With a Gaza Cease-Fire in the Balance, Netanyahu Maneuvers to Keep Power

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is known as a man who likes to play for time and postpone big decisions. But he may not be able to do that much longer.

Domestically, his coalition partners on the far right threaten to break up the government if he agrees to a cease-fire and does not try to clear Hamas out of Rafah, in southern Gaza.

Militarily, the strategic logic is to complete the dismantling of Hamas by taking Rafah and controlling the border with Egypt. But diplomatically, his allies, especially the United States, are pushing him to agree on a cease-fire, and skip Rafah and the potential civilian casualties a large-scale operation would cause.

Smoke in Rafah, in southern Gaza, on Tuesday. The city has become a refuge for Palestinians who have fled Israeli bombardment in other parts of Gaza.Credit…Hatem Khaled/Reuters

So Mr. Netanyahu is now negotiating and maneuvering on several fronts at once, all of which have a significant effect on the conduct of the war and his own future as prime minister.

His recent warnings to Palestinians in parts of Rafah to move to areas Israel has designated as safe, followed late Monday night by the Israeli military’s seizure of the Gazan side of the Egyptian border, signaled to his far-right government coalition, to Hamas and to the Biden administration that he would continue to prioritize Israel’s security interests. More important, Israel’s more narrow war cabinet, which includes senior opposition figures, backed those decisions.

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