By Joseph Federman | AP 19 November at 02:26 JERUSALEM – Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday survived a…
JERUSALEM – Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday survived a political settlement that threatened to put down his coalition and trigger early elections.
Netanyahu succeeded in persuading education minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Home Party, to release a threat to bumping the coalition. It left its government with a thin parliamentary majority and seemed to give the prime minister at least a few months in office.
While Netanyahu can explain victory, the major winner of the crisis seems to be Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. Hamas has been subjected to major divisions in Israel over the last week on Gaza policy that could lead to the coinciding coalition at any time.
Here is a closer look:
CONFLICT IN GAZA
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies who have fought three wars since the militant group took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Israel and Egypt have kept a tight blockade on Gaza to weaken Hamas, destroying the already fragile economy of the territory.
Since the end of March, Hamas has been leading mass demonstrations along Gaza’s perimeter fence in an attempt to break the blockade. More than 1
70 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed in the weekly demonstrations. But in recent weeks, Egyptian and UN mediators had made progress towards an unofficial fire that would ease the blockade in exchange for silencing the demonstrations.
This progress was upset last week when a battered Israeli military attack in Gaza struck two days of heavy battles where Palestinian militant groups struck about 460 projectiles, including a missile that hit a bus, to Israel while the Israeli Air Force struck tens of goals in Gaza.
A total of 14 Palestinians, including 12 militants, were killed while a Palestinian worker working in Israel was killed by a Gaza rocket.
KRIS IN ISRAEL
Just as the pages were on the verge of another war, Egyptian mediators smashed the battles. It resigned from a political crisis in Israel.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who had favored a much harder response, resigned in protest. Bennett, who also wanted tough action, said he would resign if he did not receive the defense portfolio.
Netanyahu on Sunday rejected Bennett’s ultimatum and took over the defense ministry, which seems to collapse the scene of its coalition. But at one last moment, Bennett was back on Monday and said he would give Netanyahu a chance to address Israel’s security challenges more specifically.
As opposition leader a decade ago, Netanyahu promised to take a harder line against Hamas than his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. But since its inception in early 2009, Netanyahu has come to the conclusion that Hamas would require a long-term military operation that would cost a lot of lives.
Reluctantly to pay such a price, he seems to have content to keep a weakened Hamas in control  Keeping Gaza quietly distributing Netanyahu on several levels. The working class border cities in southern Israel are regarded as the fences of his ruling Likud party. Netanyahu does not want a choice at a time when his bass is angry with the fire.
Netanyahu has also long claimed that Israel has more serious security problems on its northern front – where Iranian forces are active in neighboring Syria and Hezbollah has gathered an arsenal of over 100,000 missiles in Lebanon.
Yechiel Leiter, a former head of staff for Netanyahu, said that countering Iran is “the prime minister’s agenda”.
“Gaza is not an existential threat,” said Leiter, who is now a member of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative tanker. “Iran is the overall agenda behind the scenes.” Therefore, Netanyahu did not go “full gas” to Hamas, he said.
DIVISION IN CONCESSIONS
Netanyahu may also have a deeper agenda
Hamas seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007, leaving President Mahmoud Abbas only ruling parts of the West Bank.
By allowing Hamas to survive, Netanyahu deepens the territorial and political divide between the West Bank and Gaza. With the Palestinians weak and divided, there is no pressure for Netanyahu to make concessions so that he can expand the West Bank’s settlements and strengthen Israeli control over the territory.
Abbas fears Israel and the United States cooperate on a peace plan that would cement this division, which lacks his demand for an independent Palestinian state that covers the entire West Bank and Gaza under his control.
HAMAS HOLDS THE CARDS
Hamas has been riding high since the ceasefire. Suffering from minimal accidents, it has had an increase in popularity with the Gaza public, and is now working with Egyptian mediators to expand the fire to facilitate the blockade. Any elevator in the economy will deepen the group’s rule over Gaza.
Hamas also showed that it can not cope with the Israeli military, it can disturb life throughout southern Israel and put a lot of pressure on Netanyahu.  Another race of rockets would almost cause the Netanyahu coalition to collapse or force him into a war he does not want. It should give Hamas another leap when the fire riot continues.
Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at the Hebrew University, said that Hamas has emerged as a key factor in the next Israeli election campaign. “People in Gaza will be able to decide which issue we are focusing on, how much we focus on it, and whether the government will be considered positive or not,” he said.
DELICATE BALANCING ACT
Netanyahu must proceed with caution. If violence talks move forward and he gives concessions to Hamas, he can face a backlash from Bennett, who can at any time bring down the coalition and force new elections at any time.
Another coalition partner, centrist Kulanu party last week called on Netanyahu to resolve the government and make early elections.
Its leader, Moshe Kahlon, has not issued any ultimatum. But the two men are scheduled to meet later this week, which means that Netanyahu is not out of the woods yet.
Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre contributed to reporting.
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