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26 Nov, 2023 19:41

Netanyahu was protecting Hamas – WaPo

Israeli prime minister had stopped any attempt to remove the Palestinian militant group from Gaza, a historian told the newspaper
Netanyahu was protecting Hamas – WaPo

Benjamin Netanyahu has had an “odd symbiosis” with the Palestinian militant group Hamas that has ruled Gaza for the decades he has been Israel’s prime minister, the Washington Post (WaPo) reported on Sunday, citing a host of experts on Israel.

The politician reportedly has found Hamas useful for stalling the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and for disrupting the establishment of the Palestinian state, the paper claimed.

Netanyahu, who headed the Israeli government uninterrupted between 2009 and 2020 and then returned to power in December 2022, has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas throughout his tenures but instead pursued policies that helped the group keep its grip over the enclave, the US media outlet reported.

The prime minister’s cabinet approved transfers of cash from Qatar used to pay public salaries in Gaza, improve local infrastructure, and supposedly even fund Hamas operations, it said, adding that, under Netanyahu, Israel also approved periodic prisoner releases that allegedly also benefited the group.

“In the last ten years, Netanyahu worked to block any attempt at demolishing Hamas in Gaza,” Israeli historian Adam Raz, who studied relations between the prime minister and the militant group, told WaPo, calling it a “strange alliance” that might have ended with the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the follow-up Israeli military operation in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s policy goal was allegedly to divide the Palestinians, leaving Hamas to rule Gaza and letting its rivals from the Palestinian Authority control the West Bank. The conflict between the two groups made a negotiated two-state solution impossible, WaPo claimed, adding that it also allowed the prime minister to just discard the Palestinian issue altogether.

“With no unified leadership, [Netanyahu] was able to say he couldn’t move forward with peace negotiations,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli pollster and political analyst. “It allowed him to say, ‘There is no one to talk to.’” Instead, he focused on Israel’s standoff with Iran and economic development, the Post added, citing Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer.

“Netanyahu always felt that the Palestinian conflict was a distraction being used as a wedge issue in Israel,” Pfeffer told the paper. According to the Post, the prime minister in particular sought to prevent any reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority amid an apparent rapprochement in 2018. It did not provide any details on the issue, though.

The prime minister’s office refused to provide any comments to the US newspaper but one Israeli official told it, on condition of anonymity, that Netanyahu “hit Hamas harder than any prime minister in history.” Although the prime minister had not destroyed the group earlier, it was something his “war cabinet” was doing after October 7, the official added.

Israel waged three large-scale military operations in Gaza under Netanyahu’s leadership, which were in 2012, 2014 and 2021. All of them eventually ended in negotiated ceasefires that left the group in control of the enclave.

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