Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar, a member of the prime minister's ruling Likud party, said: “Everyone who praised Netanyahu was wrong.” “They are hurting the war effort.”
The challenges facing Netanyahu are many, and form a cycle that seems impossible to solve: His partners in the ultra-nationalist coalition and the far right threaten to topple the government if the war stops. He also faces intense pressure from the families of Israeli hostages – and from within his own war cabinet – to secure a cessation of fighting and the release of those still held by Hamas in Gaza.
Netanyahu rejects the ceasefire, and pledges to continue the war while Blinken visits Israel
At the same time, the United States is seeking a political framework for the post-war Gaza Strip that includes a road map for the creation of a Palestinian state, something Netanyahu has spent his political career trying to thwart. “I am proud that I prevented the creation of a Palestinian state,” he said in December, adding that the US-brokered Oslo Accords were a “huge mistake.”
But the two-state solution is also being demanded by Saudi Arabia as a price for normalizing relations with Israel, an agreement that analysts say Netanyahu views as key to his political survival.
“There are pressures from multiple directions,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. One recent poll conducted by the institute found that about 70% of Israelis want early elections.
“It has never been worse for him compared to the two or three decades he spent at the head of Israeli politics,” Plesner said.
Netanyahu is widely blamed here for the Hamas-led attack on October 7, the bloodiest day in the country's history, after years of touting his security credentials. He has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the security failures of that day, saying there will be time for them after the war.
Opinion polls show he would win just 16% of the vote if new elections are held, with about a third of his Likud base turning against the party.
It has left Netanyahu “completely dependent” on the most extreme members of his cabinet, according to Plessner, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been criticized by US officials for his inflammatory comments about the Palestinians.
“Reckless deal = dismantling the government,” Ben Gvir posted on Channel X last week as reports spread of a new deal to release the hostages. While opposition leader Yair Lapid then offered a “safety net” — saying he would step in and support the coalition if Ben Gvir withdraws — that would not give Netanyahu the political longevity he seeks. Analysts say that Lapid may not protect Netanyahu from a vote of no confidence except for a limited period after an agreement is reached.
Hamas' response on Tuesday to the possible framework of the hostage deal may have bought Netanyahu more time. The movement demanded a ceasefire for four and a half months, the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, and the final withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.
Plesner said the deal was “unsuccessful” across the political spectrum, and Netanyahu rejected it as “delusional.”
With the withdrawal of some Israeli forces from Gaza, the long-term strategy remains elusive
In his speech on Wednesday, he again pledged to press forward until “total victory” — a slogan recently spotted on the hat of one of his campaign managers. While Israeli military leaders have quietly admitted that the war will weaken Hamas but not destroy the group, the prime minister continues to promise that “the next day [the war] It is the next day for Hamas.”
Dalia Sheindlin, an Israeli pollster and political analyst, said Netanyahu is “selling a false image to the Israeli public that you can have it all,” including his assertion that increased military pressure will bring hostages home sooner — even with family members and exes. He warns the captives that their time is running out.
Netanyahu added that the military campaign would continue “for several months” and would then focus on Rafah, along the Egyptian border, where more than a million displaced Palestinians have fled in search of safety — another point of contention with Washington.
“Military operations now would be disastrous for these people, which we do not support,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
Zohar, the Israeli culture minister, said that even the more limited framework recently reached by the American and Arab partners in Paris, which stipulates an initial six-week cessation of fighting, will face strong resistance among Likud members.
“We will need more acceptable terms,” he said.
“It's an acute dilemma,” Scheindlin said of Netanyahu's calculations regarding the ceasefire agreement. He added: “He knows that if he comes close to reaching an agreement, he will have to face a coalition crisis.”
But Ben Caspit, author of a biography of Netanyahu and a columnist for Al-Monitor, said that Netanyahu may still be seeking a big deal, pinning his hopes on normalizing relations with Riyadh.
“It will be easier to convince coalition partners to support the agreement if it comes with a big prize,” he said. He added: “He will tell them what the value of 800 released terrorists is compared to peace with Saudi Arabia? He is very skilled politically and can try to revive himself through this opportunity.”
Fearing war and unrest, Arab leaders demand an end to the Israeli attack on Gaza
After October 7, Caspit put Netanyahu's chances of political survival at “zero.” “I think it's between 10 and 15 percent,” he said now.
It will require him to convince Saudi Arabia and the United States that he is committed to reaching a political settlement for the Palestinians, even as he continues to publicly reject that possibility.
Zohar said that even talking about a Palestinian state is not an option. “He will have to reject this request from the Americans, and he has succeeded in doing so so far.”
Netanyahu is an expert at buying time and running out the clock. He knows that Washington will soon be busy with a new election cycle. While the majority of Israelis want new elections, most believe that can only happen after the war ends.
“Ultimately, public opinion polls do not lead to elections; “Only voting in the Knesset does,” Plesner said. “For early elections to be held, at least five members of Netanyahu’s coalition in the Knesset will have to join the opposition.
“And the numbers aren't there.”
Robin reported from Tel Aviv.