TEL AVIV, Israel — Benjamin Netanyahu moved to quell a revolt by religious nationalists and settler leaders in his increasingly undisciplined governing coalition, demanding that he reverse his decision to allow two fuel trucks per day to enter Gaza — a concession the Israeli prime minister made amid growing U.S. and international pressure.
Rebel coalition partners demanded a greater say in the conduct of the war after Netanyahu’s decision was announced on Friday. They argued that there should be no, even limited, fuel deliveries to the Palestinian coastal enclave – nor any other humanitarian concessions – until Hamas releases the 240 Israeli hostages the group captured on the 7th. October, when gunmen launched an attack on southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right settler leader, insisted that the war cabinet be expanded to three people, including Netanyahu, so that all seven parties in the coalition government would have a seat. Smotrich said letting fuel in “is a big mistake.”
In recent weeks, as Western allies try to persuade Netanyahu to restrict Israeli military action — that killed nearly 11,500 Palestinians in 42 days, according to separate tallies by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas-led government in Gaza, a figure that some Israeli officials dispute. — he faces coalition partners who oppose any concessions.
Religious nationalists and settler leaders also criticized his decision last week, again after pressure from the Biden administration, to suspend its aerial bombardments and ground operations for a few hours daily to allow Palestinians to flee towards the south from the most intense fighting. in northern Gaza.
The eruption within the coalition government over the oil concession illustrates the dilemma Netanyahu faces as he tries to balance his government’s far-right religious nationalists and Israel’s Western allies, who are pressuring him increasingly to alleviate the plight of civilians in Gaza. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza, subject to an air, land and sea blockade by Israel since 2007 – when Hamas wrested power over the Gaza Strip from Fatah – were heavily dependent on humanitarian aid before the war, including fuel. to purify water, the operation of sewage systems. and the power is now out for telecommunications. Egypt has maintained a blockade on its Rafah border crossing with Gaza since 2007.
Israeli officials say the decision to let in small amounts of fuel daily, a fraction of the fuel allowed before the war, was made as a gesture to Western allies and to avoid a breakdown of sewage and water systems. from Gaza, which could spread disease. affecting civilians and Israeli troops.
“If the plague were to break out, we should stop the war,” National Security Council President Tzachi Hanegbi told reporters on Friday.
But Itamar Ben Gvir, the minister in charge of Israeli police, rejected this argument, saying that “as long as our hostages do not even receive a visit from the Red Cross, it makes no sense to offer humanitarian gifts to the enemy.” Allowing fuel, he said, “diffuses weakness, gives oxygen to the enemy and allows (Hamas leader Yahya) Sinwar to sit comfortably in his air-conditioned bunker, watch the news and continue to manipulate Israeli society and the families of those kidnapped. »
Israel cut off all fuel deliveries to Gaza at the start of the war, forcing the enclave’s only power plant to close, and it has been very reluctant to allow fuel into Gaza, saying it could be used to keep generators running to pump oxygen into Gaza. Hamas’ immense network of tunnels. “For air, they need oil. For oil, they need us,” Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister, declared at the start of the war.
But civilians also need fuel. Hospitals in Gaza are struggling to find fuel to run their generators intended to power incubators and other vital equipment. And the UN has urged fuel deliveries. Netanyahu agreed that no more than 140,000 liters would be transported to Gaza every two days.
Midweek, Israel authorized a small sum to keep United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aid delivery trucks operating.
President Joe Biden expressed frustration last week over how long it took for Israel to agree to brief humanitarian pauses. He had asked the Israeli leader not only for daily breaks but also a “pause of more than three days” to allow negotiations on the release of certain hostages held by Hamas. On the latter point he has so far received pushback, but on the former he said it had “taken a little longer than I hoped.”
Netanyahu has struggled to keep his turbulent far-right coalition partners in line. Last week he urged ministers to keep quiet and “be careful what they say” when talking about the war against Hamas. “Every word has meaning when it comes to diplomacy,” the prime minister told a full cabinet meeting. “We must be sensitive,” he added, believing that speaking out of turn harms Israel’s international legitimacy.
His warning came after his Agriculture Minister, Avi Dichter, viewed the displacement of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as a permanent uprooting. He dubbed it the “Gaza Nakba of 2023”, a reference to the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, known as the “Gaza Nakba of 2023”. nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic). “This is how it’s going to end,” Dichter said in a television interview.
Days earlier, Amihai Eliyahu, the heritage minister, sparked an outcry in Israel and abroad when he suggested that one option in the war might be to drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza. Netanyahu quickly disavowed the comment, then suspended Eliyahu from cabinet meetings.
And on Thursday, before the coalition broke up following Netanyahu’s reversal of his previous pledges not to allow a drop of fuel into Gaza, Ben Gvir said the West Bank should be razed like Gaza following an attack by Hamas gunmen against a checkpoint south of Jerusalem.
“We must deal with Hamas in the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority which has views similar to those of Hamas and its leaders identified with the Hamas massacre, exactly as we deal with Gaza,” Ben Gvir said.
However, Netanyahu’s coalition partners are unlikely to leave the government. None of the seven parties will want to create the conditions for early elections. A poll released Friday found that the Netanyahu-led coalition would be soundly defeated if Knesset elections were held today.
The Israeli prime minister does not benefit from any boost from the war, unlike Benny Gantz, a retired general and one of the leaders of the center-right National Unity party. He agreed to serve in the war cabinet for the duration of the fight, despite personal and political differences with Netanyahu. When asked who they would prefer as prime minister, 41 percent of respondents said Gantz; only 25 percent responded Netanyahu.