Mon 19 Feb 2024 5:19 pm - Jerusalem Time

Hebrew Newspaper: Netanyahu's escape from the negotiating table

By Nahum Barnea

There is no nicer way to say the following: What is being published about the negotiations with Hamas are lies, with which the Prime Minister’s Office is trying to fool the minds of the public; On the eve of the last round in Cairo, Netanyahu retracted the previous directives he had given to the Israeli crew, without explaining to him what was the reason for the change. “Did Netanyahu think that tactical toughness would push Hamas to show flexibility in its position? Or did he feel panicked by the progress of the negotiations, so he moved strategically to thwart them?” If this was his intention, he succeeded; Today, there are no negotiations. 

The head of the CIA, who came to Israel to try to bring the negotiations out of the coma, came out of his meeting with Netanyahu empty-handed, and in fairness, it should be said that what he brought from Cairo was not promising at all.

There are restaurants where the chefs are more passionate about the food than the customers, and this applies to the deal that has matured in Washington, Doha, and Cairo. The mediators invest a huge amount of energy, but Hamas does not panic, surrender, or submit, while Netanyahu talks a lot about feelings, morals, and security, but he works according to internal political considerations.

The Israeli delegation recruited the best people the security establishment has ever produced: Reserve Major Generals Nitzan Alon and Polly Mordechai, the head of the Mossad, David Barnea, the head of the Shin Bet, Ronen Bar, the former head of the Strategic Division in the Israeli army, Brigadier General Oren Sater, and others. 

They are waging a struggle on five fronts: facing Hamas, the mediators, facing the political level, facing the Israeli army, and the families of the kidnapped, and the goal is one, which is to recover the kidnapped. The fronts differ, as each one has its own purposes and rules of the game, and one of the important goals that The crew achieved it, but it did not receive public attention towards the forces on the ground, as it prevented a military operation in advance that could endanger the lives of the kidnapped, and this is a struggle to save lives.

The Israeli army’s control of western Khan Yunis revealed the fact that there were a large number of kidnapped persons near senior Hamas officials as human shields, and this is good news. Conditions in these locations are relatively better. 

The less good news is that the army's advance led to the flight of senior officials in the movement to other locations, and the kidnapped people who were there were taken to less secure and organized places in the Rafah area, and the risk of being injured in the exchange of fire increased, as did the danger to their health and food.

In Israel, people are still convinced that the kidnapped men and women are alive, and that their physical condition is relatively good, and the problem that raises concern is their emotional and psychological condition. There is a price for their 140 days in captivity in constant fear, and every additional day in captivity exacerbates the problem.

The Rafah issue was mixed with this problem, as Netanyahu and Gallant threatened that Rafah would be the next stage in the ground operation. Regarding the deal, the threat was effective; It aroused the fear of the Egyptian and American mediators, and contributed to accelerating communications, but words are one thing and actions are another. The organized movement of more than 1.3 million displaced Palestinians to the north requires a long and complex diplomatic and logistical effort. Hamas understood this difficulty, as did the mediators, and the threat to occupy Rafah was frozen.

The White House formulated a solution to this impasse. Instead of being satisfied with a small deal for the kidnapped people in exchange for prisoners, they went for a huge deal. It is the liberation of all the kidnapped and prisoners, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, the expulsion of Hamas, Israel’s participation in an alliance with Sunni Arab countries, as well as a US-Saudi defense agreement, an achievement for Biden in confronting the progressive wing of his party, and the resumption of negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state. There is no small deal without a big deal, and no big deal without a small deal, and it is true that the road to a Palestinian state is still long, but it is possible to try.

In this way, they turned Netanyahu into an enemy for freeing the kidnapped people. According to his point of view, every progress in the negotiations constitutes a direct threat to the continuation of his rule, and if Abu Mazen enters, Ben Gvir will leave, and he believed that. Netanyahu agreed to send the delegation to Cairo in order to maintain appearances before the families of the kidnapped and the American administration. It is no wonder that Nitzan Alon decided to remain in the country, as the Israeli delegation was neutralized in everything related to the negotiations.

The center moved from Cairo to Washington; Netanyahu and his envoy, Drmer, are trying to do with Biden what they did with Obama. The drama will be great, but it will not bring back any of the kidnapped.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister issued a decision rejecting any imposed settlement with the Palestinians, and rejecting unilateral recognition of their independence. The settlement can only be through direct negotiations, and the decision was taken unanimously, which is a funny thing in itself, because most of the ministers who publicly oppose any negotiations with the Palestinians of any kind Whether directly or indirectly, they voted with the decision. Netanyahu himself had previously used a veto on the negotiations, and preferred to cooperate with Hamas, and Gantz could have told him: “Leave this empty talk and focus on liberating the kidnapped.” But he feared losing votes in the polls.


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