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Sa'ar: A political failure for which we'll pay in the future

Right-wing lawmakers pan Netanyahu for ceasefire with Hamas

Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich warns PM: ‘Forget about forming a government’ if you give in to terror group on Jerusalem

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem, prior to Israel's 73rd Independence Day, on April 11, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem, prior to Israel's 73rd Independence Day, on April 11, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Right-wing lawmakers, including some of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close political allies, warned him on Thursday against a ceasefire with Hamas as Israel and the terror group closed in on an agreement to end 11 days of fighting.

Netanyahu ordered the convening of the high-level security cabinet Thursday evening to discuss the ongoing military operations in Gaza as well as diplomatic efforts by foreign actors to broker a ceasefire. During the meeting, ministers voted in favor of a ceasefire proposal.

Speaking several hours before the cabinet vote, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar criticized the government plan, saying a ceasefire “would seriously harm Israeli deterrence” against Hamas and other terror groups.

“The cessation of Israeli military activity without imposing any restrictions preventing the arming and strengthening of Hamas and without the return of the soldiers and civilians held in Gaza will be a political failure, the price of which will be paid, with interest, in the future,” said Sa’ar, a vocal ally-turned-critic of Netanyahu who has opposed joining him to form a right-wing government.

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope political party, speaks during a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups have launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock. Israel, in response, launched an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman, another right-wing politician who opposes the prime minister, described the looming ceasefire as “another failure of Netanyahu.”

He told Channel 12 news in an interview that Hamas was in a position to threaten Israel because of the government’s past leniency toward the terror group and that a ceasefire could further strengthen it.

“The one who nurtured Hamas and enabled it to get to where it is today is Netanyahu,” Liberman said.

The leader of the hard-right Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, a key backer of Netanyahu, warned the prime minister that if the ceasefire deal includes concessions over Jerusalem, the premier “can forget about forming a government.”

Writing on Twitter, Smotrich linked his support for Netanyahu to the looming agreement.

“I’m currently giving you credit for running the [military] campaign,” Smotrich said of Netanyahu.

“But if, God forbid, an agreement/understandings with Hamas includes, explicitly or implicitly, [anything whatsoever] related to Jerusalem… you can forget about forming a government,” he charged, specifically calling on Netanyahu not to “capitulate” over the Temple Mount or plans to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Head of the Religious Zionism party Bezalel Smotrich gives a press statement in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, April 4, 2021. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)

Palestinian terror groups have tied the hostilities in Gaza to unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families.

Smotrich and all the other five of his party’s lawmakers also tweeted identical messages declaring: “No to a ceasefire. Yes to a decisive victory.”

Itamar Ben Gvir, who heads the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction in Religious Zionism, also suggested that he could not support Netanyahu if a ceasefire is reached with Hamas.

“The residents of the south are strong and determined, but unfortunately the Israeli government is not,” Ben Gvir said in a statement. “I am ashamed of the Israeli government tonight and believe that the ceasefire is a spit in the face of the residents of the south.”

“Such a ceasefire is a surrender to terrorism and weakness and the prime minister must understand that we will not accept it at any cost. Certainly, if we find out that Israel’s security interests have been harmed or if, God forbid, the Prime Minister has made concessions in Jerusalem,” he said.

Netanyahu was also criticized by some in his own party.

Likud MK Gadi Yevarkan (L) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after defecting from the Blue and White party on January 15, 2020. (Likud party)

Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan of the Likud wrote on Twitter that a ceasefire without the return of the bodies of soldiers captured by Hamas in 2014 and two Israeli civilians currently being held by the group was “a reward for terrorism.”

“The Israeli government has a moral duty to return the boys now,” Yevarkan said. “Israel could have to release thousands of terrorists in the future if we do not seize the opportunity now.”

There have been various Israeli and international reports about ceasefire talks.

Following denials by officials on all sides, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday night that Israeli security officials believe a ceasefire could go into effect Friday afternoon. The report said that was the assessment shared during meetings of top Israeli defense brass on Wednesday.

According to Al-Jazeera, Israel has informed Egypt — which is mediating the talks between the Jewish state and Hamas — that it is willing to halt its military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza City’s Rimal residential district on May 20, 2021, during Israeli strikes on the Hamas-controlled enclave in response to rocket fire (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

After Netanyahu failed to form a government following the March 23 national election, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid was given until June 2 to try and do so. He and Yamina chair Naftali Bennett were on the verge of clinching a coalition deal with the support of the Islamist Ra’am party when the fighting with Gaza broke out last week, leading Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas to back out and Bennett to later declare that the option was now off the table.

With hostilities between Israel and Gaza now reportedly set to wrap up, politicians who have largely remained quiet on the formation of the coalition throughout the fighting are now beginning to position themselves for coming negotiations and the possibility of the fifth election in two and a half years.

If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse any Knesset member as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that 21-day period fails to yield a coalition, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a fifth election in two and a half years.

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