JERUSALEM: A truce deal between Israel and Hamas may have ended 50 days of bloodshed in Gaza but it also exposed a clear split within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.
The ceasefire, effective from 1600 GMT on Tuesday, was accepted by Netanyahu following consultations with his Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, press reports said.
But he did not put it to a vote within his eight-member security cabinet in a move which earned him sharp criticism from hardliners, four of whom would reportedly have voted against the agreement.
As these hardline opponents whetted their political knives, Netanyahu’s people were quick to couch the deal as a resounding success.
During the seven-week war, Israel managed to inflict “a military and political defeat” on Hamas, which “did not get anything that it wanted” from the deal, his spokesman Liran Dan told army radio.
Deputy foreign minister Tzahi HaNegbi, a close ally of Netanyahu, took a similar line.
“Hamas, whose main objective was to force us to lift the blockade on Gaza, failed and all its demands were rejected,” he told public radio.
Under the deal, Israel will ease restrictions on the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials into the battered Mediterranean coastal strip, home to 1.8 million Palestinians, and relax a tight limitation on the fishing zone.
But talks on key issues such as Hamas’ demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel’s calls to disarm militant groups, will be delayed until negotiators return to Cairo within the coming month. HaNegbi said the Israeli premier would not hand Hamas any political victory.
“There will be no port, no airport and no entry of materials that could be used to produce rockets or build tunnels,” he told public radio. “That will be our position which we will present at the negotiations in Cairo.”
But the deal has soured feeling towards Netanyahu.
“The general feeling in Israel is that (the truce showed) terrorism pays,” said Tourism Minister Uzi Landau of the hardline Israel Beitenu headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“Israel has given the impression we want calm at any price, which weakens our powers of deterrence,” he told the public radio.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the far-right Jewish Home party urged Netanyahu to convene a cabinet session for a postmortem of the ceasefire agreement and how to handle the likely “resumption of clashes”.
Such arguments have contributed to a dramatic decline in the prime minister’s ratings.
In an opinion poll published on Monday, only one in four Israelis — or 38 percent expressed satisfaction with his performance, showing a 17-point drop in just four days.
Three weeks earlier, he had a 63 percent approval rating, down from a peak of 82 percent recorded shortly after the start of the Gaza operation on July 8.
At the start of August, 51 percent of Israelis said they saw no winner from the Hamas-Israel showdown.
Officially, both sides claimed victory after seven weeks of fighting which cost the lives of 2,143 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 70 on the Israeli side, all but six of them soldiers.