Israeli officials disagree in public over how war with Hamas should end

Israeli leaders are increasingly disagreeing in public over the best path forward with its war in Gaza. Nick Schifrin discussed the direction of the conflict and the splits within the Israeli war cabinet with David Makovsky, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    Welcome back to "NewsHour."

    As we just said, there's a split in the war cabinet when it comes to hostages. It appears that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on one side, Benny Gantz on the other. What's behind that and how significant is it?

  • David Makovsky:

    Look, I think it's very important.

    It's one of the two big conceptual debates in the five-member war cabinet. Basically, the Netanyahu/Gallant school says the way to get the hostages is to put more military pressure in this war. The more you dig under the tunnels in Khan Yunis and Southern Gaza, where it is believed that Mohammed Deif and Yahya Sinwar are located…

    (Crosstalk)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

  • David Makovsky:

    … the leaders of Hamas are located, that the better you have a chance of securing their release.

    The other school is of the centrists, who happen to be two former IDF Israeli military chiefs of staff, pride themselves on their pragmatism, Benny Gantz, you mentioned, another, Gadi Eisenkot, who lost his son, by the way, in this war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes. Yes.

  • David Makovsky:

    And the two of them say, look, it's 102 days now with these hostages. You don't have all the time in the world, and the best way to secure the release is to cut a deal with Egypt, Qatar, whoever that may be. And then, if that involves some sort of extended pause, so be it. You could always renew hostilities at a later time, but in terms of what to prioritize, hostages or the war, the priority should go to the hostages.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The second big division within the war cabinet, as you mentioned, is between Netanyahu and Gallant, the defense minister.

    Yesterday, Gallant said that Palestinians will govern Gaza in the future, something Netanyahu has not said. And then he took a not-so-subtle swipe. He said — quote — "Political indecision may harm the progress of the military operation."

    What's he saying?

  • David Makovsky:

    So I think here, Gallant is saying, we can't just kick the can down the road about what does postwar look like? Let's be real. The Palestinian Authority should come back. They governed Gaza from 94 to 2007 until Hamas kind of threw them off the rooftops in 2007 until this war.

    (Crosstalk)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

  • David Makovsky:

    So, the defense establishment wants the P.A. to come back. The prime minister, however, is very fearful that Gantz and Eisenkot, the centrists that enlarged his government after the October 7 atrocities, that they will walk, that they will go for elections, and that he will be stuck with the people holding the balance of power.

    Guess who? The hard right, and Mr. Smotrich, who is the finance minister, Ben-Gvir, who is the police minister and the like.

    So he doesn't seem to want to offend those two, because he might think the future of his government depends on these two guys. So he won't say the words P.A. He won't say the words Palestinian Authority. He won't say the word Palestinian. He will just say, let's see what the war looks like afterwards. Right now, we don't have to decide.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But this isn't only about politics, David, as you know, right? This is life and death for many people. This is the fate of the war itself, right? This is important.

  • David Makovsky:

    Of course. Of course.

    I think the secretary of state's visit to the region last week was, OK, look ahead a bit now. Are you going to allow people to go back to their homes in Northern Gaza? You wanted to keep Palestinians from being killed. You told the million people go to the south. OK, now you have almost won the north, not yet, but almost. Do you have a plan to bring them back to their homes?

    And, if so, who's going to run public orders, civilian services, basic, basic services. And so I think what Gallant and Halevi are trying to tell Netanyahu is, hey, we can't just kick the can down the road. There are going to be some decisions we have to make sooner, rather than later.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There is some genuine frustration in the Biden administration with Netanyahu himself. Is Netanyahu listening?

  • David Makovsky:

    Not sure.

    I mean, I think the president in particular, who's wildly popular in Israel — I just came back. Every meeting starts with, thank you, Joe Biden, that it's very personal there, almost as if he's like the father of the country. He's viewed as someone who really cares about their security.

    And I think that's very important. But somehow that public support is not translated when he says, OK, Bibi, this is what I want you to do, which is there's certain tax transfers that you owe the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank.

    Here, I think Netanyahu is more concerned about political calculations, about the hard right. And I think the president is right to press the point with the prime minister.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As you were saying to me earlier, whenever President Biden or any U.S. official brings up two-state solution right now, it lands like a lead balloon.

    Do you think, quickly, there is a different way to talk about the two-state solution that the U.S. could find?

  • David Makovsky:

    When we in America talk about two states and some of us, for our lives, we want something that gives dignity to both sides.

    And I still think it's the right approach. But a lot of us, and in the administration, they assume that Palestinian state is going to look like Costa Rica. Yet, when the Israelis hear two states, they say, look, look at the industrial capacity Hamas was able to do, by the way, without smuggling in things, their own industrial capacity.

    They see that state as looking more like North Korea. And, therefore, we need to somehow talk about what sort of two-state solution we're talking about, and not just what the borders are going to be like. And I myself have worked on this issue. But how are we going to enforce it?

    Yes, we say the word demilitarized, but the Israelis are convinced that Hamas will always outmuscle a more pragmatic Palestinian leadership to take it in a very different, more militant direction. And we have got to feel — there's got to be a way to talk about this in a way that we're talking about the same sort of two states, because, right now, us in the U.S. and them in Israel, we're just talking past each other.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    David Makovsky, always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

  • David Makovsky:

    Thank you very much for having me.

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