Gantz has left the government. Now what?

The National Unity Party head’s resignation from the emergency government will ultimately have little effect, expert says.

By Troy O. Fritzhand | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu, Gaza
National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, June 9, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, June 9, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz’s departure from the government on Sunday came as no surprise, given his pledge to do so last month. Now that he’s left, the impact of the move, on the war, ceasefire negotiations and the “day after” in Gaza, is an open question.

According to professor Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, Gantz’s resignation will have little effect.

“In the short term nothing has changed; the government still has a 64-seat majority,” he said. For the same reason, he noted, it is unclear how much influence Gantz really had in the unity government formed in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

Rahat does believe that his departure could hurt Israel internationally, as abroad Gantz “was a shield, a voice of pragmatism.”

Gantz is a favorite in Washington, having visited the US capital and met several times with American leaders such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his numerous trips to Israel.

In his resignation speech Sunday evening in Ramat Gan—delayed one day due to the Israeli military’s hostage rescue operation in Nuseirat in central Gaza—the former defense minister claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “stopping us from reaching a true victory.”

Gantz demanded that the premier do “everything he can” to advance US President Joe Biden’s outline for a ceasefire deal with Hamas, vowing to back “any responsible roadmap” offered by the opposition.

Rahat noted, however, that it is Netanyahu’s backing that is essential. And while members of his coalition have expressed opposition to the ceasefire deal outlined by President Biden on May 31, Rahat does not believe they’ll be able to stop the premier from agreeing to a deal should he decide to do so.

Indeed, the UN Security Council on Monday adopted a US-drafted resolution backing the proposed ceasefire, with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield assuring the council Israel had already accepted it.

Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that he would suspend his role in the coalition until the premier revealed the full details of the US proposal—which Biden claimed had come from Israel.

“As long as the prime minister continues to hide the details of the deal, Otzma Yehudit will disrupt his coalition,” tweeted Ben-Gvir.

However, whatever “disruptions” they might be planning, Ben-Gvir and fellow coalition member Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich are not likely to bring the government down, according to Rahat.

“With all respect to them, they do not have an alternative government,” he said.

For Rahat, the course of the war at this point is fully dependent on the prime minister—assuming he can keep his government intact. The most immediate obstacle to this is the conscription bill that passed its first reading in the Knesset on Tuesday morning by 63-57.

Despite passing in first reading, the bill still has the potential to bring down the coalition as it is opposed even by members of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party. The draft legislation, which will now be returned to committee in preparation for second and third readings, “proposes a new model for the recruitment into the military of yeshiva students and graduates of ultra-Orthodox educational institutions,” according to the Knesset website.

This includes “updating the target for the number of ultra-Orthodox men to be enlisted per year, with very slowly increasing rates of enlistment for the annual cohort of ultra-Orthodox men turning 18, and defining economic repercussions in the event that this target is not met,” according to the Knesset.

The bill also proposes the lowering of the current age of exemption from mandatory service for Haredi yeshiva students, and allows shortened service for those who participate in vocational training or perform national service in lieu of serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

A Knesset insider told JNS that it is this that drove Gantz’s move. “He’s dropping in the polls and thinks this will help” should the country go to elections, said the source.

Rahat disagrees, however, saying that Gantz does not play political games and is more concerned about the security of the state than anything else.

Gantz resigned because he “understood he’s being used by Netanyahu for the sake of international relations,” said Rahat.

There is also the question of who will replace Gantz on the War Cabinet.

Ben-Gvir has already thrown his name in the hat, saying, “I will demand that our power be expressed. I need to go back and be a leading force like we were before Gantz came in.”

Gaza, he said, “must be conquered. We must also fight with Hezbollah [in Lebanon], because there is no alternative. We have contented ourselves enough with peace agreements and disengagement, only through war can they be defeated.”

Other names that have been floated include Yisrael Beiteinu head and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman and Knesset member Gideon Sa’ar.

Liberman told Ynet last week that the premier had offered him the role of defense minister—a position he held under Netanyahu from 2016-2018, though Netanyahu has denied this.

According to Rahat it is unlikely that Liberman would join the government, though he added, “You can never know with Liberman.”

Sa’ar, on the other hand, would likely be willing to join due to his poor polling and lack of better options, he said.

The Knesset source who spoke to JNS said that while there was “willingness” on the part of the government to include both Sa’ar and Liberman, “it is not clear they are interested.”

While it would appear that Gantz’s departure will have little effect on either the political or military fronts, one thing is clear: it comes at a critical junction for the government, eight months into the war against Hamas in Gaza and facing full-blown war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Until and unless there are elections, it is Netanyahu who will ultimately decide the country’s course vis a vis the war with Hamas, Haredi conscription and the deteriorating situation in the north.