Is Israel on the cusp of political upheaval? In recent days, evidence has grown that two key actors—the Biden administration and Israel’s security establishment—are both pushing the country in that direction to advance their longstanding common goal of ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the religious-right bloc from power.
The Biden administration showed its hand on Tuesday when U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken gave Israel an ultimatum to support Palestinian statehood or risk demonization by the administration.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Blinken restated the administration’s demand that Netanyahu present a plan for the day after the war against Hamas in Gaza and the administration’s goal of using the war to establish a Palestinian state. Blinken insisted that the only side that refuses to accept the administration’s goal is the Israeli public—and its leader, Netanyahu.
Insisting that “Arab leaders, Palestinian leaders” have prepared their people for Palestinian statehood, Blinken said: “I think the challenge now, the question now is, is Israeli society prepared to engage on these questions? Is it prepared to have that mindset?”
Israelis, of course, have engaged in the question of Palestinian statehood. After the atrocities that the Palestinians carried out against their people and state on Oct. 7—and as the full mobilization of Palestinian society in Gaza and Judea and Samaria on behalf of Hamas’s war of genocide against Israel has been revealed—Israeli support for Palestinian statehood dried up. As Direct Polls revealed last month, 81% of Israelis, including Arab Israelis, say there is no prospect for peace with the Palestinians, including 70% of left-wing voters. Some 88% of Israelis do not trust the Palestinian leadership.
Blinken, however, doesn’t seem to care what Israelis think. He wants them to obey, and he views Netanyahu as the obstacle to Israeli obeisance to the administration’s program. As a result, he wants the prime minister ousted from power, as NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell reported on Wednesday.
She wrote that during his visit to Israel last week, Blinken offered Netanyahu a deal. In exchange for Israeli support for Palestinian statehood, Saudi Arabia would normalize its ties with Israel.
Netanyahu said no.
Netanyahu’s position, the administration believes, means he has to go.
“Three senior U.S. officials say the Biden administration is looking past Netanyahu to try to achieve its goals in the region. Several senior U.S. officials told NBC News that Netanyahu ‘will not be there forever,’” Mitchell wrote.
“The Biden administration is trying to lay the groundwork with other Israeli and civil society leaders in anticipation of an eventual post-Netanyahu government. In an attempt to work around Netanyahu [during his visit to Israel], Blinken also met individually with members of his war Cabinet and other Israeli leaders, including opposition leader … Yair Lapid.”
A ‘civil society’ action group
Significantly, Blinken tried to compel Netanyahu to agree to a plan that would see the U.S.-supported, Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority that nominally controls the Palestinian autonomous areas in Judea and Samaria take over Gaza.
The P.A.’s U.S.-financed forces train for war against Israel and participate in terrorist attacks.
The P.A. pays salaries to jailed terrorists, including the Hamas murderers and rapists who carried out the Oct. 7 atrocities.
The P.A. schools, universities and media indoctrinate Palestinian children and society as a whole to seek the annihilation of Israel and the Jewish people through a genocidal jihad.
The P.A.’s official position since Oct. 7 is to seek the establishment of a unity government between Fatah and Hamas in Judea and Samaria, as well as Gaza. In other words, empowering the genocidal P.A. means maintaining Hamas’s grip on power. Neither P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas nor any P.A. or Fatah official has yet condemned the atrocities of Oct. 7.
Blinken insists that Israel cannot win a military victory in Gaza. As Mitchell put it, “Blinken told Netanyahu that ultimately there is no military solution to Hamas … and that the Israeli leader needs to recognize that or history will repeat itself and violence will continue.”
War, in other words, is futile.
Although the public and Netanyahu reject this view, Blinken does have partners in Israeli “civil society” for his position. And those partners—led by retired generals—began a massive, multimillion-dollar campaign for new elections just before Blinken arrived in Israel.
Last month, the Hakol Hayehudi news agency reported that immediately after Oct. 7, the Mitvim think tank put together a “civil society” action group led by retired general Nimrod Sheffer to build a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state after the war.
Sheffer, a retired head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Planning Division and a fighter pilot, was one of the most prominent retired generals pushing for Netanyahu’s ouster during the 10-month-long left-wing insurrection that preceded the Oct. 7 Palestinian invasion of southern Israel. Among other things, Sheffer was a leader of the campaign to convince active reserve Israeli Air Force pilots to refuse to serve in reserves as long as the government advanced its legislative effort to limit the powers of the Supreme Court.
Hakol Hayehudi published the minutes of Sheffer’s group’s weekly meetings. From week to week, as the depth of the public’s rejection of Palestinian statehood became clear, the group realized that they wouldn’t be able to sell their plan to the Israeli people.
So, they changed gears. They wouldn’t bother trying to convince the public of anything other than that the “settlers” and the “extremist right” were responsible for the war. Instead, they would have the United States run their campaign.
“The Americans are the ones that need to lead, craft and manage the process,” they wrote. “The U.S. needs to implement policy steps that Israel won’t be able to veto.”
To safeguard their plans for Palestinian statehood, the Mitvim group argued that Israel must not destroy Hamas’s “civil infrastructure,” which it foresees the P.A. taking over.
Last month, opposition leader Yair Lapid participated in a Mitvim conference on “the day after.” The next day, Lapid parroted Mitvim’s plan in an interview with Israel Radio.
While Lapid is a big fish, the IDF General Staff and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are even bigger fish.
For more than a month, the General Staff has insisted that the government must begin discussions about “the day after the war.” On Jan. 4, Gallant presented his plan for “the day after” and insisted that the government discuss it.
To date, Netanyahu has refused.
Gallant’s plan bears notable similarity both to Mitvim’s plans and the Biden administration’s positions. It calls for the P.A. employees in Gaza, who operate the “civil” infrastructure of the Hamas regime, to be retained in their positions. The fact that these 17,000 P.A. employees overwhelmingly support Hamas, that many Oct. 7 terrorists were P.A. employees and that Fatah forces in Gaza, ostensibly subordinate to the P.A., filmed themselves participating in the slaughters of Oct. 7 clearly made no impression on him. Gallant insisted that a U.S.-led international force, including Arab governments, should have overall control over governance. Gaza residents who left their homes should be allowed—even forced—to return. Gallant’s plan calls for the IDF to have the right to operate freely in Gaza. But his plan does not foresee any permanent IDF presence—and through it, control—over Gaza.
Reportedly due to massive pressure from Blinken and against the expressed recommendations of commanders on the ground, on Friday the General Staff stunned the public by announcing that it was removing a division from Gaza. In the days immediately following the troop withdrawal, the city of Netivot was attacked by rockets twice from areas IDF forces had abandoned in central and northern Gaza.
On Monday, Gallant gave a news conference where he restated his demand that the cabinet and government discuss his “day after.” Gallant insisted that without a plan for the day after, the army wouldn’t know what to fight for.
“The end of the military campaign has to be anchored in a diplomatic action. The diplomatic plan must be the roadmap for military action. The absence of a diplomatic decision is liable to undermine military operations.”
Notably, when Gallant laid out the government’s war goals on Monday evening, he failed to mention the goal of eradicating Hamas’s political capabilities. He also scaled back the goal of defeating Hamas militarily from “eradicating” to “dismantling.”
According to Channel 13, the day before Gallant’s press conference, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi essentially said that from his perspective, the war was basically over, and it was up to the government to develop a diplomatic plan for the day after.
According to Channel 13’s report of Halevi’s remarks, he insisted that all of the army’s hard-fought achievements were about to be erased “because there is no strategy for the day after.”
Halevi said: “It’s possible that we’ll have to go back and act in areas where we already finished fighting.”
“We are worried that the Hamas will reorganize in northern Gaza. We need to determine the way we want to finish the war. The current achievements in the war are being eroded. We need a civil [governance] plan,” he continued.
Like Netanyahu and the public, Halevi and Gallant must know that the only way to secure Israel’s war aims is to complete the IDF’s conquest of all of Gaza. Even then, the only way to ensure that Gaza does not pose a continued threat to Israel is for the IDF to remain in charge of Gaza for the foreseeable future and for the population of Gaza to be permitted to leave the area for third countries.
The administration totally opposes all of these actions.
This then brings us to the reason Netanyahu has to date refused to set a plan for the day after the war. Given Israel’s requirements for victory, the moment Netanyahu allows the government to discuss them—much less adopt them—Israel will find itself in an open breach with the Biden administration. So long as Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader from New York, blocks the Senate from voting to approve the $14.3 billion military aid package Biden pledged to Israel in October, Israel cannot risk such a breach. Given the depleted state of Israel’s current inventory of ammunition for its ground and air forces, without the supplemental aid, the IDF will be hard-pressed to fight the war to victory.
By demanding that Netanyahu adopt the softened version of the U.S. position, the General Staff and Gallant, along with the anti-Netanyahu national security establishment as a whole, are presenting Israel’s leader with an impossible choice. Netanyahu can adopt a policy for victory but endanger U.S. rearmament, thus increasing the danger that the United States will abandon Israel at the United Nations. Or he can accept a version of the U.S. position and commit Israel to strategic defeat. If he does the former, he will face a protest campaign led by the media and the security brass accusing him of destroying Israel-U.S. relations and enabling them to plunge Israel into a new round of political instability. And if he does the latter, his coalition partners are likely to leave the government and overthrow it, and give the United States and the left their wish for new elections in the midst of war.