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Middle East: Benny Gantz leaves Israel’s government

Middle East: Benny Gantz leaves Israel’s government

Gantz insists on a plan for the Gaza Strip after the war ends. But Prime Minister Netanyahu refuses. Gantz’s return to the opposition could further damage Israel’s international reputation.

Due to differences of opinion over the future of the Gaza Strip, Minister Benny Gantz is leaving the emergency government formed in Israel after the terrorist attack by the Islamist Hamas on October 7. Gantz announced this to journalists on Sunday evening. “We are leaving the emergency government today, with great difficulty but with all our hearts,” he said. Gantz was also a member of the important war cabinet until now.

The 65-year-old former defense minister Gantz accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his confidants of “hesitation and wasting time for political reasons.” Gantz demanded that Israel do everything it can to implement the agreement supported by US President Joe Biden for a ceasefire and the release of the hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israel must prepare for years of fighting, he warned. Gantz apologized to the hostages’ relatives. It has not yet been possible to bring the kidnapped people back – he also bears part of the responsibility for this.

Gantz calls for new elections

Gantz also spoke out in favor of “a regional alliance against Iran with the United States and the Western world.” He called on Netanyahu to set a date for new elections.

In response to Gantz’s statement on Platform X, Netanyahu wrote: “Israel is in an existential war on several fronts. Benny, this is not the time to give up the fight.”

Gantz had already threatened to resign from the cabinet if the Netanyahu government did not develop a plan for a post-war order in the Gaza Strip. The ultimatum that Gantz gave Netanyahu a few weeks ago expired on Saturday. However, due to the dramatic release of four hostages from the Gaza Strip on the same day, he postponed a planned press conference at the last minute. According to Gantz, the resignation from the Netanyahu-led government also affects other members of his National Union party.

Netanyahu can continue to govern

But he will not topple Israel’s leadership with this step. Even without Gantz’s party, Netanyahu’s right-wing religious cabinet still has a majority of 64 of 120 seats in parliament. The former general Gantz joined Netanyahu’s government as a minister without portfolio after the unprecedented attack by Hamas and other terrorist groups on October 7 in order to send a signal of unity. The centrist National Union party led by Gantz is in the opposition.

Netanyahu also formed a war cabinet with Defense Minister Joav Galant, Gantz and two non-voting members. The influence of Netanyahu’s ultra-right coalition members in deciding the most important war decisions was thus limited. Gantz’s move could reportedly lead to the dissolution of the war cabinet.

On Saturday evening, Netanyahu had urged Gantz not to leave. “Do not leave the emergency government. Do not give up unity,” he wrote to Gantz on Platform X.

Will Gantz’s departure damage Israel’s reputation in the world?

The Times of Israel wrote that without Gantz’s support, Netanyahu would be even more vulnerable to the demands of his right-wing coalition partners, who were calling for even tougher action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The paper speculated that Israel’s leadership could lose international support even faster. Gantz had given the most right-wing government in Israel’s history a somewhat more moderate reputation as a “responsible adult.”

According to media reports, the US wanted Gantz to remain in the cabinet while negotiations on a ceasefire and hostage release agreement with Hamas continued. Since Netanyahu’s coalition partners are opposed to a deal, Gantz’s presence in the emergency government would be crucial to the success of an agreement, the logic goes.

Former Chief of Staff Gantz recently complained that important leadership decisions to secure victory in the Gaza Strip had not been made. “A small minority has taken over the command bridge of the Israeli ship of state and is steering it towards the cliffs,” said Gantz, referring to Netanyahu’s coalition partners.

Who should be in charge in the Gaza Strip after the war?

Among other things, Gantz called for the establishment of an American-European-Arab-Palestinian alternative government in the Gaza Strip. This could not be Hamas or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said. The USA, on the other hand, is relying on the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the West Bank and is led by Abbas, for the post-war period. The PA is to be restructured according to Washington’s wishes and then take back control of the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu rejects this. Hamas forcibly expelled the PA from the Gaza Strip in 2007.

There have also been recent complaints from the army that, due to the lack of a political strategy for the post-war period, soldiers are repeatedly having to fight in places in the Gaza Strip from which the military had actually already withdrawn.

Prime Minister leaves future of Gaza Strip uncertain

However, Netanyahu has so far refused to present a plan for the administration and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after the war, probably in order not to offend his ultra-right coalition partners. They are pursuing goals such as the highly controversial construction of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. But Netanyahu’s political survival depends on them.

Terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups from the Gaza Strip made a surprise incursion into southern Israel on October 7. They killed more than 1,200 people and took over 250 hostages. The massacre sparked the Gaza War. Since then, according to the health authority, more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed and around 84,500 injured. These figures, which do not distinguish between fighters and civilians, cannot be independently verified.

Israel’s army is under strong international criticism for its actions in the Gaza Strip and the high number of civilian casualties. According to aid organizations, the humanitarian situation for the more than two million people in the Gaza Strip is devastating.

Is Gantz possibly acting with an eye on the next election?

The media speculated that Gantz’s return to the opposition could be due to his declining popularity. For many months, his party had been far ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud party in opinion polls. However, according to some polls, for the first time since the war began around eight months ago, a narrow majority would prefer Netanyahu to Gantz for the office of prime minister. His party’s lead over Netanyahu has also shrunk recently.

Source: Stern

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