The differences between the Israeli prime minister and his Western allies over the future of the Gaza Strip are now on full display. Twice last week, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Palestinian sovereignty over the Gaza Strip or even the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Three questions for Denise Charbit, associate professor of political science at Israel's Open University.
RFI: Since the start of the Gaza war, Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained a certain ambiguity about the future he envisions for the Palestinian territories. Is this clear from his position?
Denis Charbit: Without a doubt. Netanyahu may already be throwing himself into the campaign. He wants to appear as the only one opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He is riding on the atmosphere that reigns today in his country, which is highly suspicious of anything resembling a peace process. With the rift widening since October 7, Netanyahu hopes to present himself as the only one who can resist international pressure. So he is at odds with the US administration, which, for its part, favors a political solution.
But in Israel, this revelation seems premature at best. For the far right and far right, October 7 is the nail in the coffin of any peace process. But the scale of the carnage and the methods of mass killing prevent any Israeli from thinking that peace is possible and even close. And some believe that, in the best case scenario, it is necessary to go through a long period of transition in order to find transitional stages that do not for a long time exclude the creation of a Palestinian state, Palestinian sovereignty. But this cannot be done without Palestinian leadership, which is currently completely absent.
Washington on Thursday, London this weekend, Brussels this Monday: Israel's allies voiced their disagreement after Benjamin Netanyahu's comments. Can Israel afford this diplomatic isolation?
This gap was predictable. Initially, the European Union and the US administration supported the Israeli response because Hamas had fired the first shot. But what they wanted was for the elimination of Hamas to happen as quickly as possible with as few civilian casualties as possible. Support in principle for Israeli action, even in the long term, widens the gap between the lack of prospects for a peace process and political will on Israel's side. This explains some of the firm positions. As long as Netanyahu is on a virtual election campaign, these kinds of exchanges, conflicts, and gaps will only get worse.
But all these statements relate only to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this regard, I understand very well the impatience of the Europeans, who want this major crisis to open up the possibility of resuming the peace process. But if we put them in a regional context – Hezbollah in the north, the Houthis in the south and the Iranians in the east – I think once again, the Europeans are with the Israeli government and more precisely with the state. Israel and the Israelis. The whole problem is that they have Netanyahu as a partner, which is a bit of a tough snake to swallow. Since his tenure, he has continued to frustrate regional, European and American ambitions.
Are Israel's allies the bank in the post-Netanyahu era?
I have a feeling that it is almost certain that the Netanyahu era is over for the European Union as well as for the US administration. Politically he is unpredictable the next day. October 7 was a very real and genuine shock to the Israelis who had been frozen ever since. But there will come a time when politics will take ownership again. Finding a middle way to be more attentive to the EU while listening to the Israeli opinion may be the responsibility and historical role of the two centrist ministers in the War Cabinet, Benny Kants and Gadi Eisenkot.
But Benjamin Netanyahu is also banking on a presidential change in America. That is the complexity of the current situation. He understands that he has to wait another ten months. And it is not excluded that the war will last for some time to get closer to the election calendar, and he can hope that Donald Trump will win. At that point, all the scaffolding we build becomes a crumbling house of cards. Trump, unsurprisingly, clearly supports Netanyahu. So waiting ten months before the election is the whole challenge for the Prime Minister.
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