Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is faced with a political dilemma

On Sunday, Israel's finance minister urged Netanyahu not to withdraw from a ground offensive.

Jerusalem:

Far-right allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are increasing pressure on the embattled leader to reject a new ceasefire in Gaza, threatening the stability of his government if he backs down from an attack on Hamas in Rafah.

Hamas representatives are expected to be in Cairo on Monday, where mediators are stepping up efforts toward a ceasefire ahead of a threatened Israeli storm of Rafah, an area on the Egyptian border where about a million Palestinians who have been displaced are taking shelter elsewhere in Gaza due to Israel's military campaign.

But Israel says four remaining battalions of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas are holed up there – after more than six months of war sparked by Hamas' cross-border attack on October 7 – and that it will attack them after evacuating civilians.

However, if a ceasefire is agreed, attack plans will be suspended in favor of a “period of sustained calm”, according to a source briefed on the talks, in which several dozen Hamas hostages will be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. .

On Sunday, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich urged Netanyahu not to withdraw from a ground offensive against Hamas in Rafah, even as the prime minister struggles with pressure from international allies to scrap attack plans due to the risk of large numbers of civilian casualties and a humanitarian disaster. .

But a ceasefire would be a humiliating defeat, Smotrich said in a video released to the press and addressed to Netanyahu. If it fails to eradicate Hamas, “a government led by you will have no right to exist,” he said.

Smotrich was quickly followed by Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who reposted on

Netanyahu's office and his conservative Likud party did not comment on the ministers' statements. His spokespeople were not immediately available for comment on Monday, on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

But Benny Gantz, a centrist former defense minister who joined Netanyahu's emergency war cabinet in October, issued his own rebuke, saying freeing hostages took priority over attacking Rafah.

Rejecting a responsible deal that would secure the release of hostages, Gantz said in a statement, would deprive the government of any legitimacy – given the security failure on October 7 and calls in Israel for the return of hostages.

Although his popularity has soared in the polls since joining the war cabinet, Gantz lacks the power to topple the government because Netanyahu, together with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir's parties, controls 64 of the 120 seats in parliament.

PROTESTS OVER WARFARE

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have drawn US ire over anti-Palestinian comments and policies supporting settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank even before the Gaza war. With their combined thirteen seats in the Knesset, both could dissolve the government.

If that were to happen, Netanyahu would have to gain support from more centrist parties or elections would have to take place.

But a vote would pose a serious risk to Netanyahu.

Successive polls have shown his popularity plummeting after Hamas' attack on October 7 – the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust and Israel's deadliest day. His current coalition is facing a resounding election defeat, polls show.

At the same time, Israel's longest-serving prime minister is on trial on corruption charges, denying any wrongdoing, and faces mounting protests over his war-making.

Israel's air and ground war has destroyed much of the Gaza Strip and uprooted most of its 2.3 million inhabitants. But Hamas has not yet been defeated and tens of thousands of Israelis are still driven from their homes in the south, as a result of the Hamas disasters in October, and in the north as a result of daily rocket fire from the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah.

And there are still about 130 hostages in Gaza. A video released by Hamas on Wednesday showing American-Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin sparked spontaneous protests around Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem.

Protesters lit bonfires and raised their hands, painted red, chanting, “Bring them all back home!” Police clashed with some protesters and escorted Ben-Gvir, who had attended an event nearby, through a crowd chanting “Shame.”

Families of some hostages have become increasingly outspoken against Netanyahu, accusing him of putting his own political survival above the fate of their loved ones. Netanyahu strongly denies this and says he is doing everything he can to secure the release of hostages, which he says has been largely blocked by Hamas.

Einav Zangauker, the mother of 24-year-old Matan Zangauker, who was kidnapped from his kibbutz home on October 7, said there will be no forgiveness if the government misses the current opportunity to make a deal.

Addressing Netanyahu at a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday, she said: “You left 133 hostages to rot in Hamas tunnels just to keep your seat.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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