Netanyahu struggles to hold together wartime coalition

Conflicting political interests threaten to topple Israeli government, proving that unity might be more difficult than victory.

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu, Gaza
War Cabinet minister Benny Gantz says he'll quit Netanyahu's government if the prime minister doesn't present a war plan to his liking. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90
War Cabinet minister Benny Gantz says he'll quit Netanyahu's government if the prime minister doesn't present a war plan to his liking. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency national coalition is on the brink of breaking apart after War Cabinet minister Benny Gantz issued what many saw as an impossible ultimatum on Saturday evening.

Echoing the Biden administration, Gantz accused Netanyahu of failing to present an acceptable and workable plan for the management of the war and its aftermath, and gave him until June 8 to rectify the situation.

Other members of the governing coalition charged that Gantz’s true agenda is to trigger an early election, which current polls show will be handily won by his National Camp faction, an outcome that the Americans have shamelessly signaled suits them better than a prolonged Netanyahu premiership.

Gantz gave Netanyahu three weeks to present a plan and that can meet the following goals:

  1. Return all the hostages;
  2. Topple Hamas and ensure Israeli security control in Gaza;
  3. Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American-European-Arab-Palestinian administration to manage civilian affairs in Gaza and lay the foundation for a future government that is not headed by Hamas or Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas;
  4. Return the residents of the north to their homes by September 1 and rehabilitate the Western Negev;
  5. Promote normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran; and
  6. Advance legislation that would compel all Israelis to serve the state and contribute to the national effort – ie. military conscription for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

If Netanyahu fails to present a plan that can realistically achieve these goals in a way that is acceptable to his party, Gantz will leave the government, and it will likely fall, leading to early elections.

But Gantz’s outline seemed to be full of holes.

The day after: His position on the “day after” in Gaza stands somewhat in opposition to that of the Americans. Gantz calls it “security control,” but even if Israel does not reestablish civilian settlements in Gaza, the world will see the prolonged presence of Israeli soldiers as an “occupation.”

Saudi red lines: Saudi Arabia has conditioned normalization on Israel ending the Gaza war and withdrawing from the coastal enclave, as well as a firm and very short timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, conditions which Gantz himself claims to oppose. The Saudis are unlikely to alter their position, unless someone else is elected to the White House in November.

No-man’s land: The residents of the north are not returning home until Hezbollah stops attacking their towns. And that won’t happen until Israel either destroys Hezbollah or pushes it north of the Litani River. In other words, getting the residents of northern Israel back in their homes safe and sound will require war, and even if it starts today, it won’t be over by September 1.

Ultra-Orthodox conscription: The ultra-Orthodox parties will bolt Netanyahu’s government if he advances the mandatory conscription of yeshiva students, which would mean the government falls. So on this issue, Bibi either loses Gantz and his party, or the ultra-Orthodox parties, which currently have more seats.

 

Netanyahu responds

Netanyahu’s office issued a harsh response to his War Cabinet colleague, asking Gantz three pointed questions:

  1. Is he ready to complete the operation in Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas battalions, and if so, how is it possible that he is threatening to dismantle the emergency unity government in the middle of the operation?
  2. Is he opposed to Palestinian Authority rule in Gaza, even without Mahmoud Abbas?
  3. Is he ready to accept a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as part of the normalization process with Saudi Arabia?

The prime minister went on to stress that his own position on all three critical issues is already clear:

  • He is determined at all costs to destroy Hamas;
  • He opposes the entry of the Palestinian Authority into Gaza; and
  • He rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state that will inevitably become a terrorist haven (even for the sake of normalization with Saudi Arabia).

Regarding peace with Saudi Arabia, which is being dangled as a massive carrot by the Biden administration, if Israel waits just one more year, there’s a reasonably-high chance that Donald Trump will be back in the White House, and will compel the Saudis to normalize relations with Israel, even without a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu is no doubt aware of, and might even be relying on this.

Israel’s other leaders appear to be more short-sighted, and believe that it’s “now or never,” an approach that has led to many catastrophic mistakes in the past (eg. the “Oslo Accords” and the Gaza Disengagement).