Netanyahu Hits Back at Israeli Critics of Gaza Truce With Hamas

Image: Netanyahu Hits Back at Israeli Critics of Gaza Truce With Hamas (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 27 Aug 2014 06:18 PM

 

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at critics of his truce with Hamas in Gaza, describing it as a political and military victory for Israel.

“We can’t say definitively that the goal of bringing sustained quiet has been reached, but the goal of hitting Hamas hard has been achieved,” Netanyahu told a news conference late yesterday at his office in Jerusalem. The premier has been criticized by both allies and opponents for accepting an Egyptian-brokered truce that detractors say doesn’t assure Israel’s security.

The Aug. 26 cease-fire halted seven weeks of fighting which has left more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead. It envisages the easing of curbs on Gaza’s border with Israel, to let in reconstruction materials and aid, and the extension of fishing zones off its coast, Egyptian and Palestinian officials say. Israel hasn’t commented on the terms. Talks on other issues, brokered by Egypt, are due to resume in a month.

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Netanyahu enjoyed broad public support during the war. A day after the fighting ended, though, both political allies and residents of Israel’s rocket-scarred south were making their displeasure known.

“We’ve made it look like Israel is willing to accept quiet at any price,” said Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, speaking on Israel Radio yesterday. “We didn’t achieve the basic goals we set out to do,” said Landau, one of several ministers who had called for a broader ground offensive to topple Hamas’s rule in Gaza. Netanyahu had set a more modest goal of restoring security.

‘Strategic Failure’

Zehava Gal-On, leader of the dovish opposition party Meretz, said the same agreements could have been reached through negotiations with the Palestinians. On her Facebook page yesterday, she called the truce “a strategic failure on the part of Netanyahu, who went to war without clear objectives and ended it by delivering a tremendous achievement to Hamas on the backs of the residents of the south.”

Like Netanyahu, Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, has also been claiming victory. Shortly before the premier spoke, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh appeared in Gaza for the first time since going into hiding when the conflict started July 8. He told thousands of supporters at a rally that “the armed Palestinian resistance gained the admiration of the entire world and surprised Israel.”

‘New Horizon’

Netanyahu said he decided to stop the war “to save lives and prevent Hamas from killing or abducting soldiers,” after Israeli forces had destroyed tunnels used by Gaza militants to smuggle goods and stage attacks.

He also said the war has “created a new diplomatic horizon,” with more Arab states sharing Israeli concerns about Islamist militants. “We will definitely attempt to advance those possibilities,” Netanyahu said.

In 50 days of fighting, Israel struck 5,226 targets, and militants fired 4,591 rockets at Israeli communities. The Palestinian dead included hundreds of women and children, and thousands of homes and businesses, as well as utilities, medical centers and mosques, were destroyed or heavily damaged, according to Gaza officials. Almost all the Israeli dead were soldiers, and the Iron Dome missile-defense system intercepted 735 rockets headed for built-up areas, according to the army.

Estimates for repairing the damage wrought in Gaza by the war have ranged as high as $8 billion. The conflict has hurt the Israeli economy, too, with the drop in tourism and consumer spending prompting the central bank to unexpectedly cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low this week.

‘Political Sniping’

In contrast to earlier, temporary truce deals with Hamas, Netanyahu didn’t seek approval for the deal from an inner security cabinet of top ministers.

‘It’s expected that once the fighting stops you’d see a rise in political sniping, especially after a conflict which didn’t end in a clear-cut victory,’’ said Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Still, while in the short term some ministers who differed with Netanyahu’s strategy may have gained among their constituencies, I don’t seen anyone that benefited enough to break up the government and go to early elections.”

The cease-fire deal was also slammed by some local officials in the south of Israel, which bore the brunt of rocket attacks from Gaza. Haim Yellin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council near the Gaza border, said he isn’t calling on residents who had left to safer areas of the country to return, saying they should wait for at least two days of quiet.

‘Totally Absurd’

“I’ve lost faith in the government,” Yellin told Israel Radio. If ministers had taken their decisions from southern Israel rather than Jerusalem, the picture would have been completely different, he said.

Gazans thronged main streets covered in rubble from Israeli air strikes after the truce went into effect Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. local time.

“This is a great victory for the Palestinian people,” said Nabila Salem, a mother of six children. “I know the destruction was huge and the pain is difficult, but we’ve gotten used to pain, and it’s the only way to win.”

Hanan Abu Jamous, a 28-year-old mother of three, viewed it differently. “I wonder why the people are celebrating and I wonder what victory they are talking about, as neither Hamas nor Israel achieved any of their goals. This war was totally absurd and kept us in fear, watching death coming to harvest our lives any moment.”

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