For the first time since October 7, Israel is prepared to accept a ceasefire

Even if no agreement is reached, Bibi’s official position is now more nuanced


Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits at a factory of Synergy Cable Company in Sderot, southern Israel, April 20, 2023. Photo by Yossi Aloni/Flash90

June 04, 2024 17:54

Sometimes it’s hard to understand how Joe Biden, of all people, can be so optimistic about the prospects for a solution to the war in Gaza. After all, he has seen up close just how much time and energy previous American presidents have expended on the Israel-Palestine conflict with so little to show for it.

On the other hand, one could argue that since Biden’s interest in the region, as a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, goes back to the early 1970s, he can remember a time when peace between Israel and Egypt, or any Arab country for that matter, seemed an outlandish prospect. So perhaps he can be allowed some optimism.

One thing is certain. His speech last Friday in which he unveiled the proposal Israel had relayed, through the Qataris, to Hamas, was far from being “a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire and the release of all hostages” as he enthusiastically described it. At best it’s a vague framework set out by Israel’s war-cabinet to keep the mediated talks with Hamas going, and with them the glimmer of hope of seeing some of the 124 hostages (43 of whom are now officially presumed to be dead by Israel) get out alive.

The main problem with the proposal is that it’s all but impossible to see how the first stage, which includes the release of women, elderly and ill hostages as part of a six-week truce during which the IDF would withdraw from the cities in Gaza and release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, can realistically lead to the second stage of a more permanent ceasefire, during which the remaining hostages, male soldiers and men of military age will also be let free.

Israel’s proposal that talks on the second stage continue during the truce is almost inevitably going to be met by Hamas’ insistence that both stages be agreed upon in advance.

So why did Biden publish the agreement? First of all, because he’s an incurable optimist. Second, because he needs to show that progress is being made in order to try and assuage the critics of his support for Israel within his Democratic Party. And third, since this is the first time the Israeli government has put forward a plan which envisages a ceasefire, he wanted to tie Benjamin Netanyahu down to the proposal. That bit at least worked. Netanyahu grumbled that Biden’s description was “inaccurate” and ommitted certain details but he acknowledged that the proposal had indeed come from his war cabinet.

Despite Netanyahu’s caveats, that’s a major development. Even if no agreement is reached, Israel’s official position is now more nuanced. It’s the position of only part of the government, and certainly not that of the far-right coalition partners who have made it clear they are heading for the exit if such a deal with Hamas is reached. Hamas may yet foil the agreement or Netanyahu could fold under the far-right pressure. But it’s out there. Eight months since the war began, Israel is prepared to consider a ceasefire.

One result could be an extension of Benny Gantz’s 8 June deadline for Netanyahu to deliver a detailed strategy for ending the war. Another could be a move by Netanyahu for early elections, if he sees that there is no way to hold on to his coalition. If he does decide to launch yet another election campaign, he plans to use his upcoming visit to Washington to the fullest extent.


l Netanyahu has been angling for an invitation to Washington since his previous term in office, when Joe Biden was first elected. Nothing has come from the White House and so he fell back on his old Republican allies in Congress who were happy to extend an invitation to address a joint session. But Netanyahu didn’t want to be seen as working with just one side of the aisle. Finally, the invitation, signed also by the Democratic leadership, was issued just a few hours after Biden’s speech. It’s hard not to see a connection between Netanyahu’s acknowledgment that the proposal Biden set out was indeed his, and the signatures.

But even with the invitation in hand and the new prime ministerial Boeing having completed its series of test flights and dress rehearsals, there are obstacles on the road to Washington. Chiefly, if he’s already in town, will he finally be welcomed back to the Oval Office as well?

On Monday, a date was leaked to the media – 13 June. But surely Netanyahu doesn’t intend to come to Washington when Biden is away in Italy for a G7 summit? And then there’s the Jewish calendar. 13 June is the second day Shavuot, something that Israelis may have overlooked as the second day is observed only in the Diaspora. But it would be unthinkable for the leader of the Jewish state to make a speech on such a day in the capital of the world’s largest Jewish community.

How could his office have made such a scheduling mistake? The uncharitable view is that Netanyahu (who will be traveling with his wife) wanted to extend his visit, after all he hasn’t been out of the country for more than eight months, so that it would include both Shavuot and the following Shabbat and he would have more time to meet political supporters and patrons. But surely a prime minister at wartime wouldn’t want to be out of the country for so long? Whether it was by design or sheer incompetence (quite possibly both), he has been forced to reschedule.

June 04, 2024 17:54

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