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Hopes of peace dashed as confused US faces dogged Netanyahu

04 Apr 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      



With public opinion that is increasingly supporting a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, in March, both US President Biden and his Republican challenger Trump appeared to be toeing a softer line on Gaza

A survey done in February found that around two-thirds of voters supported the US calling for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza

The US is blowing hot and cold on its policy on the Gaza war and is showing inconsistency in its actions. In contrast, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doggedly pursuing his uncompromising line on the war, disregarding rising opposition and even a revolt by the ultra-orthodox Jews in his homeland.
The net result of all this is that the prospects of peace in Gaza have receded further. And with Netanyahu bent on attacking Rafah, with a  huge population of locals and refugees from other parts of Gaza, more deaths and destruction are on the cards.  

Unsteady US

In March, both President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger Donald Trump appeared to be toeing a softer line on Gaza. The change was attributed to public opinion in the US which was increasingly supporting a permanent ceasefire.Public opinion mattered this being an election year.
Biden was working for a ceasefire using the UN and Antony Blinken’s shuttle diplomacy. On his part, Trump warned Israel that it was “losing support in the world” because it was unable to “finish up the war.”
A survey done by “Data for progress” in February found widespread support for the US calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and conditioning military aid to Israel.
Around two-thirds of voters (67%)—including majorities of Democrats (77%), Independents (69%), and Republicans (56%)—supported the US calling for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza.
This represented a 6-point increase in support for the US calling for a permanent ceasefire since “Data for Progress” last conducted a poll on this question in November 2023. 
Voters were asked whether a ceasefire should occur only once Hamas had been defeated. The voters still supported the US calling for a permanent ceasefire by a plus 15-point margin, with half of voters (50%), including a majority of Democrats (63%) and Independents (53%), agreeing that “the U.S. should call for a permanent ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza right now.”
On requiring Israel to agree to certain conditions related to human rights and the resolution of the war in Gaza to receive military aid from the US, the answer was in favour of the requirement, largely.
When asked about Biden’s recent executive order that the US will impose financial sanctions and visa bans on Israeli settlers who had engaged in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, 61% of voters, including a majority of Democrats (80%) and Independents (61%), said they supported the executive order.
When voters were asked whether they support or oppose Israel fully controlling all Palestinian territories following the conclusion of this conflict, 51% opposed.

Resumed army supplies

However, despite an apparent rethinking on its support to Israel, the US Administration is reported to have authorised arms transfers to its ally worth billions of dollars. 
These include more than 1,800 MK84 2,000lb (900kg) bombs and 500 MK82 500lb bombs, as well as 25 F35A fighter jets, “The Washington Post” and “Reuters” said. 
When Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant went to Washington last week, it was said he had taken a long list of US weapons his country wanted to receive in an expedited manner.
Washington gives US$ 3.8bn in annual military assistance to Israel. 
As expected, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ramallah criticised the US for inconsistencies in its positions. In a post on X, it said, “Demanding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop killing civilians and supplying him with weapons is an unprecedented principled and moral contradiction.”
It was reported that the arms transfers were strongly criticised by some senior members of the President’s Democratic party also. These have been calling for US military aid to be limited or conditional on changes in how Israel conducts its military operations.
President Biden himself had said that he had cautioned Israel against sending troops into Rafah given the colossal human cost expected.  

Netanyahu dares opposition

In contrast to the confusion in American thinking, Netanyahu is unfazed by the billowing opposition to him on his home turf.
The Guardian reported that the Hebrew-language newspaper “Ma’ariv” described his approach as “delusional”, “madness” and “terrifying”, adding, “This man is putting us all at risk: our future, our children’s future, the strategic alliance that is the keystone of Israeli national security.”
Equally damning was the lead editorial in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper “Haaretz”, which described Netanyahu as “Israel’s agent of destruction” who “has become a burden for Israel”.
The centre-right “Yedioth Ahronoth” columnist Nahum Barnea said “Netanyahu has been dealing with America the way a spoiled teenager deals with his parents: with perpetual rebellion, perpetual insults and perpetual scandals,” The Guardian added.
Meanwhile, orthodox Jews have risen in revolt against the Netanyahu government’s plans to force military service on ultra-orthodox Jews who are studying Judaism full time. 
According to the BBC, Israel’s High Court had issued an order in the long-running dispute over ultra-Orthodox military exemptions. It instructed a funding freeze for ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) educational institutions, whose students are eligible for conscription.
“Haredi” parties in the government have reacted angrily, while a secular party has threatened to quit over the issue. But, ultra-Orthodox exemptions are opposed by a majority of Israelis, the BBC said.
The Haredi community comprises about 12% of the population but those in full-time Torah (Jewish holy book) study are exempt from mandatory military service. But, conscription applies to almost all other Israelis, apart from Israeli Arabs, from the age of 18. Both men and women are subject to conscription.
The government is debating a bill which reportedly seeks to strike a compromise by allowing exemptions with limitations.
But the draft plan is fiercely opposed by Haredi parties, BBC said.
Two of those parties–Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ)–hold 18 seats in the 72-seat emergency government. On the other hand, the secular, centrist National Union party, which holds eight seats, is insisting exemptions are scrapped altogether.
The party’s leader, Benny Gantz, a former army chief of staff, has threatened to pull out of the government over the current plan. “The people will not tolerate it, the Knesset will not be able to vote in favour of it, and my associates and I cannot be part of this emergency government if this law passes,” the BBC quoted him as saying. While some ultra-Orthodox Jews of army service age serve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), the vast majority do not, devoting their lives to Torah study in the religious institutions, or Yeshivot. 
The High Court ruled that funds to Yeshivot whose students qualify for conscription since July 1, 2023 when a previous law on deferrals expired, but who have not yet enlisted, will be frozen. It is reported to affect about 50,000 Yeshiva students.
The ruling is due to come into effect on April 1, a day after a deadline for the government to draft a new law expires.

Netanyahu undeterred

Despite the shakiness of his regime, Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in Rafah. “There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said, adding that US pressure would not deter him.