Would A Netanyahu Exit Really Solve His Critics’ Problems? – OpEd


By Kerry Boyd Anderson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces intensifying criticism from Israeli opponents and from some senior Democrats in Washington, who are laying the blame for many problems at Netanyahu’s feet. But would new leadership solve those problems?

In Israel, Netanyahu faced significant opposition before Oct. 7 due to allegations of corruption and his efforts to weaken the country’s judiciary. The Hamas attack and subsequent war in Gaza lifted some of that pressure, but Israeli protests against Netanyahu have been growing in recent weeks. Netanyahu’s critics blame him for many things, including the failures to prevent the attack, free all Israeli hostages held in Gaza, address growing economic problems and more.

In Washington, senior Democratic leaders who have long provided strong support to Israel are increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu. In a speech in March, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed his support for Israel while criticizing Netanyahu for rejecting the idea of a future Palestinian state. Schumer said Netanyahu had “lost his way” and called for new elections in Israel. President Joe Biden has also been growing annoyed with Netanyahu and has criticized him for not doing more to facilitate humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Netanyahu will try to avoid early elections. Public opinion polls have found declining support for Netanyahu, with Benny Gantz, the leader of the National Unity alliance and a member of the current war Cabinet, receiving much more support. It can be difficult to predict outcomes in Israel’s parliamentary system, but polls suggest that Gantz would very likely be able to form a ruling coalition if elections were held now. Netanyahu and his far-right allies have a significant base of support but would be unlikely to prevail in new elections.

There are multiple figures hoping to replace Netanyahu. Potential candidates include Gantz, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, Gadi Eisenkot, an official observer in the war Cabinet, Gideon Sa’ar, founder of the New Hope party, and Economy Minister Nir Barkat. Far-right figures like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich would like to have the job but appear unlikely to be in a position to form a coalition.

If Israel were to hold new elections, and if Netanyahu and his allies lost power, would the prime minister’s critics get what they wanted from new leadership? Many of Netanyahu’s Israeli critics would likely be much happier. With the exception of the most far-right potential candidates, a new leader would be more likely than Netanyahu to ensure the independence of Israel’s judiciary, smooth over relations with the Biden administration and be willing to consider the type of compromise that might be necessary to secure the hostages’ release.

For Biden, Schumer and other Democrats who adhere to America’s traditional pro-Israel position, a new leader in Israel might offer some advantages. A new leader might be less openly defiant of US requests and might blunt some of the criticism that Biden faces within his party for his continuing support for Israel. Senior Democrats would be keen to present a change in leadership as a reason for maintaining US support for Israel.

However, if senior Democrats are serious about wanting real progress toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are likely to be disappointed. Several of the potential next leaders — including Gallant, Sa’ar and Barkat — openly reject the idea of a Palestinian state and support Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Others — such as Gantz, Lapid and Eisenkot — have been reluctant to take a clear position on the issue after Oct. 7; they tend to talk about a Palestinian “entity” or “autonomy” and have suggested that any such hopes must be years in the future.

There is no firm proponent of a two-state solution likely to replace Netanyahu. Furthermore, the Israeli public does not support the idea; an October Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Israelis oppose the “existence of an independent Palestinian state.”

The reality is that, while the Biden administration has renewed calls for a two-state solution, Israeli leaders and the Israeli public are not interested and Palestinians have learned to distrust any such promises. Netanyahu’s departure from power on its own would not resuscitate any practicable long-term peace process.

Biden and other Democratic leaders might at least hope that new Israeli leadership would lead to a different approach to the war in Gaza. Eisenkot, for example, has called for a temporary ceasefire in exchange for hostage releases and has emphasized the need to wrap up the war and prepare a postwar plan for Gaza. However, several others have advocated for an even more hard-line approach toward Gaza.

For example, Barkat has criticized Netanyahu for allowing any aid into Gaza and for easing military operations. Sa’ar has called for an even more forceful response and keeping parts of Gaza for Israel permanently. As defense minister, Gallant has played a major role in directing the war and drew global attention in October when he said that Israel was fighting “human animals.”

If Netanyahu is pushed out of power, his opponents in Israel will welcome a change in leadership. Biden, Schumer and other traditionally pro-Israel Democrats will want to believe that a new prime minister and coalition will listen to their requests for a different approach in Gaza and will be open to a two-state solution. However, new leadership would either reject a two-state approach outright or continue to prevaricate on the creation of a Palestinian “entity.”

  • Kerry Boyd Anderson is a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. X: @KBAresearch

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