US piles pressure on Netanyahu to accept Gaza ceasefire plan

The US is ramping up pressure on Israel to accept a ceasefire deal in Gaza and allow some political respite for Joe Biden who is paying a high price domestically for the crisis in the Middle East.

Soon after the US president stunned all sides on Friday with his proposal for a ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not end the fighting until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities were destroyed and all hostages released.

But a senior aid to Netanyahu has now said that Israel has accepted the basis of the framework deal for winding down the Gaza war.

In an interview with Sunday Times, Ophir Falk, chief foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, said Biden’s proposal was “a deal we agreed to… it’s not a good deal but we dearly want the hostages released, all of them”.

“There are a lot of details to be worked out,” he said, adding that Israeli conditions, including “the release of the hostages and the destruction of Hamas as a genocidal terrorist organisation” have not changed.

The first phase of the Biden plan entails a truce and the return of some hostages held by Hamas, after which the sides would negotiate on an open-ended cessation of hostilities for a second phase in which remaining alive captives would go free.

“It’s time for this war to end and for the day after to begin,” said Biden on Friday. He is under huge pressure in an election-year to stop the Gaza conflict, now in its ninth month, which officials in Gaza say has claimed the lives of more than 36,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

Ratcheting up the pressure on Netanyahu on Sunday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that if Hamas agreed to the ceasefire deal, the US expected Israel to also accept the plan.

“We have every expectation that if Hamas agrees to the proposal – as was transmitted to them, an Israeli proposal – then Israel would say yes,” Kirby said in an interview on ABC News’ This Week programme.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron called on Israel to “seize this opportunity to stop the killing and bring this conflict to an end”.

Hamas has provisionally welcomed the Biden initiative.

Washington’s strong-arm tactics came after 100,000 Israelis flooded the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night demanding that Israel accept the Biden plan to return Hamas-held hostages and eventually finish the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu has faced fierce criticism from his political opponents, and even members of his own war cabinet for continuing the bloody offensive against Hamas, with no clear strategy on how to return the surviving Israeli hostages or lay the groundwork to a sustainable peace once the conflict is over. The latter would require engagement with Palestinians regarding their aspirations for statehood. This is something the extremist members of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government utterly oppose.

This Jewish supremacist faction, led by finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has threatened to pull the rug from under Netanyahu’s tottering coalition if the Biden proposal were implemented. But opposition leader Yair Lapid has pledged to back the government if Netanyahu supported the plan.

Pundits say the choice Netanyahu must now make between the road to peace and his own political survival is starker than ever.