Writing about the proposed peace plan President Joe Biden discussed on Friday, David Horowitz of Times of Israel makes a point worth keeping front and center in your mind:

The Israel-Hamas conflict is a zero-sum game: Israel wants to destroy Hamas; Hamas wants to survive and get back to destroying Israel. Neither side will agree to terms that definitively thwart its core goals.

So, let’s look at the first phase of the plan.

Both sides would observe a six-week cease-fire. Israel would withdraw from major population centers in Gaza, and a number of hostages would be released, including women, the elderly and the wounded. The hostages would be exchanged for the release of hundreds of Palestinian detainees. Aid would begin flowing into Gaza, working up to some 600 trucks a day. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians would also be allowed to return to their homes in northern Gaza. Most Palestinians fled the north following Israel’s mass evacuation order before the ground invasion began.

During the first phase, Israel and Hamas would continue to negotiate to reach a permanent cease-fire. If the talks take more than six weeks, the first phase of the truce will continue until they reach a deal, Mr. Biden said.

Why would this appeal to Hamas? For starters, six weeks of relief from Israeli targeting and bombardment is not nothing. Then there’s their standing with the Gazan population, which has taken a major blow. Aid would begin in earnest and people could return to what’s left of their homes. Combined with Israel pulling out of the population centers and stopping their constant attacks, it’s easy to see how ordinary Palestinians in the Strip would be grateful for the deal. And, finally, a major goal for Hamas is securing the release of prisoners, and Phase One would provide that benefit. Nothing in this deal would doom Hamas or prevent them from reconstituting themselves for future attacks on Israel.

Why would the deal appeal to Israel? The country is currently suffering a catastrophic loss of legitimacy on the international stage, with its leaders being defined as war criminals. The government is also reeling from domestic criticism over its inability to win the release of hostages taken on October 7, 2023. A cease fire will take a lot of the foreign pressure off and the envisioned release of all elderly, female and injured hostages would be celebrated at home. For the more reasonable members of the government, ending a growing famine is also a major benefit.

Seems like there’s enough here for both sides to find reasons to agree on beginning Phase One of the agreement, but I can’t say I am optimistic.

For Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who actually proposed this deal, he doesn’t seem to be able to implement it without causing the splintering of his governing coalition. Horowitz explains:

The heads of the coalition’s two far-right parties, Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir, declared that the terms approved by a war cabinet they had themselves voted to establish were unacceptable. And they promised to bolt and thus bring down their own Netanyahu-led government.

National Unity head Gantz, by contrast, called for the urgent convening of the war cabinet in order to advance the process. Highlighting the return of the hostages as the most urgent of the war’s priorities, Gantz was potentially setting aside the ultimatum he delivered on May 18 to quit the coalition by June 8 if Netanyahu does not take urgent strategic decisions on the war. And Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, insisted that Israel “must do this deal, now… before the hostages die there [in Gaza],” and reiterated his promise to provide Netanyahu with a political safety net to ensure that the government does not fall over this issue.

Netanyahu’s political and indeed personal problem is that Ben Gvir and Smotrich have 14 seats between them, and his coalition will not long survive without them. Gantz is a rival, not an ally, whose party has just 8 Knesset seats, and Lapid will take down that safety net as soon as any hostage-ceasefire deal is completed. If and when the two far-right parties go, Netanyahu’s dependable majority goes with them.

As you can see, Biden put Netanyahu in a pickle by praising and publicizing Netanyahu’s own plan. It’s a clever gambit, which was immediately followed by Congress confirming its invitation for Bibi to address it in joint session. A plan that will end Netanyahu’s hold on power isn’t a plan he’s eager to implement even if he’s the one who proposed it. Beyond that, releasing prisoners, many of whom are considered dangerous and hardened terrorists, into the West Bank is  something that makes Israeli citizens feel insecure. And the goal of destroying Hamas is popular, so any deal that gives it breathing space is going to have strong detractors.

As far as Hamas’ reasons for opposing the plan, everything seems to be going badly for Israel, so why throw them a lifeline by agreeing to a cease fire? And, while ordinary Gazans might initially be grateful for some respite from the war, when they return to their shattered communities and have a moment to reflect on what the October 7 attacks have brought them, I imagine their rage against Hamas will grow. Hamas has brought them unimaginable ruin but as long as Palestinians are united in their struggle to survive, there’s no place for internal politics or accountability. The truth is, no one other than Iran wants a future for Hamas, and that is going to include most Gazans.

Of course, it’s delusional to think support for violent resistance to Israel has decreased as a result of the war. That’s why the obsession with destroying Hamas seems kind of hopeless. Israel could kill every last member of Hamas and still discover that those who remain aren’t friendlier in any respect. There’s something to be said for accountability for the October 7 attacks, but there’s also something to be said for achievable war aims. The ultimate goal for Israel is not accountability but enduring acceptance and security.

The war with Gaza has so far failed on both these fronts and the sooner hostilities end for Israel the better, but that’s not true for Netanyahu. He, like Hamas, would like to put off a reckoning for the catastrophe he’s brought to his people. The proposal Biden is pushing makes so much sense that it just might work, but the worst people on both sides will continue to stand in the way.

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