Netanyahu Saw His Chance to Run Away From Gaza, and He Took It

All Israel's prime minister wanted in the end - after all the promises, and the rhetoric - was to achieve a cease-fire with Hamas at just about any price.

Ofer Vaknin

Without a formal discussion, without a vote, in laconic telephone updates with members of the security cabinet – that is how the government of Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu in August 2014 approved a cease-fire agreement with a terror organization. The same Benjamin Netanyahu who ran for election five years ago, after Operation Cast Lead, on the platform that the mission had not been accomplished, that Hamas rule had to be destroyed and that he was the only one who could do it.

Netanyahu's conduct during the 50 days of fighting in Gaza highlighted the gap between his statements and promises and the reality. The prime minister, who was the most strident in his statement against Hamas, ended the confrontation with the organization in the weakest position. All he wanted was to achieve a cease-fire at just about any price. When the opportunity came, he simply grabbed it and ran.

The Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel accepted on Tuesday did not deliver a single achievement. The only thing that the prime minister's spokesmen could boast about on Tuesday was the denial of achievements to Hamas, such as the dissolution of its demands for a sea port, an airport and salary payments. But all those demands will be raised during the negotiations with Hamas that will resume in Cairo next week.

In return for unlimited quiet, Israel agreed to immediately open the border crossings with Gaza to humanitarian aid and to extend the fishing zone to a distance of six nautical miles. Israel also agreed to the immediate entry of construction materials for the rebuilding of Gaza, without any guarantee from either Egypt or Hamas for the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the cement and concrete is not used for the rehabilitation of the tunnels project.

The Egyptian proposal didn't include any statement, not even a hint, regarding Israel's security demands. There was nothing about the demilitarization of the strip, the re-arming or the issue of the tunnels. When reading the thin Egyptian document to which Benjamin Netanyahu agreed, John Kerry's draft – which was rejected by the cabinet with a disdain that bordered on humiliation of the secretary of state – suddenly looks like the proposal of the year.

The third agreement that Netanyahu has signed with Hamas since he entered office in 2009 does not even return Israel to the starting point with Gaza. Netanyahu just wanted to return to the status quo that has become a personal ideology, but the reality is that Israel has regressed.

That regression is encapsulated in the 69 Israeli fatalities, 2,000 Palestinian fatalities, the bulk of them innocent civilians, thousands of projectiles on the communities in the south, hundreds of missiles on the center of the country, deserted communities, the loss of trust in the IDF and the government among the residents of the south, economic damage amounting to billions and diplomatic and PR damage that is impossible to quantify.

In addition to repeating the many failures in decision-making that successive inquiries have revealed after previous wars, Netanyahu consistently and systematically kept his cabinet ministers away from the cease-fire negotiations in Egypt. At least four of them, Bennett, Lieberman, Aharonovich and Erdan, made clear to the prime minister that they would not stand behind the cease-fire proposal. Netanyahu understood that if he brought the proposal to a vote he was liable to find himself in the minority.

That said, most of the members of the security cabinet, if not all of them, are not really mourning the fact that Netanyahu exempted them from the need to vote. Ministers Lapid and Livni would have had to reconcile their doubts about the proposal with their desire to end the war. Bennett, Lieberman and the other opponents would have had to deal with the political repercussions of a frontal dispute with the prime minister. Now they can enjoy the best of both worlds; they can shout from the gallery while remaining in their deerskin seats around the cabinet table..