Israeli Minister Benny Gantz quits Netanyahu govt: Why this matters

10 Jun 2024

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz quit the government on Sunday (June 9) against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu’s policy on the war in Gaza.

Benny Gantz Israel - Figure 1
Photo The Indian Express

In a speech, he said: “Regrettably, Netanyahu is preventing us from advancing towards true victory, which is the justification for the ongoing painful cost (of war). That is why we are leaving the emergency government today, with a heavy heart but with full confidence.” Gantz also called for national elections to be held later this year.

The emergency government of Israel and the ‘war cabinet’ within it were constituted after the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023. Another minister, Gadi Eisenkot of Gantz’s Israeli Resistance Party, also quit the government.

Gantz’s decision will not significantly impact the Netanyahu government’s stability. However, some experts believe the absence of centrist figures might lead to a change in its approach. Here’s why.

What is the context for Benny Gantz’s resignation?

A former Defence Minister and Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Gantz was part of the emergency government setup on October 11, 2023. It included Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant of the right-wing Likud Party, Gantz and Eisenkot from the more centrist Israeli Resistance Party, the ultra-nationalist, far-right Otzma Yehudit party’s Itamar Ben-Gvir, and others.

Its mandate was to make decisions regarding the course of the war, where a major issue was the return of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas on October 7. Gantz said at the time that the new government was ready to “wipe this thing called Hamas off the face of the Earth”.

However, the war continues eight months on. The death toll in Gaza is believed to be over 35,000, with the majority being women and children. There has been a global condemnation of the Israeli military action in Gaza, including from its staunchest ally, the United States.

Internally too, there have been protests in Israel against what is seen as Netanyahu’s failure to meet the government’s goals. Around 250 hostages were taken last year, of whom 80 are estimated to still be in Gaza according to the Israeli government.

Last month, Gantz gave a deadline of June 8 to Netanyahu for drawing up a plan of action for ending the war – which did not happen. In the government, Gantz is believed to have played a role in softening the right-wing government’s position on a few matters, such as on accepting a hostage release deal with Hamas last year. Many in the Netanyahu government are against any negotiations with Hamas.

According to an analysis in the Israeli media organisation Haaretz, when Netanyahu was being criticised by his hardline followers for not further intensifying actions against Hamas, he would cite Gantz as a reason. The outgoing minister thus chose to exit the arrangement and urge for fresh elections, also hoping to make political gains amid the discontent many Israelis have against Netanyahu.

How could this impact the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict?

National Security Minister Ben-Gvir has demanded that Gantz’s seat in the smaller, five-member war cabinet in the government, should be given to his party, a Reuters report said.

Many analysts believe that Gantz’s exit could cede ground to right-wing voices in Israel. Netanyahu still holds a majority in Parliament, or the Knesset, but with Gantz returning to the Opposition, he will need to rely more on his right-wing allies.

Could elections be held in Israel soon?

Protests and dissatisfaction against Netanyahu pre-date the October 7 attacks. He was facing backlash for introducing reforms to the judiciary, and many saw this as taking away its autonomy. After the attacks, Netanyahu was blamed for not being able to protect Israel against an enemy that was much smaller in terms of capabilities.

An analysis in The Economist argued that Netanyahu would like the current government to continue for as long as possible to contain the backlash against him. However, his dilemma lies in the fact that with so many critics of his actions, continuing the assault on Gaza could further dent his acceptability both nationally and globally. The US is also urging Israel to accept a ceasefire deal negotiated by various West Asian countries.

The Economist stated: “Mr Netanyahu is in no rush to end the war. A ceasefire would make it even more difficult for him to avoid a post-war reckoning for all that has gone wrong. But nor is he eager to see an escalation, especially when America, Israel’s closest ally, is putting increasing pressure on his government to agree to a ceasefire.”

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