Bibi gets a ceasefire from Gaza but stays under fire from his own side

Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas chief in Gaza, doesn’t want a war with Israel now while Benjamin Netanyahu has enough problems to deal with


Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas's political wing in Gaza, visits the house of fellow Hamas leader Nizar Awadallah (unseen) in Gaza City on March 10, 2021, upon his re-election as the head of the Islamist movement's de facto leader in the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave. - Sinwar, a former commander of Hamas's military branch, served more than two decades in an Israeli jail before he was released in 2011 as a part of a prisoner exchange. First elected to the post in 2017, he faced four challengers this time, including Nizar Awadallah, the former head of Hamas's advisory Shura Council. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

May 04, 2023 12:59

In the brief flurry of warfare in and around Gaza that began on Tuesday morning following the death of Khader Adnan, a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) member who went on an 87-day hunger strike, 104 rockets and mortar shells were launched from Gaza. Most were fired by PIJ, with Hamas’s knowledge.

Hamas itself fired only seven projectiles, all of which were ground-to-air shells. It was a clear message from the Palestinian organisation currently controlling Gaza.

Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas chief in Gaza, doesn’t want a war with Israel now: he’s too busy with internal Palestinian politics. He couldn’t prevent PIJ from trying to avenge their dead sheikh, and had to make a symbolic contribution as well, but if possible he wants to delay Hamas’s next showdown with Israel to a more convenient moment.

This works for the Israeli government as well. Benjamin Netanyahu has enough problems to deal with. Israel’s response to the rockets was air-strikes on 16 Hamas “military facilities”, which had all been evacuated in advance.

One civilian was killed in Gaza from shrapnel. And once both sides had let off steam, an Eygptian-brokered ceasefire went into effect at 3am on Wednesday.

Not everyone in the Israeli government is satisfied, however. National Security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, smarting because he wasn’t invited to the security briefing Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant held with the security chiefs, announced that “due to the weak response in Gaza” his six Jewish Power MKs wouldn’t be attending the Knesset. They held a meeting in Sderot instead.

Likud put out a statement saying that “the prime minister decides who are the relevant participants in briefings and if Minister Ben-Gvir doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to remain in government.” Meanwhile, Likud ministers briefed reporters that “Ben-Gvir is trying to break up the government”.

From Sderot, Ben-Gvir responded: “Netanyahu is invited to fire me. If he wants me to remain in government, I have to be in the briefings.”
Netanyahu doesn’t believe the threats.

He thinks that Ben-Gvir, who is proving powerless in the face of a crime wave and spiralling murder rates, has no incentive now to leave the government. Jewish Power is doing badly in the polls and can’t afford to risk an election. But the prime minister has other coalition worries.

The ultra-Orthodox parties are complaining that the promises made to them when the coalition was formed just a few months ago haven’t been fulfilled.

United Torah Judaism’s Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Minister Meir Porush gave an interview to Charedi website Kikar Shabat on Tuesday in which he said: “Why did I give my hand to forming this government? To hear the same excuses that we heard during the Bennett and Lapid period?”

Porush was referring to the budget discussions, where the strictly Orthodox private schools, while receiving significant sums, have not been given equal funding to schools teaching the government curriculum.

The Charedim are also angry that Netanyahu is trying, despite his earlier promises, to postpone the passing of a new law exempting yeshivah students from military service, until after the budget passes. “Netanyahu can’t tell me ‘I can’t.’ If you can’t, then don’t be prime minister. Go home,” he said.

Porush’s threat is not an immediate one. He is only one of seven UTJ members, each of whom have their own rabbis, who will have to decide if they stay or leave the coalition.
But it is a warning shot the prime minister cannot ignore.

The rabbis are dissatisfied and, while they don’t have televisions, they are aware of the polls predicting that if elections were held now, Benny Gantz would emerge as leader of the largest party. Perhaps he could deliver?

It’s interesting to hear Charedi politicians speak of Gantz nowadays. They talk of how, unlike other opposition party leaders, “Gantz respects Charedim.” A Gantz-led coalition in which the Charedi parties are partners is no longer unthinkable.

It’s much too early to predict the end of the Netanyahu government, which has been in office now for just four months, but there are already multiple scenarios for its demise. Including one originating within Likud.

The Knesset returned this week to its summer session without much enthusiasm. The coalition MKs who began the spring session as election victors were like schoolchildren coming back for a second term, with exams and the holidays still far off.

The next few weeks will be dedicated to the exhausting budget debates as the government scrambles to get it all wrapped up by the May 29 deadline.

During the Pesach recess, at least the grimy old canteens were renovated. Hopes were high after the news that Chaim Cohen, one of Israel’s most popular celebrity chefs, was taking over their management.

But it turned out that, with the exception of new lighting and tablecloths, not much had changed. Pretty much the same old institutional fare remains. For the early arrivals, there were fresher croissants than in the past but they cost double.

The summer session lasts three months but MKs and advisers are already planning their holidays, in the hope that this year, finally, there won’t be an election campaign to worry about — though it’s looking a bit doubtful thanks to Messrs Porush and Ben-Gvir. For those still craving a bit of parliamentary excitement, there’s the last battle of the judicial overhaul to look forward to.

Few believe by now that the government is going back to the doomed “legal reform” plan but next month the Knesset needs finally to appoint its representatives to the Judicial Appointments Committee — the committee that Justice Minister Yariv Levin fought so hard to gain control of.

“Levin knows by now that his law to give the coalition control of the committee is not going to pass this year,” says a coalition MK.

Since two Supreme Court judges, including President Esther Hayut, will be retiring in October once they reach 70, the summer session is the last chance Levin will have to try and influence the court’s make-up, but, without a committee to his liking, he will be forced to compromise with the three judges on the committee by appointing one conservative-leaning and another liberal-leaning judge — or appoint no judges at all.

This leaves open the question of who will be the next president. Under the “seniority principle”, Yitzhak Amit, a liberal, is expected to get the job but Levin has sworn to prevent that, since Amit will have five years until he turns 70 to decide which judges sit on controversial cases.

“If the judges want to deny Levin any satisfaction, Amit should forego the presidency and let Sohlberg replace Hayut,” joked one opposition MK.

Noam Sohlberg, who is next in line, would seem to tick all the boxes. He belongs to the conservative wing, is religious and even lives in a settlement.

But he is also independent-minded, not the judge Levin is relying on to support the government. He was planning to appoint someone more to his liking: a new president who would owe their appointment to the minister.

As things stand now, a new president is unlikely to be appointed this session, which means that the current deputy president, Uzi Vogelman, will replace Hayut temporarily, as he is also just a year before retirement.

This will allow Levin to keep alive his hope of appointing his own tame president. But on the other hand, Vogelman is also one of the most liberal voices on the bench.

Either way, the justice minister stands to lose.

Four months ago, he presented his ambitious plan to drastically weaken the Supreme Court.

If, as is looking now quite likely, he fails to realise any of it, many are expecting Levin, currently the most influential Likud minister, to resign.

The shockwaves from such a move could bring down the government.

May 04, 2023 12:59

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