Netanyahu risks all as his popularity crashes

Israeli public opinion sours on Netanyahu as he clings to his positions.

A survey conducted in January by the Israel Democracy Institute found that only 15% of Israelis want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep his job after the war in Gaza. The same survey showed that 23% of Israelis favour the former Defence Minister and war cabinet member Benny Gantz to replace him as prime minister.

Observers believe that such figures suggest an alternative reason why Netanyahu, a highly divisive figure in Israel and abroad, may be keen to continue the war for as long as possible. He faces widespread criticism within Israeli circles, firstly due to the failure to detect the Hamas attack on 7th October and secondly because of the way he is handling the issue of Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip.

Perhaps not surprisingly, however, according to the poll 56% of those questioned support the military offensive in the Palestinian enclave to recover the remaining Israeli hostage, and 24% felt that a swap deal including the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, most of whom jailed without charge or trial, would be best.

Since the start of the Israeli operation, the onslaught has left Gaza in ruins, with 60% of the enclave’s infrastructure damaged or destroyed, over 27,000 killed (around 11,000 of them children), more than 65,000 injured, and nearly two million residents displaced. A severe humanitarian crisis has developed, and amid acute shortages of food and clean water, the United  Nations is warning that famine in the Strip is inevitable. Due to a shortage of medicines, healthcare is also in a state of collapse.

This situation led to Qatar, Egypt, and the United States agreeing to forward to both Israel and Hamas a recent proposal involving a six-week truce during which the two sides would exchange Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. But Netanyahu has again rejected a ceasefire plan, calling the terms “delusional”.

Without saying as much, US President Joe Biden is giving the impression that he too is getting tired of Neanyahu’s behaviour and has suggested that Israel’s military response in Gaza has been “over the top”. He said he is seeking a “sustained pause in the fighting” to help Palestinian civilians.

Netanyahu and his government have also been under increasing pressure from the hostages’ families, who recently stormed a meeting of the Knesset to demand more action to release their loved ones. On 6th February, five Israeli women who were released from Gaza during the November ceasefire called on Netanyahu to do whatever was necessary to secure the release of the remaining 136 hostages.

While his popularity sharply decreases with each passing day, Netanyahu keeps saying it would be months before victory in Gaza is achieved and he would not rest until he destroys Hamas.

Netanyahu, who has been Prime Minister of Israel between 1996 and 1999, between 2009 and 2021, and again since 2022, is also facing pressure from hardliners within his own government. In particular, far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has been threatening to dissolve the coalition if Netanyahu makes any concessions to Hamas.

Photo: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

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