July 23, 2024
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Benny Gantz resigns from Israel’s government over Gaza

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Centrist politician Benny Gantz has resigned from Israel’s emergency government and called for early elections, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of mishandling Israel’s war in Gaza.

In a speech on Sunday evening, Gantz, a former general who joined Netanyahu’s coalition in the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, said he had decided to leave the government because the premier was preventing Israel “from moving forward to a true victory”.

“Fateful strategic decisions are met with hesitancy and procrastination due to political considerations,” Gantz said. “In the autumn, a year after the disaster, we need to hold elections that will establish a government that will win the trust of the people . . . I call on Netanyahu: set a date.”

In a wide-ranging speech, Gantz also backed a US-led push to free the roughly 120 Israeli hostages still held in Gaza via a deal with Hamas, and supported a commission of inquiry into the failures surrounding October 7.

Gantz’s departure follows months of tensions within Netanyahu’s coalition with far-right and ultrareligious groups over the course of the war, with Israel still far from its goals of destroying Hamas and securing the release of the hostages still held by the militant group.

Gantz said last month that he would leave the government if Netanyahu did not agree to a new plan for the war and its aftermath by June 8. Netanyahu instantly rejected his demands, accusing Gantz of issuing “an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of issuing an ultimatum to Hamas”.

But after Gantz’s departure — which he had postponed by a day following the rescue of four Israeli hostages in Gaza on Saturday — Netanyahu called on him to change his mind. “Israel is in an existential war on multiple fronts,” he wrote on X. “Benny, this is not the time to abandon the campaign — this is the time to join forces.”

However, opposition politicians welcomed Gantz’s resignation, which was accompanied by that of his ally Gadi Eisenkot, who also joined the emergency government and war cabinet in the wake of Hamas’s attack.

“It’s time to replace this extremist and failing government with one that will restore security for the people of Israel, bring the hostages home, rebuild the economy and restore Israel’s international standing,” Yair Lapid, head of the largest opposition group Yesh Atid, wrote on X.

Polls suggest that if elections were held today, Gantz’s National Unity party would win the most votes. But since Netanyahu’s coalition holds 64 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament even without Gantz and his party, the former general’s departure will not automatically topple the government or trigger elections before they are due in 2026.

However, it is likely to change the dynamics in Netanyahu’s coalition. While Gantz’s positions on many issues relating to the war — such as his support for an assault on Rafah — did not diverge much from Netanyahu’s, his presence provided a counterbalance to ultranationalists such as finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Minutes after Gantz’s speech, Ben-Gvir demanded that he be allowed to replace him in the five-man war cabinet headed by Netanyahu that has overseen the conduct of the war.

“The international pressure on Netanyahu will probably increase as he won’t have the protection of having (centrists like) Gantz and Eisenkot in the war cabinet,” said one diplomat.

“But ultimately he still has the numbers. Unless the rightwing decide to leave, or drag him so far (on policies) that he has to say no, it looks like he will be OK for now.”

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