Prime Minister Netanyahu Welcomes President Biden in October (video clip)

In a dramatic escalation of tensions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is caught in a fierce political storm. Facing the combined pressures of Washington and desperate hostage families on one side, and the uncompromising threats of his right-wing ministers on the other, Netanyahu's grip on power is in jeopardy. A senior Israeli official has openly challenged President Joe Biden’s assertions regarding Israel’s cease-fire proposal, branding them as “completely inaccurate” and just today, Netanyahu broke his silence on the issue and confirmed what Israeli officials have been telling the media since Saturday night.  

Biden, in an unexpected Friday announcement, claimed to outline a cease-fire plan purportedly initiated by Israel and mediated to Hamas. This bold statement, which came on the Sabbath eve when Israel mostly shuts down, sent shockwaves through both the international community and Israeli political circles. 

However, the Israeli official vehemently disputed Biden’s portrayal, emphasizing that Israel had never agreed to a full troop withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in exchange for hostage releases. “Israel has not changed its conditions for a permanent cease-fire,” the official declared. “Our objectives remain: the total destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities.”

The official further clarified that while the White House portrayed the plan as Israel’s brainchild, it was, in reality, a mediator’s proposal, significantly altered by Israel. “It’s baffling that they call it an Israeli proposal and simultaneously claim Israel needs to agree to it,” the official remarked, highlighting the convoluted nature of the diplomatic communications. Israel, he added, is still awaiting Hamas' formal response to the proposal.

On Friday, Biden announced that the plan had been conveyed to Hamas via Qatar, a key mediator in these protracted negotiations. A Hamas spokesperson responded positively to Biden's speech, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry confirmed Hamas’s favorable view of the proposal, stressing that the ball was now in Israel’s court.  Netanyahu had been quiet on Biden's announcement until today, when he broke that silence saying: Israel can stop the fighting for 42 days to return the captives. But we cannot stop the war. The Iranians and all our enemies are watching us, wanting to see if we will surrender."

Biden touted the proposal as a “comprehensive new plan” leading to a permanent Gaza cease-fire. His three-part strategy, he claimed, involved Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza’s populated areas, the release of hostages held since the catastrophic October 7 Hamas-led attack, and a six-week truce as the plan’s initial phase.

Netanyahu’s position is increasingly precarious. Right-wing ministers, pivotal to his coalition's stability, have issued stark ultimatums. Should Netanyahu endorse Biden’s cease-fire framework, they threaten to dismantle his government. Israeli media buzzed Monday with reports of Netanyahu’s impending confrontation with his hardline national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, over his resignation threats.

Simultaneously, hostage families are amplifying their demands for swift governmental action to secure their loved ones’ release. Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh remains in Gaza since October 7, expressed cautious optimism following Biden’s proposal. “You can't count your hostages until they are home and you are hugging them,” she poignantly told NBC News in Jerusalem. Goldberg-Polin criticized Israeli officials prioritizing war continuation over hostage rescue, challenging them to consider the human cost.

The Biden administration continues to pressurize Israel. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in talks with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war Cabinet member Benny Gantz, praised Israel for the proposal, insisting Hamas now bore the responsibility to accept it.

A cease-fire could potentially bring crucial relief to Gaza's besieged population. UNRWA reported over 1 million Palestinians have fled Rafah due to Israeli military actions. Despite U.S. admonitions, the IDF maintains its “intelligence-based, targeted operations” in Rafah, intensifying the conflict.

Netanyahu’s public silence up until today on Biden’s proposal is deafening. While his office reiterated Israel’s unwavering conditions for ending the war, Netanyahu has yet to personally address the proposal. In a rare move, his chief foreign policy adviser Ophir Falk, told the Sunday Times that while the deal isn’t ideal, Israel is deeply committed to the hostages’ release, acknowledging a reluctant agreement to the proposal. The Israeli Prime Minister was formally invited to give an address in front of a joint session of the U.S. Congress and Senate, making him the only person to be invited four times for that honor. His silence in Israel is seen as not wanting to cause controversy before the expected speech.

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