The veteran Israeli leader has been working with U.N. and Egyptian mediators on a plan to end months of sporadic conflict along the Israel-Gaza border, which cost the lives of more than 170 Palestinians and burned thousands of acres of Israeli farmland.
In the first steps, fuel paid for by Qatar began flowing across the border to Gaza’s electrical plant, increasing what had been sporadic power supplies to homes to 12 hours a day and allowing sewage treatment plants to resume operations. Last week, Israel allowed Qatar to supply the Hamas administration with $15 million in cash, which in turn allowed civil servants and police to receive salary payments. In return, Hamas moved to scale back protests and attacks by militants along the border.
The budding detente nearly imploded on Sunday when an undercover Israeli intelligence mission triggered a firefight that killed eight, including an Israeli officer and a Hamas commander. That both sides stopped shooting after such a brief time showed that both Mr. Netanyahu and Hamas’s leaders remain interested in continuing and perhaps even expanding the truce. Hamas would like Israel to allow more imports and exports, expand its fishing zone and allow workers to commute to jobs in Israel.
Mr. Netanyahu is unlikely to go that far, particularly as he may soon find himself in an election campaign in which far-right parties along with the liberal left will be among his opponents. He may welcome the challenge. His Likud party has a strong lead in the polls, and a victory could help him dodge potential corruption charges. Encouraged by his close association with President Trump, Mr. Netanyahu has been steadily moving to the right: He recently dismissed the common description of an Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank as “nonsense.”
Critics point out that by striking deals with Hamas, Mr. Netanyahu is further undermining the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank and has been trying to force Hamas to hand over control of Gaza. But years of negotiations have failed to bring about that transition, largely because Hamas refuses to disarm. Like Israeli rightists, secular Palestinian leaders hoped Israel would invade Gaza and crush Hamas once and for all. But that would force an indefinite Israeli occupation of the territory and its nearly 2 million people — or create a security vacuum that could be exploited by more extreme groups.
Long-term peace between Israel and Hamas looks impossible. But the cease-fire and humanitarian respite that Mr. Netanyahu has accepted are far better than another war.