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A New, Big Crack in Netanyahu’s Governing Coalition

 Member Newsletter
May 15, 2024 6:05 p.m.

I wanted to update you on an important development in Israel and the Israel-Hamas war. There have been a few of these blow-ups in the far-right Netanyahu coalition. But they’ve all gotten hashed out and patched up eventually because, as we’ve discussed, the government’s very unpopularity is, paradoxically, its greatest adhesive in holding on to power. Since October, coalition members have known they’d lose power in a new election. So no one has really been willing to trigger new elections — the recent polls have shown some limited recovery of Netanyahu’s fortunes.

In any case, here’s the latest thing.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant appeared on TV and told the PM to say publicly that Israel wouldn’t reoccupy Gaza or exercise military or civil control over the enclave. Far-right members immediately insisted that Netanyahu fire Gallant. Netanyahu meanwhile said the Palestinian Authority would never rule Gaza and that any discussion of the “day after” is premature as long as Hamas has any military power in Gaza.

Yesterday, the chief spokesman for the IDF, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said: “There is no doubt that a governmental alternative to Hamas will create pressure on Hamas, but that is a question for the political echelon.” In other words, of course our job is harder without some new governmental authority in place to take over from Hamas. But we’re not in charge.

We don’t know whether these two comments are related. But it’s hard for me to believe they’re not. There’s been rising angst within the IDF that there’s no clear military goal or strategy in Gaza. The IDF has already had to reconquer territory it conquered last fall and in some cases had to fight for the same territory a third time. Whatever else you think about the policy or it’s civilian toll, it’s profoundly demoralizing for any army to have to fight one, two and three times for the same ground because the government didn’t hold on to it.

The whole situation is an illustration both of the coalitional and ideological complexity of the situation in Israel and just the deep stupidity of the entire situation. A big chunk of Netanyahu’s coalition wants to reoccupy Gaza and if possible rebuild settlements there. But that’s a total non-starter for every other country in the world. And it’s basically a non-starter in Israel too. But if Netanyahu rules it out there’s a good chance his government will fall. Or at least it’s a big risk. The one thing he’ll say is that it absolutely will never be the PA, the notional Palestinian pre-state which governs much of the West Bank.

So if it can’t be Hamas and it can’t be the PA and it can’t be Israel, then who? There’s really no answer to that question. In theory you could have some group of friendly Arab states run it. But no one wants to take responsibility for running Gaza now that big chunks of it are wastelands. And they absolutely won’t do it without Israel agreeing to some framework or road map toward a Palestinian state. This government will never agree to that and it’s iffy whether any conceivable Israeli government will do that in the near future. So that’s off the table. So literally there’s no other option. That’s why Netanyahu has simply refused to address it at all.

But if you just don’t do anything, you conquer, leave a vacuum (along with a ton of demolished buildings and dead people), and Hamas just streams back and takes over again. It’s as close to politico-governmental physics as you can get. You put some other entity in charge. They run civil administration and resist Hamas’s efforts to reassert control. If they need military or other assistance you can help them. But if you leave literally nothing of course Hamas comes back. As I said it’s like pushing water up a hill with your hands.

The only real solution to any of this is the eventual partition of the land, two states. But to end the current bloodshed and displacement you need a new governing authority. The rubber seems to be hitting the road with an IDF that doesn’t want to keep conquering the same cities and strips of land over and over again.

We’ve had a few of these coalitional blowups over the last six months. They’ve managed to patch the others up, because none of them want to lose power. But this one may be more serious. We’ll have to watch and see.

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