Netanyahu’s Government after Gantz’s Resignation: Shaky Ground or Sticking Around?

On June 9, Benny Gantz resigned from Israel’s war cabinet because of differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the conduct of the war on Gaza. Last May, he had demanded that Netanyahu announce a “day after” plan for the postwar period in order for Israel to achieve “real victory.” But his resignation generated little fanfare, as Israel was focused instead on the bloody operation in Gaza that freed four hostages but massacred 274 Palestinian civilians in the process. The operation was a rare bright spot for Israeli society during the war as its military had likely killed far more hostages than it rescued in previous operations. But to be sure, and despite the buildup to the resignation, Gantz’s announcement turned out to be a sideshow. He, as well as another war cabinet member, Gadi Eisenkot, stepped away from the government with little reason to believe that their resignation on its own will bring about much change.

When Gantz, former chief-of-staff of the Israeli military, entered the political fray in 2019, he launched his campaign with several advertisements highlighting his role in destroying Gaza in previous wars. One enumerated the number of Palestinians he claimed credit for killing there. Another boasted about sending Gaza back “to the Stone Age” during different bouts of bombardment of the Strip. In other words, he was no peacenik; neither is he one now. While he was not a partner in Netanyahu’s latest government, formed in 2023—oriented around theocratic extremists hellbent on annexing the occupied West Bank and hijacking the court system—it was not very surprising to see him join a war cabinet to oversee the large-scale Israeli war on Gaza that began in October 2023.

The Biden administration thought that his participation would be a moderating influence in a war cabinet drunk with rage and revenge after the embarrassing Hamas assault of October 7, which precipitated the biggest security failure in Israeli history. However, it soon enough became clear that Gantz had no leverage over Netanyahu, and despite his closeness with Washington, his presence in the war cabinet had limited utility for the United States. This ultimately came to a head last May when Gantz announced an ultimatum that he would leave the government by July 8 if Netanyahu failed to announce a plan for Gaza after the war. For his part, Netanyahu was increasingly being seen as the one behind the rejection of ceasefire deals with Hamas. Gantz reasoned that leaving the cabinet would increasingly isolate Netanyahu and perhaps force him to rethink the future. But Gantz’s deadline came and went and Netanyahu got no closer to announcing a “day after” plan, forcing the former army chief to resign.

Gantz’s resignation will put more responsibility on Netanyahu and his far-right partners for the conduct of the war which has already led to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan’s filing applications for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as unprecedented international opprobrium for Israel. However, Netanyahu does not seem concerned about outside audiences at the moment. Instead, he is interested in mollifying far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in order to stay in office, and can manage without Gantz.

If anything will bring down Netanyahu’s government, it will likely come from inside the coalition that supports it, not from outside of it. Netanyahu has already survived the immediate fallout from the embarrassment of October 7, and the Israeli public today is not concerned about the ICC, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations, or any other part of the international community criticizing the Israeli government’s policies. The Israeli public does not care about the protests on US university campuses or normalization agreements with Arab countries. Indeed, the public is overwhelmingly behind the war effort, even if it is not entirely behind Netanyahu. Killing Palestinians in Gaza is the most mainstream Israeli position Netanyahu’s far-right government holds. On the other hand, stopping the war means that political reckoning for the October 7 failure approaches like the grim reaper for Netanyahu’s career.

To his coalition, Netanyahu’s message must be that ‘it is us against the world, they all want to see us fall and that is why we must stick together.’ Alongside Netanyahu in cabinet meetings, and perhaps soon in the dock at the Hague, is Defense Minister Yoav Galant. Galant might have a greater impact on the viability of the coalition than anyone else. This week, he was the lone coalition vote against a proposal around the conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The bill, backed by the government, failed to gain the support of the defense minister and voting against government proposals is usually a sign that the member is about to leave the coalition. Galant has not done so yet, and may not do so at all, but a fissure exists and it may grow, ultimately leading to his departure.

Unless and until that happens, Netanyahu will stick to Ben-Gvir and Smotrich as long as he can; and with the Knesset calendar being what it is, there is a solid chance that he might avoid elections this year altogether. The summer Knesset session runs through July 28 before a recess until the end of October. During the summer session, however, the conscription bill, which a court mandated to be resolved by the end of it, might tear the government apart. Netanyahu will likely try to balance the religious parties in his coalition and the demands of the courts through bureaucratic delays that would prevent a resolution before the deadline, which would effectively keep him as prime minister until 2025. If Netanyahu’s government makes it until the end of July, the Knesset would have to reconvene in late October before it could dissolve and then, no less than 90 days later, an election could be held. That allows Netanyahu to play for time past two of the most important dates on his calendar; the American presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next administration in January of 2025.

The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC, its staff, or its Board of Directors. 

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