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The walls are closing in on Bibi


The last two weeks have not been good for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — his fellow war cabinet member, whom Netanyahu attempted to fire in March but was forced to retain — publicly attacked him on May 15 for failing to develop a plan for governing Gaza once the Hamas war comes to an end. Gallant also demanded that Netanyahu clarify that the Israeli Defense Forces would not reoccupy Gaza. 

Two days later, the third member of the so-called inner war cabinet, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, set out six conditions for his remaining in the government; if they were not met by June 8, he would resign. These included the return of the remaining hostages and normalization with Saudi Arabia, which the kingdom had conditioned on Jerusalem outlining a path to Palestinian statehood.

Gantz also called for Israeli security control over Gaza in conjunction with “an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza, including American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements — which will also serve as a basis for a future alternative that is not Hamas and is not [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas.”

Finally, in a swipe at the ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, who oppose any form of national service for their followers, Gantz demanded that the government “adopt a framework for [military-national] service under which all Israelis will serve the state and contribute to the national effort.”

Netanyahu rejected both sets of proposals. He remains unprepared to tolerate Palestinian Authority control over Gaza, or indeed any Palestinian governance no matter what form it takes. He answered Gallant by stating that he was “not prepared to switch from Hamastan to Fatahstan.”

He also asserted in a statement from his office that Gantz was guilty of “issuing an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of issuing an ultimatum to Hamas.” The statement added that were Netanyahu to meet Gantz’s conditions, it would result in the “end to the war and defeat for Israel, abandoning the majority of the hostages, leaving Hamas in power, and creating a Palestinian state.”

Despite the prime minister’s defiant responses to his war cabinet colleagues, their open critiques have intensified public and international pressure on the prime minister. Shortly after Gantz issued his demands, Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, applied to issue arrest warrants for both Netanyahu and Gallant, as well as for Yahya Sinwar and two other Hamas leaders. Israel had fought hard to prevent Khan from taking any such action, and it came as a shock to the Israeli public when he did. 

While President Joe Biden and leading legislators from both parties condemned the court’s action, and some in Congress sought to cut off funds for the ICC, other Western states were more reticent about Khan’s initiative. Moreover, shortly thereafter Israel came in for a second shock when Ireland and Spain, both members of the European Union, as well as Norway, announced that they would recognize a Palestinian state. While all three nations were known to sympathize with the Palestinian cause, their announcement nevertheless stunned Jerusalem, since apart from Sweden they were the first major European states to do so

Finally, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had been seeking an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire, made it clear that Netanyahu was prepared to forego normalization with Saudi Arabia rather than accede to Riyadh’s demands for steps leading to Palestinian statehood. A formal accommodation with the Saudis would be major step for the Arabs’ acceptance of Israel as their neighbor, an outcome that the Jewish State has sought since independence. Netanyahu’s stubborn rejection of the Saudi proposal has only further diminished his already low public standing. 

Many observers have for some time called for Netanyahu’s departure from government. It is clear that he will not voluntarily leave, however. Apart from his obvious desire to avoid conviction in the various criminal cases that have been brought against him, it also appears that he views the destruction of Hamas as the only way for him to offset his disastrous policies that led to the tragedy of Oct. 7, for which he still refuses to take full responsibility.

Gantz’s threat to leave the governing coalition will have no impact on Netanyahu’s majority. Only if Gallant follows up on his critique and is joined by three other members of his (and Netanyahu’s) Likud party can the prime minister be dethroned. The time has long since passed that they do so for the sake of their embattled country. 

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy undersecretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.

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