Ceasefire? Israel to stop destroying Gaza for four days
The temporary ceasefire didn't come in time for these victims: Palestinians bury people killed by Israeli bombs who were brought from the al-Shifa hospital. This mass grave was dug in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. | Mohammed Dahman / AP

Don’t call it a ceasefire.

That’s the word from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office even as the Israeli government announced it will pause its destruction and ethnic cleansing in Gaza for at least four days, with the possibility of further extensions as conditions develop.

“We are at war, and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals,” he said in a recorded message released Wednesday as details of a deal with Hamas started trickling out to the world media.

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces, rounded out the message: “Our terminology is not ceasefire, our terminology is an operational pause.” Western leaders from Washington to London dutifully repeated the message.

Regardless of the words used, Netanyahu is buckling, at least temporarily, under the pressure of global outrage, domestic opposition, and his increasingly compromised U.S. ally, President Joe Biden.

In a deal reportedly brokered by Qatar and Egypt and crafted with strong U.S. intervention, the IDF and Hamas militants in Gaza will cease open hostilities for a period of four days as part of a hostage exchange deal. Israel will trade 150 Palestinians, women and children under 19, that it holds in its jails for 50 of the people Hamas took captive in its Oct. 7th attacks.

The Israeli government issued a statement saying it will extend its pause by one day after the four-day period for every ten extra captives released by Hamas. In addition to the halt of fighting and hostage exchanges, the deal also allows 300 humanitarian aid trucks into Gaza daily, the limiting of Israeli Air Force flights over Gaza, and a reduction in U.S. surveillance drone flights over the territory.

Palestinian children wounded in the Israeli bombardment at the al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. | Marwan Saleh / AP

Buckling under the pressure

As the terror inflicted by the IDF in Gaza has worsened, opposition to Netanyahu’s war has grown—both at home and abroad. The prime minister was already embroiled in controversy before the war over his own corruption and a scheme to control the courts, but the failure to prevent the Hamas attacks and the subsequent execution of the war have cost him even more.

After a police ban on protests was thrown out by the courts, mass ceasefire demonstrations have erupted in Israeli cities in recent days, showing that Netanyahu does not necessarily have the monolithic support among the Israeli public suggested by Western media. Meanwhile, the right-wing-controlled Ethics Committee in the Knesset has had to step up its expulsions to keep up with the growing number of lawmakers criticizing the military’s brutal campaign against civilians in Gaza.

Hadash Member of the Knesset Aida Touma-Suleiman spoke at a Tel Aviv rally on the weekend, giving voice to the previously suppressed movement for ceasefire: “They will not silence us. We won’t let the human voice against the war be unheard, so here we say: We are against the war. From the first day, we said that we oppose the atrocities and crimes committed against civilians, and when civilians in Gaza die from bombings—we will condemn these crimes as well.”

She was temporarily expelled from the parliament by Netanyahu’s allies late last week over her stance.

Several Israeli newspapers are also reporting that the prime minister is under blistering attacks behind the scenes from families of Israeli hostages, angry that several hostages were killed by Israeli bombs after Netanyahu previously rejected proposed deals that look almost exactly like the ceasefire that’s now been agreed.

Globally, major powers are becoming more forceful in their denunciations of the Netanyahu government. South Africa’s parliament on Tuesday ordered the closing of the Israeli embassy in that country, and President Cyril Ramaphosa declared last week that South Africa would refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

“We do not condone the actions that were taken by Hamas earlier, but similarly we condemn the actions that are currently underway and believe that they warrant an investigation by the ICC,” Ramaphosa said.

President Xi Jinping of China spoke publicly and forcefully on the war at a BRICS summit on Tuesday. “China supports the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of an independent state,” he said in remarks pushing for a full ceasefire.

“The collective punishment of people in Gaza in the form of forced transfers or water, electricity, and fuel deprivation must stop,” Xi declared.

And at the United Nations, Israel and the U.S. stand isolated. Some 120 countries overrode their opposing votes and passed a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.

A turn in Washington?

But probably the greatest force bearing down on Netanyahu is that coming from his benefactor in Washington.

President Joe Biden—who has steadfastly refused to utter the word ceasefire, banned officials in his government from using terms like “de-escalation,” and sought ways to secretly top up funding for Israel over and above the billions already given—is feeling the heat at home over his lockstep backing for the Israeli leader.

Dissent to Biden’s stance has broken out into the open in embarrassing and politically dangerous ways. The next U.S. presidential and Congressional elections are less than a year away, and the White House is unable to ignore the warning signs that are flashing.

Staffers at the State Department and other agencies are in revolt, Palestinian-Americans have filed lawsuits to stop U.S. support for genocide in Gaza, and voters are increasingly turning on the president as they watch hospitals being bombed and children made orphans.

Demonstrations expressing solidarity with Palestinians and opposing U.S. imperialist support for Netanyahu have swept U.S. cities for weeks, with protests or blockades happening somewhere on a daily basis.

The latest public opinion polls suggest Biden may be courting electoral disaster thanks to his intense loyalty to Netanyahu.

Backing for the Israeli government is eroding fast. Only 32% of Americans said “the U.S. should support Israel” in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released late last week. A massive 68% expressed support for a ceasefire, and only 31% backed sending more weapons to Israel.

Within the Democratic Party, support for a ceasefire hit 75%, and even among Republican voters—a stronghold of pro-Israel sentiment—50% said it was time to have a ceasefire and start negotiations.

Among voters aged 18 to 34, some 70% oppose Biden’s handling of Israel’s war, with his support slipping most rapidly among Black and Latino youth. Zico Schell, a 23-year-old voter in San Diego was asked by NBC why he no longer supported Biden. His response: “Failed promises, student loans, foreign policy in general.”

But it is among Arab-Americans that the drop of support for Biden has been most catastrophic. In the 2020 election, 59% of Arab-American voters cast ballots for Biden, but now a minuscule 17% say they will do so in 2024. Only 23% say they “identify with the Democratic Party.” This is not a demographic that will switch to Trump and the GOP in any large numbers, but abstentionism could be just as dangerous for the president’s re-election campaign.

“This is the most dramatic shift over the shortest period of time that I’ve ever seen,” pollster James Zogby said of the numbers.

Although Arab-Americans are a small segment of the electorate overall, in key battleground states like Michigan, they could hold the margin of victory in their hands for Biden. In other places, like Pennsylvania and Georgia, their populations are also larger than Biden’s margin in 2020. All of these states will be needed to beat Trump next year.

It is likely that the combination of these factors—along with the threat that Israel may drag the whole Middle East region into a wider war and Biden’s failure to successfully link support for Ukraine with support for Israel in the public mind—has prompted a change at the White House.

Though Biden still won’t say a ceasefire, per se, is required, U.S. officials reportedly provided the key pressure on Netanyahu to cut the current deal with Hamas. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been more forceful in talking up the need for a diplomatic path forward and a “two-state solution” to the crisis in recent days.

Add it all up, and it’s clear that Netanyahu is increasingly seen as a liability for Biden. The longer the genocide in Gaza steals public attention, the harder it is for the president to talk up what he claims are his achievements on the economy, infrastructure, job creation, and other areas of public policy.

Make it permanent

With a temporary truce now in place, ceasefire supporters are in a battle to make it permanent.

Biden feels the heat: A large banner reading ‘Biden: Ceasefire Now’ along with fake white body bags, representing those killed in Gaza, is displayed in front of the White House at dusk, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. | Andrew Harnik / AP

“I’m grateful for this deal—including the release of hostages, humanitarian aid to Gaza, and a temporary ceasefire,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said late Wednesday. “We must continue to push for a permanent ceasefire and a release of ALL hostages to end this horror.”

Peace activists in the U.S. are expanding their call of “Ceasefire now” to “Permanent Ceasefire now.” Major demonstrations are expected to continue in many cities across the country during and after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Other forces, however, are making moves to ensure the halt in killing is only temporary.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the congresswoman from Florida and disgraced former head of the Democratic National Committee, said on X (formerly Twitter) that she was “thankful [Biden] did not heed calls for an immediate ceasefire weeks ago, as Israel could not have achieved this breakthrough had one occurred.” Wasserman-Schultz also declared that “Israel can and must continue” its war.

Republicans are largely silent on the deal, weary of upsetting their Evangelical voting base, which backs Israel regardless of the circumstances. They also prefer to let any potential fallout or disaster rest on Biden alone.

Within Israel, there are also forces working to sabotage peace. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir led a renegade group of cabinet ministers who voted against the ceasefire and hostage exchange deal. And a group called the Algamor Terror Victims Association announced it will file a petition with the Supreme Court to block the agreement.

As of press time, the Palestinian death toll has reached 14,128, with tens of thousands more injured and 1.7 million made homeless. Approximately 1,200 Israelis have been killed, most in the initial Hamas attack of Oct. 7th. Some 236 Israelis are thought to still be held captive in Gaza; the number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel has soared to more than 10,000.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.