While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters trumpeted Tuesday’s ceasefire agreement as a clear win for Israel over Hamas, politicians in the opposition called for his job Wednesday, his foreign minister again blasted his tactics, and even allies warned that elections could be on the horizon.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman stressed his opposition to the ceasefire with Hamas, arguing that Israel must not make agreements with “contemptible murderers.” He calls on the government to “free the Middle East and the Palestinians from the threat of Hamas”
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Liberman wrote: “So long as Hamas controls Gaza, we cannot guarantee safety for the citizens of Israel and we cannot reach a political arrangement. Hamas is not a partner for any sort of deal, neither a diplomatic [agreement] nor a security [agreement]. We cannot trust contemptible murderers. Therefore, we oppose the ceasefire, under which Hamas will be able to continue and become stronger and wage another campaign against Israel at its convenience. So long as the Hamas regime is not overthrown — the rocket and tunnel threats remain.”
Without openly criticizing the agreement with Hamas, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri and MK Ofer Shelah of the Yesh Atid party, a key member of Netanyhau’s coalition, warned that the party was reconsidering its role in the coalition ahead of further negotiations with the Palestinians.
“The Yesh Atid party will reexamine its future in the government, based on the political decisions the prime minister makes,” Shelah told Ynet Wednesday. “Even those who support a [peace] agreement, like us, will reconsider their future in the government.”
“Netanyahu understands that we are serious: if in the end we don’t succeed in leading a political process, the people will decide and we will find ourselves in elections,” Peri said.
The public statements from Shelah and Peri are not the first cracks to show in Netanyahu’s coalition since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge.
The prime minister had faced challenges from senior ministers Liberman and Naftali Bennett, who called in the press for tougher action against Gaza throughout the 50-day conflict. These two and other ministers in Netanyahu’s eight-strong security cabinet also reportedly complained about being left out of the loop, and on Tuesday night, Bennett expressed displeasure with Netanyahu for not letting the cabinet vote on the ceasefire even though he acknowledged there was no legal obligation to do so.
Three to four of the eight ministers within the inner cabinet are thought to have been likely to vote against the move.
Likud MK Danny Danon, who had been openly critical of Netanyahu’s handling of the war and as a consequence was fired from his job as deputy defense minister, disparaged the agreement as a waste of Israeli lives, noting that after all the fighting, Israel had not actually achieved anything.
“Fifty days of fighting, 64 soldiers and five (now six) civilians killed, 82,000 reservists called up and in the end we returned to the Pillar of Defense understandings” of 2012, Danon wrote on Facebook.
“In the Middle East, restraint is interpreted as weakness,” he added “The next round is only a matter of time and there we will have to defeat Hamas.”
Across the aisle, Meretz head Zahava Gal-on claimed that the agreement was clear proof that Netanyahu’s strategy against Hamas had failed and called for the prime minister to lose his job.
“What we have seen in the last 50 days is a shameful result of a lack of political strategy on the part of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who made every mistake possible in the last two months,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “He should pay the price and go home.”
Gal-on further blasted Netanyahu for refusing to recognize a Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government headed by moderates in the spring, but negotiating with Hamas under fire in recent weeks.
“There is no clearer indication of the profound failure of his policy,” she wrote. “One thing is clear: the same agreements could have been reached months ago, with the moderates in the Palestinian Authority and not with Hamas, under fire — and without engaging in an unnecessary war for which we are paying a very heavy price in terms of lives lost, casualties, and soon enough, a heavy financial price as well.”
Her comments echoed those of opposition chief Isaac Herzog, who last week called for new elections following the end of Operation Protective Edge to allow the people to decide the direction of the country, particularly regarding whether or not to kick-start peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Haim Jelin, head of the Eshkol regional council on the Gaza border, added his voice to the chorus of condemnation. “No one should return,” he told those of his constituents who had fled to points north. “People have been hurt because of the government’s stuttering. [The government] took people out, put people in, took out soldiers, put soldiers in. They say that they don’t want a war of attrition, but [that is what is happening here], the father and mother of attrition. What kind of life is this?”
Even as politicians scuffled over the ceasefire announcement, officials in the defense establishment praised the handling of the war and the ceasefire as ending rocket fire while weakening Hamas and leaving much of the blockade on Gaza in place.
“They are extremely weak and they know it,” senior defense official Amos Gilad, one of the Israeli negotiators in Cairo, told Army Radio Wednesday. “There is no need to be impressed by the celebratory gunfire [in Gaza] and the statements by people who are even more extreme than the extremists. In all, everyone there understands what happened. The rehabilitation efforts are massive. They have brought disaster upon themselves.”
IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz chimed in that if Hamas were as successful as it boasted of being, it would not have “begged” for a truce and agreed to one on Israel’s terms.
“If Hamas agreed to or begged for a truce, even after three-four days of … such effective mortar attacks, we have to ask, why agree to beg for a truce? I mean, is the truce really what Hamas was planning?” Almoz asked sarcastically, suggesting that the terrorist organization was driven to agree to the terms of the truce due to its weak position.
The day before Netanyahu sent ground troops into Gaza, Foreign Minister Liberman announced the dissolution of the partnership between his Yisrael Beytenu faction and Netanyahu’s Likud, and throughout the course of the war with Hamas, he waged his own political war with the prime minister, questioning his moves in the press and reportedly undermining him in the security cabinet.
Yifa Yaakov and Liz Shenn contributed to this report.