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Gaza Truce Or Rafah Assault: Netanyahu Faces Political Dilemma

Far-right allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are increasing pressure on him to reject a new Gaza ceasefire, risking his government’s stability if he abandons plans to assault Hamas in Rafah. Hamas representatives were expected in Cairo on Monday as mediators worked toward a ceasefire deal before a potential Israeli attack on Rafah, where about a million Palestinians displaced by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza are sheltering. Israel says four remaining Hamas battalions are entrenched there after over six months of war triggered by Hamas’ cross-border strike on October 7, and it plans to attack them after evacuating civilians.

However, if a ceasefire is reached, attack plans will be postponed in favor of a “period of sustained calm,” during which a few dozen Hamas hostages will be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, according to a source briefed on the talks. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich urged Netanyahu not to back away from a ground offensive against Hamas in Rafah, warning that failure to stamp out Hamas would render Netanyahu’s government illegitimate. Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir reposted a remark from January 30, stating that an “irresponsible deal” would lead to the government’s dissolution.

Netanyahu’s office and Likud party have not responded to the ministers’ statements. Benny Gantz, a centrist former defense minister, emphasized that freeing hostages takes precedence over an assault on Rafah. Gantz stated that rejecting a responsible deal would strip the government of legitimacy, given the Oct. 7 security failure and public demand for the return of hostages. Gantz, Smotrich, and Ben-Gvir’s parties collectively hold 64 seats in parliament and could dissolve the government.

Netanyahu faces a steep decline in popularity since the October 7 attack and is on trial for corruption charges. His coalition could suffer a resounding election defeat, according to polls. Israel’s air and ground war has devastated much of Gaza, but Hamas remains undefeated, and tens of thousands of Israelis are displaced. Approximately 130 hostages remain in Gaza. Families of hostages accuse Netanyahu of prioritizing his political survival over their loved ones’ fate. Netanyahu denies this and claims he is working to secure their release.

The mother of one hostage urged Netanyahu not to miss the opportunity for a deal, accusing him of neglecting their plight.

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