Forthcoming elections a factor in Israeli negotiations

 

In two months’ time Israelis go to the polls to elect a new government. From the beginning, its leadership dismissed as ludicrous claims that operation Pillar of Defence was motivated by political considerations, arguing that it was the constant rocket attacks that left Israel no choice but to strike to restore quiet to the south.

But considerations must have been upmost in the mind of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu as he tried to decide, along with other senior ministers, whether or not to accept truce proposals brokered by Egypt.

The Ha’aretz newspaper reported that two days ago defence minister Ehud Barak was willing to sign up to the truce terms presented to Israel, while Mr Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who will fight the January 22nd election on a united Likud Beiteinu list, insisted on holding out for better terms.

‘Finish the job’

The most common message from residents of the south, interviewed incessantly during the one-week blanket coverage of the conflict, was this: the civilian front is strong and can stay in bomb shelters as long as it takes – just finish the job.

Mr Netanyahu wanted a ceasefire, but realised that if the truce terms failed to secure the aims of the military campaign (stopping rocket fire and Hamas rearmament), he could pay the price at the polls. On the other hand, the risk of ordering a ground operation was even greater.

Some Likud party members and residents of the south began criticising Mr Netanyahu even before the ceasefire was declared. “Netanyahu himself promised the evening before the last elections that he would topple the Hamas regime,” one Likud Knesset member was quoted as saying.

Deputy Knesset speaker Danny Danon called Mr Netanyahu after yesterday’s bus bombing in Tel Aviv and urged him to intensify the operation. “We must declare war on the terrorists wherever they may be. The time for restraint is over,” he said.