Ben Gvir’s party resumes coalition support, demands more power on war issues

Far-right Otzma Yehudit slams Gantz’s departure from the emergency government, seizes on move to demand increased influence

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party said Sunday that it was resuming voting with the coalition, after halting cooperation Wednesday in order to force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reveal details of an Israeli proposal for a Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal.

“In light of what appears to be the rejection by Hamas of the reckless deal and the expected departure of [war cabinet minister Benny] Gantz from the government, Otzma Yehudit will continue to vote with the coalition as usual as long as there is no reckless deal on the table,” the far-right party said in a statement.

“We call for keeping increased military pressure [on Hamas], which has been proven once again to be the only effective tool to return our hostages without capitulation,” it added.

On Wednesday, Otzma Yehudit stated that it would no longer vote with the coalition “in light of the fact that the prime minister is hiding the draft agreement with Hamas that includes a clause to end the war.”

Ben Gvir and other far-right lawmakers have asserted they will not agree to a deal with Hamas that ends the war in exchange for the release of hostages, and has threatened to bring down the government if such a deal is adopted by the government.

Last week, Ben Gvir accused Netanyahu of refusing to share details of the deal, asking: “If the deal is not reckless and does not include a commitment to end the war for Hamas’s collapse, why do you refuse to present it to me?”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Hamas has reportedly rejected the proposal for a hostage-ceasefire deal, claiming it was fundamentally different from the version of the deal presented publicly by US President Joe Biden.

Otzma Yehudit’s statement on Sunday came as Ben Gvir anticipated the withdrawal from the emergency government of Gantz’s National Unity party, which joined the wartime coalition at the beginning of the war.

Last month, Gantz delivered an ultimatum to Netanyahu, pledging to resign from the government if the prime minister did not present a clear vision for the rest of the war in Gaza that included a plan for governance in the Strip when fighting ends.

Gantz had been expected to deliver on his promise and resign on Saturday night but postponed his planned statement after four hostages were rescued from Hamas captivity earlier in the day. The statement was instead scheduled for Sunday evening, when he went through with leaving the coalition.

While Netanyahu urged Gantz on Saturday to remain in the government, Ben Gvir was ready to take advantage of National Unity’s departure, saying that he would demand increased say over government decisions, including in the war cabinet.

When National Unity first joined the government, Ben Gvir demanded a representative of his party be part of the newly formed war cabinet, which included Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Gantz. He was denied his request.

National Unity party chief Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, May 18, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I will demand that [the electoral strength I hold] be given expression and not as it has been until now,” the far-right minister stated at the Muni Expo 2024 conference in Tel Aviv, adding that if those in power had listened to him “maybe October 7 would have looked different.”

Gantz’s entry into the government diluted Ben Gvir’s influence by giving the government enough support to maintain a majority even if his ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party bolted the coalition. With Gantz’s exit, that coalition calculus changes, once again forcing Netanyahu to rely on Ben Gvir for his government’s survival.

Ben Gvir offered Gantz a good riddance, welcoming his impending resignation ahead of the press conference.

“We agreed that he would enter the government, and we thought he came to create unity, but in reality, he came to create chaos and promote his political agenda,” Ben Gvir claimed, according to Hebrew media. “I think their departure is important, and I need to return to being a leading force like I was before Gantz entered the government.”

The war was started on October 7 by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel in which terrorists murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 251 hostages.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza, pledging to dismantle Hamas and get the hostages back. During ensuing negotiations for the release of hostages, Israel has maintained that it would not accept ending the war as a condition for their release.

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