Israeli officials challenge Netanyahu, exposing government division

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, left, with members of his war cabinet, Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, at a news conference in Tel Aviv in October.Credit…Pool photo by Abir Sultan

With his emergency war cabinet on the brink of falling apart over what opponents see as his reluctance to prosecute Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been challenged to bring set out some clear options for its two main partners in running the military campaign.

Netanyahu’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, from his own conservative Likud party, and Benny Gantz, a centrist former military commander and Netanyahu opponent who joined the government shortly after the attack 7 October led by Hamas that led to war, demanded that the Israeli leader make a strategic decision. While their demands reveal divisions within Netanyahu’s wartime government, analysts say they are unlikely to bring about major change.

Both Mr. Gallant and Mr. Gantz in recent days have implicitly accused the Israeli leader of putting his political survival above national security. They are asking Netanyahu to choose between an endgame that would leave post-war Gaza under Israeli military control, as his far-right coalition partners want, or, as they suggest, let some kind of Palestinian replace Hamas take over with international support.

More broadly, they have called on him to stop appeasing his hard-line political allies at the expense of any national consensus, even as he continues to send Israeli soldiers into battle. war.

Mr. Gantz set an ultimatumsaid on Saturday that his National Unity party would leave the government by June 8 if Netanyahu chose “the path of the zealots” and failed to open a strategic path forward.

But his party’s departure alone will not dent Netanyahu’s grip on power: The far-right and religiously extremist coalition he formed after the November 2022 election will still have a majority. number 64 seats in the 120-seat National Assembly. However, it would leave Netanyahu in a more precarious position, dependent on his hardline partners and with less domestic and international legitimacy.

“Gantz’s problem is that he cannot single-handedly create a war and post-war strategy, pressure Netanyahu to come up with that strategy or create enough pressure to overthrow the current Israeli government.” International peace.

The demands made by Mr. Gantz and Mr. Gallant come as pressure grows in Israel over the government’s apparent decision to bring home the remaining 128 hostages in Gaza, of which an unknown number have been released. death, while also reducing the military capacity and capabilities of the Hamas-led Gaza force.

Analysts say those goals may be mutually exclusive because Hamas is demanding that Israel commit to ending the war as a condition for any hostage deal.

Some critics said Mr. Gantz’s move was too hesitant, questioning his credentials as an electable alternative to Mr. Netanyahu.

“Three weeks ultimatum? That’s ridiculous!” said Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster and analyst who worked as an assistant to Mr. Netanyahu in the 1990s.

Mr. Barak said that between now and June 8, a lot can happen in Israeli politics, in Gaza and elsewhere. “It makes him look not serious,” he added.

At that time, Mr. Gantz left the parliamentary opposition out of a sense of national duty and joined the war cabinet as one of its three main members, along with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gallant .

Mr. Gallant asked Mr. Netanyahu to engage in a serious discussion about who or what should replace Hamas in post-war Gaza. He challenged the prime minister to clearly state whether he supported his far-right partners’ agenda on Israeli military rule in the enclave and said last week that he had tried to push a plan for a “non-hostile Palestinian alternative” to Hamas, without explanation.

Some analysts also say Mr. Gantz’s demands are largely amorphous and his proposals lack clarity.

Mr. Gantz called for the hostages to be brought home, an end to Hamas control and the disarmament of the Gaza Strip — without saying how those goals would be achieved.

Even as he called for a tomorrow’s strategy for Gaza, Mr. Gantz joined Mr. Netanyahu in saying that the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, should not take over Gaza – disregarding the position of the United States, which Israel shares. most important international alliance.

Instead, Mr. Gantz more vaguely called for an American-European-Arab-Palestinian administration that would govern civil affairs in Gaza and “lay the foundations for a future alternative.” not Hamas or Abbas.”

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