Is Israel going to back the Biden-announced Gaza peace plan?

The US president says that the plan came from Israel itself, but comments from Israeli leaders are far from supportive.

U.S. President Joe Biden is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
US President Joe Biden has been a strong ally of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu throughout the war on Gaza, but diversions in the positions of the two men have become increasingly clear [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

The United States circulated on Monday a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council urging members to back a three-phase Gaza ceasefire plan that US President Joe Biden announced last week.

Under the first stage of the plan – which Biden says is an Israeli proposal – a six-week ceasefire would hold, during which the Israeli army would withdraw from populated areas of Gaza.

Some Israeli captives would also be exchanged in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Civilians would be allowed to move across Gaza, including the north, with 600 trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the enclave daily.

In the second phase, Hamas and Israel would negotiate terms for a permanent end to hostilities, although Biden said that the ceasefire would continue for “as long as negotiations continue”.

The third phase of the plan would include a permanent ceasefire, which would allow for the reconstruction of the enclave, and an ultimate final end to a devastating war in which Israel has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians.

So, is the war over?

Not exactly.

While Biden framed the proposal as an Israeli peace plan, the reaction from Israel’s leadership has not been clear. It appears as though the country’s coalition government is bitterly – and possibly permanently – divided.

The cabinet’s two far-right members, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have rejected the proposal outright, and have threatened to bring down the government.

Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brief the far-right ministers first?

It doesn’t seem so, and Ben-Gvir said that Netanyahu’s office had not produced a deal for him to read despite promising to do so.

Netanyahu himself has been attempting to disassociate himself from the project, despite the US repeatedly stating that the plan came from the Israeli side.

On Saturday, a day after Biden publicly announced the deal, Netanyahu interrupted the Jewish holy day, the Sabbath, to declare any permanent ceasefire a “non-starter”.

“Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: The destruction of Hamas military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel,” Netanyahu said, reiterating a position that seems to contradict the peace proposal.

Netanyahu and Israel’s right wing appear especially troubled by the second phase of the plan, which has their negotiators still dealing with Hamas, a group the US claims has been so depleted that it is no longer capable of carrying out a repeat of its October 7 attack on Israel.

Can Netanyahu overrule his cabinet opponents and force through a ceasefire?

Leaving aside the question of whether Netanyahu himself has any desire to end this war, the prime minister will struggle to keep his coalition together if he agrees to any plan without approval from all of his government.

War cabinet member – and potential Netanyahu replacement – Benny Gantz has not opposed the proposal, and ultra-Orthodox politicians from the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, both members of the governing coalition, have also backed the deal.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Yair Lapid has offered to lend Netanyahu the votes he needs to get this issue through the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.

However, that would only give Netanyahu the seats he needs to get the ceasefire proposals through and not the support he needs to maintain his place at the head of government.

For that, he still needs Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

There’s also a lingering suspicion among many that Netanyahu wants to continue the war in order to avoid corruption charges he faces.

In fact, when asked whether Netanyahu wanted to carry on the war so that he could continue in power, Biden responded by saying that there was “every reason for people to draw that conclusion”.

So, what do Smotrich and Ben-Gvir want?

In a nutshell, to colonise Gaza and force its population to “voluntarily emigrate”.

Taking to social media, Smotrich said he had “made it clear” to Netanyahu that he was not ready to “be part of a government that will agree to the proposed outline and end the war without destroying Hamas and returning all the hostages”.

Ben-Gvir wasn’t happy, either. “If the prime minister implements the reckless deal under the conditions published today, which mean the end of the war and the giving up on the elimination of Hamas, Jewish Power [his far-right party] will dissolve the government,” the national security minister wrote.

Are Israel’s allies angry with the lack of commitment?

Allies – including the US – are becoming more and more open in their criticism of Israel.

Aside from his jab at Netanyahu’s priorities, Biden and other senior US officials have increasingly issued public statements that diverge from the Israeli line.

But there’s a limit, and the Biden administration is still adamant that Hamas is to blame for the lack of progress on the peace deal, despite the Palestinian group responding positively in its public statements, and the similarities between the plan announced by Biden and the plan Hamas said it had accepted in early May.

Speaking on Monday, Biden “affirmed that Hamas is now the only obstacle to a complete ceasefire”. The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron adopted a similar tone, saying “The first thing that needs to happen is that Hamas need[s] to accept this deal”. Germany, meanwhile, couched the deal as a glimpse of hope to free the captives being held by Hamas and to halt Palestinian deaths in Gaza.

Where did the ceasefire proposal originally come from?

If the US is to be believed, Israel.

Inquiries from Al Jazeera to the US Department of State asking about the source of these latest proposals have gone unanswered. Likewise, requests to view the plan have also elicited no response.

According to reports, the plan was proposed by Israel’s three-man war cabinet in the middle of last week, with Netanyahu’s initial objections being overcome by the arguments of officials and the cabinet’s other two members.

And on Tuesday, Qatar’s foreign ministry said that it had received an Israeli proposal for a deal for the release of captives held in Gaza that reflected the principles laid out by Biden.

Hamas now says it views the offer “positively”, with a senior official saying that “it will go for this deal” if Israel does. Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Tuesday that any deal would have to include a permanent ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from Gaza – which are both stipulated as part of the third phase of the proposal referred to by Biden.

Source: Al Jazeera