Israel’s Fractious Religious Zionists Could Decide the Next Election

In advance of the March elections, Israeli political parties are being reshuffled, with new ones being created and old ones breaking up or merging. To Haviv Rettig Gur, it is the coming apart of the Religious Zionist factions—distinct from the ḥaredi parties—that is likely to prove the most important of these new arrangements:

There are three parties representing the religious right-wing camp that falls under the “religious Zionism” catch-all. Yamina, led by Naftali Bennett, is the most successful of these in polls. A January 11 poll . . . gave it fourteen seats [in the next Knesset]. Then comes the National Union party led by Betzalel Smotrich, which will run on election day as the Religious Zionism party. The same poll gave it four seats—edging past the electoral threshold for the first time. . . . And finally, there’s Jewish Home, whose beleaguered leader Rafi Peretz has announced his retirement from politics, sparking a primary battle to replace him.

Barring a surprising volte-face by parties now running on a commitment not to sit [in a government led by the incumbent prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, Netanyahu has no coalition without Yamina—and may not have one with it.

But Bennett also has the option of throwing in his lot with the Likud renegade Gideon Sa’ar—giving his New Hope party enough seats to form a governing coalition. Thus, come March, Bennett could play kingmaker. Gur continues:

Bennett could get more from Sa’ar, whose party won’t be all that much larger than his own, than from a 30-seat Netanyahu. Bennett will also have reason to trust Sa’ar to deliver on his promises in a way few in the political system now trust Netanyahu.

Bennett, as noted, would be pleased to see the end of Netanyahu’s political career. But Smotrich, who represents a more right-wing branch of the religious-Zionist world, the so-called “ḥaredi-nationalist” . . . subculture, would not. Smotrich views the option of a center-right coalition sans Netanyahu as distasteful, an unnecessary surrender of right-wing policy goals.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politics, Naftali Bennett, Religious Zionism

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security