Bet director who’s been a non-voting ninth member of the security cabinet throughout the crisis, told an interviewer August 5, the morning the cease-fire began, that Israel now needs to convene an international peace conference, with Saudi Arabia and the Arab League, to begin negotiating the Arab Peace Initiative. Staffers at liberal Israeli think tanks appear to be preparing some of the groundwork.

There are plenty of problems with a scenario like that, not least of which is that Netanyahu’s government would collapse. The next few months will require some deft maneuvering if he’s to keep his job.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com



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