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Faced with increased pressure, can Netanyahu survive politically?

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli Agence France-Presse Opponents of Prime Minister Netanyahu accuse him of being responsible for security failures and flaws in the intelligence services.

Benoît Finck – Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem

April 3, 2024

  • Middle East

Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself under increased pressure following repeated demonstrations by opponents and families of angry hostages after almost six months of war in Gaza, but the Israeli Prime Minister, who survived so many crises, is difficult to oust, experts say.

The conduct of the war against Hamas in Gaza following the bloody attack of the Palestinian Islamist movement in Israel on October 7 is increasingly criticized, and the death of seven humanitarian workers on Tuesday in the Gaza strip Gaza, after an Israeli strike, caused a wave of international indignation.

A new demonstration by opponents and families of hostages is planned for Wednesday evening in Jerusalem for a fourth consecutive night in front of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), where some have pitched their tent.

Opponents of the prime minister and unchanging leader of the Likud (right) accuse him of being responsible for the security failures and flaws in the intelligence services that led to the unprecedented attack of October 7, which led to the death of around 1,160 people on the Israeli side, the majority civilians, according to an AFP count based on official data. The same day, around 250 people were kidnapped and 130 of them are still hostages, including 34 dead, in Gaza, according to Israel.

In retaliation, Israel launched a war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which left nearly 33,000 people dead, mostly women and children, according to Hamas.

Drop in popularity

Protests have increased in recent weeks in Israel and brought together tens of thousands of people last weekend, particularly in Tel Aviv. Protesters also say the deep political divisions created by Mr. Netanyahu's maligned judicial reform last year have weakened the country. On trial for several corruption cases, he is accused by his detractors of conflict of interest and of having wanted this reform to escape his legal troubles.

After seeing his popularity drop since October 7, Mr. Netanyahu is weakened politically, but also physically. On Sunday evening, he appeared pale and tired during a press conference held shortly before his hernia operation, after which he appeared even paler when he left the hospital on Tuesday.

For Emmanuel Navon, political scientist and professor at Tel-Aviv University, Mr. Netanyahu “has already been considered a politically dead man on numerous occasions, but he was able to bounce back” during his political career of more than thirty years, including sixteen as prime minister, declared the political scientist to AFP.

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Last year, he faced one of the largest popular protest movements in the country's history, against judicial reform, larger than the demonstrations of recent weeks. But now he must also face the anger of the hostage families and the controversy over the exemption from conscription for young ultra-Orthodox Jews, increasingly criticized as the war in Gaza has lasted for almost six months.

An attack like that of October 7, which caused astonishment in Israel, would have ended the political career of any other leader, but Mr. Navon, himself a former member of Likud, believes that the latter ” cannot be deposed from within,” because he has “transformed Likud into a family business where there is no dissent,” he says.

“After me the flood”

“I don’t think he will be replaced within Likud, at least not now,” adds Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “For early elections you need a replacement government, and I don’t think that will happen,” he told AFP.

In Mr. Rahat's eyes, the continuation of the war in Gaza is a matter of political survival for Mr. Netanyahu: “As long as the war lasts, he can say that it is not possible to organize elections. He always seeks to justify himself in order to remain prime minister,” explains Mr. Rahat.

Martin Kramer, a Middle East historian at Tel Aviv University, compares the current situation in Israel to that of the “Kippur War,” the surprise attack launched by Egypt and Syria in October 1973, which would lead to the fall of Golda Meir, then prime minister.

By comparison, today, six months after the start of the war, “no responsibility has been officially assigned and no one has resigned,” Mr. Kramer writes on his site. And Mr. Netanyahu “does not see the need for accountability. “After me the flood” could be his motto.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116