Biden cease-fire plan tightens political jam for Netanyahu in Israel


TEL AVIV — Political pressure is mounting on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as more than 100,000 Israelis flooded the streets of this city on Saturday night demanding he accept a U.S.-brokered deal for a cease-fire in Gaza while members of his far-right coalition threatened that any such move would bring down the government.

The proposal, revealed in a surprise speech by President Biden on Friday, calls for a six-week pause in fighting, during which hostages taken from Israel by Hamas would be released in phases in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and there would be a significant boost in aid shipments to the Gaza Strip. The key sticking point — the same one that has doomed past negotiations — is how and when the war will officially end.

Netanyahu’s office said Friday it had “authorized” the text of the proposal. On Saturday, however, it added that “Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed” and that any deal that does not allow for the complete destruction of Hamas, the release of all hostages and the end of Gaza’s security threat to Israel was a “non-starter.”

Hamas said Friday that it viewed Biden’s speech on the deal “positively,” but that its willingness to engage was “based on a permanent cease-fire” and the “complete withdrawal” of Israeli forces from the Strip.

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“We have every expectation that if Hamas agrees to the proposal … that Israel would say yes,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Sunday in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.”

But nothing in Israeli politics is so simple.

For weeks, Netanyahu has been under competing pressures: from moderate members of his war cabinet and families of hostages, who have been pushing for a deal, and from more extreme partners in his coalition, who have continuously insisted on “absolute victory” in Gaza. Biden’s public airing of the cease-fire proposal has forced those tensions to the surface, meaning Netanyahu may no longer be able to stall for time.

Biden’s speech Friday came after sundown in Israel, as some far-right coalition members were observing the Jewish Sabbath, during which they abstain from work or using their phones. When the Sabbath ended Saturday night, the far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, posted on X that the deal was tantamount to “absolute defeat.” If Netanyahu goes ahead with it, he said, his party would “dismantle the government.”

Bezalel Smotrich, another ultranationalist member of the coalition, said on X that he told Netanyahu he would also quit the government if the deal went through. “We demand the continuation of the fighting until the destruction of Hamas and the return of all the hostages,” he said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government would not necessarily collapse without Ben Gvir and Smotrich, and that he would be willing to provide a “safety net” to see it through the implementation of a cease-fire.

“The threats from Ben Gvir and Smotrich are [an act of] abandoning national security, the hostages and residents of the north and the south,” Lapid tweeted Saturday night. “This is the worst, most reckless government in the history of the country. From their perspective, let there be war here forever.”

As political leaders traded barbs on social media, more than 120,000 people took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday, according to organizers. They viewed Biden’s announcement as a turning point after eight months of agonizing limbo.

“I hope that Biden’s speech will pressure whoever needs to be pressured in order for there to be a deal,” said Mor Kornigold, whose brother Tal Shoham is among the 125 hostages still held in Gaza.

If they do not return, he said, “we will never have victory.”

“We will continue to fight until the destruction government says yes,” said Ayala Metzger, whose father-in-law, Yoram Metzger, 80, was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz. She spoke near the Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where police clashed with thousands of protesters chanting for the immediate resignation of the government. Her leg was injured by police cavalry, according to videos that circulated on social media.

“Our trust, as citizens, in the government collapsed on Oct. 7, and nothing has been done to repair it,” said Gil Dickman, a cousin of 39-year-old hostage Carmel Gat.

“Biden is showing himself as the responsible adult in the room, saying, ‘I will tell you the situation, so that no one can retreat afterward because of some political reason or another,’” Dickman said. Addressing Netanyahu, he added: “Biden is saying that this train has already left the station. Now the question is, will you get on it and get the hostages home or stay with your head to the wall, as if you want to continue the war forever.”

Hostage families have intensified efforts to pressure the government into reviving negotiations, trying to convince officials that the Israeli public would support an agreement.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whose position is mostly ceremonial, said Sunday that he had thanked Biden for his speech and pledged to Netanyahu his full support for a hostage deal.

“It’s now or never,” Dickman said.

On Thursday, he said, Israeli National Security Council chief Tzachi Hanegbi told him and several other hostage relatives that if the current cease-fire proposal is not implemented, “there is no plan B.” The day before, Hanegbi told Israeli media that fighting in Gaza could last another seven months.

The Israel Defense Forces said Sunday it was continuing operations in Rafah, killing militants and locating weapons caches. Israel’s offensive in the southern city has triggered a chaotic exodus of more than 1 million people, the United Nations says, many of them already displaced several times.

All 36 shelters in Rafah run by the U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians are now “empty” said Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner general. Families have fled to Mawasi, a desolate coastal area with little aid or services available, or to central Gaza, where Israel continues to battle Hamas.

As efforts for a cease-fire continue, officials from the United States, Israel and Egypt met in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the reopening of the Rafah border crossing — the most vital entry point for humanitarian aid to Gaza — according to a former Egyptian official familiar with the negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks.

But that agreement too hinged on the six-week pause in fighting outlined in the Israeli proposal, the official said. “All eyes are on the proposal to reach an end to this war,” he said.

Dadouch reported from Beirut and Suliman from Washington. Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo and Alon Rom contributed to this report.



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