It’s Time for Netanyahu to Complete the Israel-Hamas Deal

President Biden took the unusual step of detailing an offer to Hamas that would end the war in Gaza, describing the proposal as a “new initiative” by Israel. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is simply not there yet. The plan has many holes to be navigated, and Netanyahu still needs the support of extreme rightwing cabinet ministers—who oppose any concession to Palestinians and have even spoken of moving Jewish settlers into the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu might disappoint Biden by backing out. He could easily cite a flaw in any deal. And that’s if everyone’s lucky enough to get a “yes” from Hamas.

If the plan described by the President does go forward, Israelis will likely have very mixed feelings. They will welcome the return home of any of the 121 hostages unaccounted for since Hamas seized them on Oct. 7. However, Israel would be allowing Hamas to continue governing the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu has set freeing hostages as a key objective of the war, but he has emphasized, perhaps even more so, the goal of “destroying Hamas.

Biden tried to make the end-of-war plan palatable by declaring that Hamas “no longer is capable” of attacking Israel as it did in October. He also said that if the deal he endorses becomes reality, it could “calm” Israel’s low-level war on its northern border with Lebanon. Both remarks are aimed at pleasing Israelis who are concerned about approximately 100,000 of their countrymen who have fled their homes near Gaza and in the North.

The sad truth is, after almost eight months of warfare that has killed over 36,000 Palestinians—according to figures supplied by the Hamas-led Gaza Ministry of Health and recognized by the U.N. and U.S. government—the hostage crisis continues to cause deep despair in Israel. Furthermore, since the Israeli military launched its ground offensive in response to Oct. 7, nearly 300 Israeli troops have been killed. Families of the missing regularly stage protests, urging Netanyahu to put the fate of their loved ones first by ending the war. Israeli soldiers managed to rescue just three live hostages, and they also mistakenly shot dead three Israelis who were trying to escape captivity.

This is no victory for Israel, and it would be wisest for the country’s leaders to take the loss; not necessarily to acknowledge that the fighting in Gaza has been a failure—although the cost has been high, and the harm to Israel’s image gigantic. The defeat was in the one-day war of Oct. 7. Hamas should not have been able to pierce the supposedly impregnable border, and Israel’s widely praised army should have been able to rush to the scene and defeat the invaders. Eventually an Israeli 9/11-style commission is almost sure to assign blame—and, in the normal course of parliamentary governments, the Prime Minister and Defense Minister would be expected to resign. They will continue to try to avoid that.

But the pressure on Israel—from the hostage relatives, from the irreplaceable ally of the United States, and even from many Jews around the world who feel that this war has sparked an upsurge of antisemitism—should be heeded by Netanyahu. Biden says a lot of good can result from an end to the war, international efforts to rebuild Gaza without Hamas involvement, and the tantalizing possibility of Saudi Arabia agreeing to have open, cooperative relations with Israel.

Biden went public with the details of a proposal that Netanyahu may well have preferred to keep secret for now, because he has never publicly said he is willing to end the war at this point. But he should say it, and Biden is trying hard to create a situation in which both Israel and Hamas say “yes.” To save lives, to restore American leadership, and to get the Israel-Hamas war off the agenda in the U.S. presidential election.

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