Wed 19 Jun 2024 11:15 am - Jerusalem Time

What is behind the ongoing conflict between Biden and Netanyahu?

By Gilbert Achcar

Although al-Aqsa's Operation Flood has changed the Israeli political climate to the detriment of Netanyahu and the bloc he formed with the Zionist far right in late 2022, he still wields power and may retain it constitutionally until 2026

If further proof were needed of the limits of traditional “representative democracy”, the Israeli political scene provides an excellent illustration. Although al-Aqsa's Operation Flood has changed the Israeli political climate to the detriment of Netanyahu and the bloc he formed with the Zionist far right in late 2022, he still wields power and may retain it constitutionally until 2026. Netanyahu managed to absorb part of the popular Israeli anger which held him responsible for not having prevented the armed attack of October 7, and this by creating a small “war cabinet” with the participation of one of the two main poles of the Zionist opposition. This allowed him to project himself as a man concerned with Zionist “national unity” vis-à-vis the Palestinian people.

In addition to the political dimension of the maneuver, Netanyahu wanted to involve his political opponents in responsibility for managing the offensive against the Gaza Strip. He did so by involving two men who had successively served as chief of staff of the Israeli army between 2011 and 2019, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, both members of the National Unity opposition bloc at the Knesset. The war cabinet embodied the vengeful Zionist consensus that has led to the destruction of Gaza and the extermination of around fifty thousand of its inhabitants so far, with the help of the United States.

But the Zionist consensus represented by this war cabinet ended when the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip was completed and the question of its political fate came to the agenda. At this point, the war cabinet has divided over what position to take on the “settlement” pursued by Joe Biden and the US administration he leads. This “settlement” involves combining fragments of the territory of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank into a “Palestinian State” nominally governed by a slightly modified “Palestinian Authority”. For this, the Gaza Strip would be subject to Israeli and Arab (mainly Egyptian) military supervision. While the Zionist opposition supports this "settlement," Netanyahu cannot openly endorse it without breaking the alliance he has with the far right and thus becoming dependent on what his current political adversaries might decide. subject.

The problem for Netanyahu is that the balance of power is completely different between the two cases. While the participation of his “neo-Nazi” allies in the government depends on him, because they could not have dreamed of this participation without Netanyahu's deep opportunism and his willingness to do everything to stay in power (and avoid trials), the Zionist opposition can hope to take power without him through early legislative elections. with good hope of obtaining a majority in the Knesset. Indeed, since the al-Aqsa Flood, opinion polls in Israel indicate that the opposition is more popular than the coalition currently in power.

Netanyahu's maneuver to include his rivals in the war cabinet, as well as his image as a stubborn defender of Zionist interests in the face of American pressure, managed to somewhat change the direction of public opinion. Two polls released a few days ago showed an increase in Netanyahu's popularity, accompanied by a decline in the popularity of his rival Gantz compared to the peak reached after al-Aqsa's Operation Flood and his entry into the cabinet of war in the name of Zionist national unity. Gantz began to bear responsibility, along with Netanyahu, for the failure to eliminate armed resistance inside the Gaza Strip after eight months of frenzied aggression, in the absence of a vision clear regarding “the day after”, as the political and security destiny of Gaza is now called. This new trend in Israeli public opinion was certainly a key factor in Gantz's decision to end his participation in the war cabinet.

However, polls still indicate a possible defeat of the current alliance between Netanyahu's Likud party and the "neo-Nazis" against the opposition blocs. While one of two recent polls indicates that the opposition could win a majority of Knesset seats (61 out of 120), the other indicates that it would need three seats to achieve this goal. These seats could be provided by the Arab Islamic bloc led by Mansour Abbas, which has consistently expressed its desire to continue participating in the Zionist political game, or by one of the Zionist groups affiliated with the current ruling coalition, or any other small bloc in the Knesset.

Therefore, Netanyahu will not take the risk of breaking his alliance with the Zionist far right and facing the possibility of an early electoral battle, unless he obtains gains and guarantees, especially regarding concerns his legal troubles. He can remain in power with his allies despite polls confirming that they have become a minority in the country, despite the fact that the current period is one of the most serious that the Zionist state has gone through so far in of its brief history. It is also clear that Netanyahu is banking on the possibility that Donald Trump will win the American presidential elections which will take place in early November.

All of this is a source of great embarrassment for Biden, who wants to achieve the “settlement” he seeks before the election. This is why the US administration has invited Yoav Galant – defense minister in the current Zionist government, and Netanyahu's rival within the Likud party itself – to visit Washington in the coming days, before Netanyahu is coming to deliver a fourth speech to the U.S. Congress on July 24 (which, by the way, is a privilege no other foreign head of state has received in U.S. history). There is no doubt that the Biden administration is exploring ways to pressure Netanyahu through Gallant, including the possibility of Gallant breaking with Netanyahu along with a number of Likud Knesset members who would be enough to overthrow the existing government and force new elections.

Source: Mediapart


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