Interview. We spoke with the former speaker of the Knesset. ‘Netanyahu would give up the hostages at the first opportunity in order to continue the war. Both because he is an anti-Arab leader, and because a leader in wartime is untouchable.’

Avraham Burg: Israelis should be filling the streets in anger against Netanyahu

Avraham Burg is the former speaker of the Knesset and for years one of the best-known faces of Israeli pacifism. Unfortunately, when we asked about peace in Gaza, he struck a pessimistic note:

“You’re asking if an agreement is really possible? Next question, please.”

Will they get there or not?

Israel is stuck in a never-ending loop. Because there won’t be a military victory. The only thing that can be perceived as an achievement, or at least a small compensation for the public agony, is the return of the hostages. This is the crux of the matter: if Netanyahu and his government agree to a full deal with exchanging prisoners, that means the end of the Israeli invasion and thus the end of the ultra-right coalition. On the other hand, if they continue the war, disregarding the hostages, they’ll lose Gantz and Eisenkot. It’s Catch-22: no matter what he does, he’s painted himself into a corner – a classic Netanyahu scenario. And then there’s Hamas, and what Hamas means by victory: to still exist and remain a political actor in Gaza. In short, the two sides have no common interests.

How much does public pressure weigh on Netanyahu? One part of society wants war, another – more of a minority – wants it to end.

The pressure on Netanyahu should be expressed in the form of public anger, with people on the streets telling him that he must pay the price for the killing of over a thousand people, the most horrific surprise attack Israel has ever faced. But since people don’t go into the streets, since there is no real anger being expressed in public spaces, there is no real pressure. The truth, devastating as it is, is that Netanyahu would give up the hostages at the first opportunity in order to continue the war. Both because he is an anti-Arab leader, and because a leader in wartime is untouchable.

If there were elections tomorrow, what would his fate be?

The end of Netanyahu already came 10 years ago, but no one told him. If there were elections, the outcome would depend on the anger of the public, the economy, the price paid on the battlefield, international pressure, and even the positions of the most radical figures in his government. How much do these things weaken him? Having partners like Smotrich and Ben Gvir weakens him. And people don’t like weak leaders, especially in times of war.

The last time we spoke was at the end of October, a few weeks after the Hamas attack. What has changed in Israeli society since then, and what hasn’t?

The majority of Israelis still feel out of breath. It’s hard to be happy, to go back to normal. Nothing really works the same as before. There are a lot of people no longer coming to their workplaces, shops are not working as they used to, many factories are closed. Most Israelis are feeling like they’re suffocating. On the other hand, traffic is back, people are going out, going to cafes and bars, some things seem normal. But you can feel the heaviness of everyday life. The only segment of society that is celebrating is the ultra-religious Zionists, those who are waiting to return to Gaza, to rebuild the settlements. “Redemption” is again a hot topic. It’s a minority, but it’s very loud and politically influential: we saw them dancing last week at the Jerusalem conference on the settlement of Gaza. That 5% are the ones who are dancing covered in blood, who are celebrating war.

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