Gantz Quits Israel Government in Dispute With Netanyahu Over Gaza

Gantz Quits Israel Government in Dispute With Netanyahu Over Gaza

The Israeli politician Benny Gantz, a key member of the country’s war cabinet, quit the government on Sunday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza.

The resignation dealt a blow to the appearance of unity that Mr. Netanyahu was able to marshal at the start of the conflict and exposed the divisions at the top of the Israeli leadership over the future of the war and its aftermath.

Mr. Gantz, a centrist figure who last month threatened to resign unless Mr. Netanyahu addressed his concerns about how the war would end and what would follow it, said his party was leaving the emergency government “with a heavy but complete heart.” He said that Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership was “preventing us from advancing to the real victory.”

The move is unlikely to force Mr. Netanyahu from office — the prime minister’s government will still hold a narrow majority in Israel’s Parliament. Mr. Gantz’s exit comes as frustration mounts over the failure to decisively topple Hamas or to bring home all the hostages held in Gaza after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on southern Israel. Mr. Netanyahu has also faced international criticism as the destruction and civilian casualties have mounted in Gaza.

Last month, Mr. Gantz set a Saturday deadline for Mr. Netanyahu to meet his demands for answers on a host of issues, including a plan to return hostages held in Gaza. He scheduled a news conference for Saturday, but postponed his remarks after Israeli authorities announced the rescue of four hostages.

In televised remarks on Sunday evening, Mr. Gantz offered his view of a “real victory,” saying it included prioritizing the return of hostages over one’s political survival — a clear jab at the prime minister. He also said it would combine “military success” with a diplomatic initiative, toppling Hamas and replacing it with an alternative government.

One of Mr. Gantz’s most prominent differences with Mr. Netanyahu has been over plans for the future governance of Gaza. Critics say Mr. Netanyahu has failed to articulate a coherent plan for how Gaza will be run after the war ends, and by whom. Mr. Gantz has called for the establishment of an administrative body overseeing civilian affairs, with the backing of Americans, Europeans, Arabs and Palestinians.

On Sunday, Mr. Gantz singled out Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s party who has sometimes pushed back against the prime minister, for praise and called on him to not only “say the right thing, but to do what is right,” although his meaning was not immediately clear.

Mr. Netanyahu reacted to Mr. Gantz’s remarks by exhorting him to stay in the government.

“Israel is in an existential war on several fronts. Benny, this is not the time to abandon the campaign — this is the time to unite forces,” he wrote on X. “My door will remain open to any Zionist party willing to shoulder the gurney and help bringing about victory over our enemies and ensuring our citizens’ safety.”

Now that he has removed himself from the war cabinet, Mr. Gantz’s ability to exert influence over the war will be limited. But it allows him to cast himself as someone who stood up to Mr. Netanyahu ahead of any future elections. Critics, however, have said Mr. Gantz should have made this move months ago.

After the Hamas-led assault in October, Mr. Gantz’s party joined an emergency government in what was viewed as a demonstration of unity during a crisis. He and another member of his party, Gadi Eisenkot, joined the powerful war cabinet, a small body that has made crucial decisions about the conflict. (Mr. Eisenkot, who was a nonvoting member of the war cabinet, also resigned on Sunday.) Mr. Gantz’s experience as a former military chief of staff, former defense minister — and his status as a popular opposition figure seen as a potential future prime minister — added to the cabinet’s credibility.

But as the war dragged on, fissures between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz came into plain sight. Mr. Gantz demanded that the war cabinet approve a plan to bring hostages home, address the future governance of Gaza, return displaced Israelis to their homes and advance normalization with Saudi Arabia, among other issues.

“If you choose the path of zealots, dragging the country into the abyss, we will be forced to leave the government,” he said in a televised news conference on May 18.

Following the rescue on Saturday — and the delay of Mr. Gantz’s remarks — Mr. Netanyahu appeared to hold out some hope that Mr. Gantz would remain part of the emergency government. The return of the four hostages gave Israelis a moment of celebration, but only underscored the challenge of trying to free roughly 120 more through military action alone.

Mr. Netanyahu has rejected the Biden administration’s view that the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, should help run Gaza in some form — a position also held by Mr. Gantz. And he has not publicly embraced a cease-fire proposal endorsed by Mr. Biden, one that Israeli officials have said generally matched one greenlit by the war cabinet. (Hamas has not formally responded to the proposal, either.)

But Mr. Gantz has been among the most notable voices pushing for a deal to release hostages and achieve a cease-fire. His more moderate positions have helped boost the government’s international credibility. Without his party, the prime minister’s government will be made up of his right-wing Likud party, three far-right parties and two ultra-Orthodox factions.

Analysts have said Mr. Gantz’s departure could embolden far-right ministers in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have threatened to bring down the government if the prime minister moves forward with the latest cease-fire proposal. After Mr. Gantz’s announcement, Mr. Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, said on social media that he had written to Mr. Netanyahu demanding that he be added to the war cabinet.

Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, called Mr. Gantz’s decision “a risky move” that removed moderate voices from Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

“It strengthens the hand of the far-right. Within the war cabinet, it may weaken the chance of a deal” to free the hostages, he said. “Two important voices in favor of an agreement are now out.”

Aaron Boxerman and Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *