Internet InfoMedia middle east crisis israeli officials challenge netanyahu laying bare government divisions
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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.Pool photo by Abir Sultan

With his emergency war cabinet on the brink of disintegrating over what opponents view as his dithering prosecution of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been challenged to make some stark choices by his two main partners in running the military campaign.

Mr. Netanyahu’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, from his own conservative Likud party, and Benny Gantz, a centrist former military chief and Netanyahu rival who joined the government soon after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack that prompted the war, have demanded that the Israeli leader come up with a decisive strategy. While their demands laid bare the divisions in Mr. Netanyahu’s wartime government, analysts said they were unlikely to bring about major change.

Both Mr. Gallant and Mr. Gantz have implicitly accused the Israeli leader in recent days of putting his political survival ahead of national security. They are demanding that Mr. Netanyahu choose between an endgame that would leave postwar Gaza under Israeli military control, as his far-right coalition partners want, or, as they suggest, have some kind of Palestinian alternative to 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 semblance of national consensus, even as he continues to send Israeli soldiers into battle.

Mr. Gantz set an ultimatum, saying on Saturday that his National Unity party would quit the government by June 8 should Mr. Netanyahu choose “the path of the zealots” and fail to pave a strategic path forward.

But his party’s exit alone would not loosen Mr. Netanyahu’s hold on power: The far-right and religiously ultraconservative coalition he formed after the November 2022 election would still command a majority of 64 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. Still, it would leave Mr. Netanyahu in a more precarious position, reliant on his hard-line partners and with less domestic and international legitimacy.

“Gantz’s problem is that he can’t alone produce a war and postwar strategy, pressure Netanyahu to come up with one or create enough pressure to bring down the current Israeli government,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The demands presented by Mr. Gantz and Mr. Gallant come as pressure is growing in Israel for clear government decisions that will bring home the 128 hostages remaining in Gaza, of whom an unknown number are already dead, and also dismantle Hamas’s military capabilities and ability to lead in Gaza.

Those goals may be mutually exclusive, analysts say, since Hamas is demanding an Israeli commitment to end the war as a condition for any hostage deal.

Some critics saw Mr. Gantz’s move as too hesitant, calling into question his credentials as an electable alternative to Mr. Netanyahu.

“A three-week ultimatum? That’s ridiculous!” said Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster and analyst who worked as an aide to Mr. Netanyahu in the 1990s.

Between now and June 8, Mr. Barak said, any number of things could happen in Israeli politics, in Gaza and elsewhere. “It makes him look not serious,” he added.

Mr. Gantz left the parliamentary opposition in October out of a sense of national responsibility, he said at the time, and joined the war cabinet as one of its three principal members, along with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gallant.

Mr. Gallant has demanded that Mr. Netanyahu engage in a serious discussion about who, or what, should replace Hamas in a postwar Gaza. He challenged the prime minister to state clearly whether or not he supports his far-right partners’ agenda of Israeli military rule in the enclave and said last week that he had tried to advance a plan for a “non-hostile Palestinian governing alternative” to Hamas, without elaborating.

Some analysts also said that Mr. Gantz’s demands were largely amorphous and that his own suggestions lacked clarity.

Mr. Gantz called for the hostages to be brought home, for Hamas control to end and for the Gaza Strip to be disarmed — without saying how to achieve those goals.

Even as he called for a day-after strategy for Gaza, Mr. Gantz went along with Mr. Netanyahu in saying that the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, should not take over Gaza — flouting the position of the United States, Israel’s most important international ally.

Instead, Mr. Gantz called more vaguely for a U.S.-European-Arab-Palestinian administration that would run civilian affairs in Gaza and “lay the foundations for a future alternative that is neither Hamas nor Abbas.”

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