Benjamin Netanyahu portrait
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Benjamin Netanyahu on September 14, 2010.jpg: US State Dept. derivative work: TheCuriousGnome / , Author: See Source) Details Source DMCA
Palestinians in Gaza should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief last week, as precarious ceasefire talks survived a two-day-long, heavy exchange of strikes that threatened to unleash yet another large-scale military assault by Israel.
Late on Tuesday, after the most intense bout of violence in four years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, approved a long-term truce brokered by Egypt.
Both are keen to avoid triggering an explosion of popular anger in Gaza, the consequences of which would be difficult to predict or contain.
The tiny enclave is on life support, having endured three devastating and sustained attacks by Israel, as well as a suffocating blockade, over the past decade. Thousands of homes are in ruins, the water supply is nearly undrinkable, electricity in short supply, and unemployment sky-high.
But as is so often the case, the enclave's immediate fate rests in the hands of Israeli politicians desperate to cast themselves as Israel's warmonger-in-chief and thereby reap an electoral dividend.
Elections now loom large after Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hawkish defence minister, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the clashes. He accused Netanyahu of "capitulating to terror" in agreeing to the ceasefire.
Lieberman takes with him a handful of legislators, leaving the governing coalition with a razor-thin majority of one parliamentary seat. Rumours were rife over the weekend that another party, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, was on the brink of quitting the coalition.
In fact, Netanyahu recklessly triggered these events. He had smoothed the path to a truce earlier this month by easing the blockade. Fuel had been allowed into the enclave, as had $15 million in cash from Qatar to cover salaries owed to Gaza's public-sector workers.
At this critical moment, Netanyahu agreed to a covert incursion by the Israeli army, deep into Gaza. When the soldiers were exposed, the ensuing firefight left seven Palestinians and an Israeli commander dead.
The two sides then upped the stakes: Hamas launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military bombarded the enclave. The air strikes killed more than a dozen Palestinians.
Lieberman had reportedly expressed outrage over the transfer of Qatari money to Gaza, claiming it would be impossible to track how it was spent. The ceasefire proved the final straw.
Hamas leaders boasted that they had created a "political earthquake" with Lieberman's resignation. But the shockwaves may not be so easily confined to Israel.
Strangely, Netanyahu now sounds like the most moderate voice in his cabinet. Fellow politicians are demanding Israel "restore its deterrence" -- a euphemism for again laying waste to Gaza.
Naftali Bennett, the head of the settler Jewish Home party, denounced the ceasefire as "unacceptable" and demanded the vacant defence post.
There was flak, too, from Israel's so-called left. The opposition Labour party leader Avi Gabbay called Netanyahu "weak", while former prime minister Ehud Barak said he had "surrendered to Hamas under fire".
Similar sentiments are shared by the public. Polls indicate 74 per cent of Israelis favour a tougher approach.
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