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How will the UN Security Council’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza affect Israeli politics and relations with the US? Questions and answers from experts

Washington’s decision to abstain from voting on a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and hostage exchange with Hamas has angered Israel, which has traditionally counted on unwavering U.S. support in international forums. We spoke to John Strawson, a Middle East expert at the University of East London who has been researching and publishing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for several decades.

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire and the return of hostages held by Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that Israel’s military campaign will continue. Does he have the full support of his government or is there a risk that one of his more moderate coalition partners will drop out?

UN Security Council Resolution 2728 is a testimony to ambiguous formulations. It is calling for an immediate ceasefire, but only for the rest of Ramadan, which only lasts about two weeks. It also appears to condition the ceasefire on the return of “all hostages,” but is silent on whether this is a condition of the ceasefire.

It should also be noted that neither Hamas nor the Israeli hostages are mentioned. At the end of the relevant paragraph, reference is made to all detainees – again without specifying their identity. It is also important to note that Hamas and other Palestinian sources refer to all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel as “hostages.” As a result, there are many possible interpretations of the obligations that the resolution seeks to create.

Netanyahu has denounced the US for not vetoing the resolution. Any responsible Israeli leader would have taken advantage of the ambiguity to say that Israel was already negotiating such a ceasefire and was waiting for Hamas’ response to its proposals. However, Netanyahu’s stance is about keeping his coalition going with the support of the far right, which will allow him to keep his job.

Gideon Saar, leader of the New Hope Party, has already resigned after Netanyahu refused to appoint him to the war cabinet. Obviously this doesn’t bring down the government, but what does it mean for the power dynamics in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, especially with regard to the far-right parties?

Gideon Saar effectively launches his campaign for prime minister. He is a long-time opponent of Netanyahu on the right. He ran for the leadership of Likud, Netanyahu’s party, in 2019. He then disbanded in 2021 and sided with the broad anti-Netanyahu coalition in the Knesset, which was able to rule for 12 months before being defeated in November 2022.

Saar wanted to be in the war cabinet, where the most important decisions were made. But far-right national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir insisted that if Saar was appointed, he would also have to be appointed. But Benny Gantz, one of the three voting members of the emergency war cabinet, had made it a condition that no one from the extreme right could join.

Read more: Gaza conflict: Washington’s patience is wearing thin as both Israel and Palestine fail to show leadership

Netanyahu is not yet ready to cut ties with Gantz, whose moderate policies are well received by foreign politicians. Saar knows this, but wants to position himself as the next leader of the right when the Netanyahu era is over. In the medium term, it just shows how feverish Israeli politics is.

War Cabinet member Benny Gantz has threatened to resign over a bill that would exempt ultra-Orthodox Jews from conscription into the army. The law would also put the government at odds with Israel’s Supreme Court. What are the risks to the legitimacy of Netanyahu’s leadership?

It is very clear that Benny Gantz is trying to break away from the coalition. The ultra-Orthodox parties in the governing coalition actually have one goal: to maintain the enormous state funding for their communities. This angers the majority of Israelis, especially given their general exemption from military service.

This is particularly evident when Israel is at war, with more than 250 soldiers killed in combat and thousands injured. Gantz knows that the last thing the Israel Defense Forces needs are thousands of reluctant recruits, but he also knows that it is a question of fairness that appeals to the vast majority of Israelis. Gantz is still there popular in the polls and undoubtedly sees this issue as a weak point for Netanyahu’s alliance.

Benjamin Netanyahu sits in the Knesset in March 2024 with his colleagues from the War Cabinet, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz.
Rival team: Benjamin Netanyahu sits in the Knesset with his colleagues from the War Cabinet, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz.
Debbie Hill/ Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News

Both the Sephardic and Ashkenazi chief rabbis have stated that those affected should leave the country if the exemption is lifted. Such statements give Gantz the opportunity to be seen as a patriot and take the shine off Netanyahu’s nationalist credentials. Therefore, Netanyahu is under pressure from the ultra-Orthodox, the extreme right, the more moderate right of Gideon Saar and Benny Gantz in the center. But the more these forces circulate, the more Netanyahu doubles down on his rhetoric for a complete victory over Hamas and sees war as his path to political survival.

Netanyahu responded to the US abstention by canceling a high-level Israeli delegation’s visit to Washington for talks. But Defense Secretary Yoav Gallant was already in Washington and is reportedly meeting with US officials. How does this affect the unity of the Israeli government?

The Israeli delegation was asked by the Biden administration to discuss this in detail Plans for the proposed Rafah operation what Netanyahu has been talking about for weeks. Americans wanted to know how this could be achieved without causing catastrophic civilian casualties among the 1.2 million people – mostly displaced people – seeking refuge there. But instead of sending military experts, the delegation was led by the Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer (a Netanyahu confidant) and Tzachi Henegbia former right-wing agitator who now serves as national security adviser.

Neither are military experts and Dermer has not even served in the IDF. It would be interesting to hear what they could have said to the US military team they were supposed to brief on the scene. But these armchair generals are now staying at home.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his team meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Washington on March 26.
The talks continue: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his team meet with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin following the US decision to abstain from the UN vote.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Meanwhile, Gallant continues his talks in Washington as if nothing had happened. Although he is a member of Likud, Gallant has steered his course particularly carefully since March last year, when Netanyahu’s attempt to fire him over his opposition to the government’s unpopular judicial reforms, which Gallant said would endanger national security, failed.

Gallant survived in part because of mass demonstrations he supported, occupying a unique position in the Cabinet: as someone who stood up to Netanyahu and survived. He is popular in Washington and Netanyahu is likely relieved that he is keeping lines of communication open with the Biden administration. But it’s hard to hide the contrast between Gallant’s meeting and Netanyahu’s anger over Washington’s decision to abstain from the Security Council vote.

What does this say about the future of US-Israeli relations?

The United States has only truly viewed Israel as a strategic ally since the early 1970s. Until then, relationships had been more problematic. When Israel declared its independence in 1948, there was a US arms embargo. In the 1948 war, it was Soviet arms over Czechoslovakia that gave Israel its military advantage.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was primarily France that supplied Israel with weapons – including nuclear weapons. The 1956 Suez affair – in which Israel attacked Egypt in coordination with Britain and France – was denounced by the US. But after the Six-Day War in 1967, the US became more involved and, interestingly, has consistently promoted normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The 1978 Camp David Accords when Israel and Egypt recognized each other, emphasized this.

My understanding of this is that the US’s involvement with Israel since the 1970s has been about promoting a certain order in the Middle East. Therefore, we must understand Israeli-American relations in a regional context.

The Biden administration knows that you can’t end a war without a peace plan – and that must mean a Palestinian state alongside Israel. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his recent Middle East visit to Saudi Arabia and saw Riyadh as playing a central role in a stable Middle East. The recognition of Israel by the Saudis goes hand in hand with concrete steps towards a Palestinian state.

The longer Netanyahu refuses to pay this price, the greater the torment in Gaza will be. And at the same time, the US must increase its pressure on the Israeli government.

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