New Pushback From Netanyahu Narrows Hopes for a Truce in Gaza


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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism in Israel on Monday after he reiterated his opposition to a permanent cease-fire with Hamas, just as hopes were rising that a truce could be within reach.

Critics said his intervention narrowed the chances of a deal in which Hamas, which seeks a permanent truce, would free at least some of the Israeli hostages still held in Gaza.

Negotiations over a deal continued on Monday in Cairo, where Israeli officials gathered for talks mediated by the Egyptian government. After months of failed negotiations, hopes for a deal were revived last week amid reports that Hamas had become more flexible on key areas, leading Israeli officials to fly to Qatar, another mediator between Hamas and Israel.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s statement on Sunday night dampened those expectations, since it appeared to lessen the chances of a compromise with Hamas over the length and permanence of the cease-fire.

“Any deal will allow Israel to resume fighting until all of the objectives of the war have been achieved,” his statement said, reiterating his long-held position that the war must continue until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s military and governing abilities.

To Mr. Netanyahu’s critics, his intervention — at such a sensitive moment in the negotiations — risked derailing the efforts to secure the release of roughly 120 hostages Israeli officials say are still held in Gaza, both dead and alive, after being captured by Hamas and its allies at the start of the war in October.

“We’re at a critical moment in the negotiations. The lives of the hostages depend on them. Why issue such provocative statements?” Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, wrote on social media. “How does that contribute to the process?”

Analysts said that Mr. Netanyahu’s intervention showed how he is trying to balance the effort to free the hostages with his desire to hold together his coalition of ultranationalist and ultrareligious political parties.

Mr. Netanyahu’s grip on power relies on the support of two far-right parties opposed to any agreement that would leave Hamas in power in Gaza. Critics say this has made him wary of committing to a hostage release deal that could lead to the collapse of his coalition and prompt early elections that polling suggests he would lose.

“The simple truth is as follows: Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want a hostage deal,” Ben Caspit, a biographer and prominent critic of the prime minister, wrote on social media. “He might be willing to get the hostages back, but not at the expense of his coalition’s well-being. It’s that simple.”

Others more sympathetic to Mr. Netanyahu say he may be using hardball negotiating tactics in order to force bigger compromises from Hamas. With each passing day, Israel’s military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah further weakens Hamas’s position there, said Nadav Shtrauchler, a former strategist for the prime minister. “The efforts of the military in Gaza may help him get more from Hamas,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

Additionally, Mr. Netanyahu may be trying to stave off the collapse of his coalition until the end of July, when Parliament goes on recess. Without a sitting Parliament, lawmakers would find it far harder to bring down the government, giving Mr. Netanyahu more room to strike a deal that his coalition partners might resist, Mr. Shtrauchler said.

“He’s trying to create room for maneuver — and for that, he needs time,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.



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