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Member of Israel’s War Cabinet threatens to resign from government
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Member of Israel’s War Cabinet threatens to resign from government

  • PublishedMay 18, 2024

The move would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more reliant on his far-right allies.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Benny Gantz, a popular centrist member of Israel’s three-member War Cabinet, threatened Saturday to resign from the government if it doesn’t adopt a new plan in three weeks’ time for the war in Gaza, a move that would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more reliant on his far-right allies.

The announcement deepens a divide within Israel’s leadership more than seven months into a war in which Israel has yet to accomplish its stated goals of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages abducted in the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack.

Gantz spelled out a six-point plan that includes the return of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule, demilitarizing the Gaza Strip and establishing an international administration of civilian affairs. It also supports efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and widen military service to all Israelis.

He gave a June 8 deadline.

“If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss — we will be forced to quit the government,” he said.

Gantz, a longtime political rival of Netanyahu, joined his coalition and the War Cabinet in the early days of the war.

The departure of the former military chief of staff and defense minister would leave Netanyahu even more beholden to far-right allies who have taken a hard line on negotiations over a cease-fire and hostage release, and who believe Israel should occupy Gaza and rebuild Jewish settlements there.

Gantz spoke days after Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the third member of the War Cabinet, said he would not remain in his post if Israel elected to reoccupy Gaza. Gallant also called on the government to make plans for Palestinian administration of the enclave.

In what will be seen by many as a veiled swipe at Netanyahu, Gantz said “personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate into the holy of holies of Israel’s security.” Netanyahu’s critics accuse the prime minister of seeking to prolong the war to avoid new elections, allegations he denies.

Polls suggest Netanyahu would be replaced in elections, with Gantz the most likely candidate to be the next prime minister. That would expose Netanyahu to prosecution on longstanding corruption charges.

“The people of Israel are watching you,” Gantz said in the prime-time address to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is under growing pressure on multiple fronts. Hard-liners in his government want the military offensive on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah to press ahead with the goal of crushing Hamas. Top ally the U.S. and others have warned against the offensive on a city where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million had sheltered — hundreds of thousands have now fled — and they have threatened to scale back support over Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

The U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will be in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend to discuss the war and is scheduled on Sunday to meet with Netanyahu, who has declared that Israel would “stand alone” if needed.

Many Israelis, anguished over the hostages and accusing Netanyahu of putting political interests ahead of all else, want a deal to stop the fighting and get them freed. There was fresh frustration Friday when the military said its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack. The discovery of the body of a fourth hostage was announced Saturday.

The latest talks in pursuit of a cease-fire, mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, have brought little. A vision beyond the war is also uncertain.

The war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, local health officials say, while hundreds more have been killed in the occupied West Bank.

Gantz echoed Netanyahu’s call for the return of scores of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule and demilitarizing the territory. But he also said an international administration should be set up there, apparently ruling out long-term Israeli occupation.

Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza and partner with local Palestinians who are not affiliated with Hamas or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But Netanyahu also said it is impossible to plan for such a postwar authority before Hamas is defeated.

In March, Gantz met with U.S. officials in Washington to discuss the war, earning a rebuke from Netanyahu. He had been widely expected to leave the government once the heavy fighting in Gaza subsides, signaling the period of national unity established after the Oct. 7 attack has ended.

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