Far-right politicians demand Gallant be fired for challenging PM on Gaza’s future

Defense minister, temporarily dismissed in March 2023, told Netanyahu he won’t allow Israeli rule in postwar Strip; Smotrich: Hamas would take over the West Bank as well

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"

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on April 14, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry, File)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on April 14, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry, File)

Two of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners called for Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s ouster on Wednesday evening, after he challenged the government’s postwar thinking for the Gaza Strip in a televised address, with some on the right accusing him of encouraging terror.

Gallant’s declared opposition to Israeli civil or military rule in a post-Hamas Gaza, and his call for Netanyahu to try to install “Palestinian entities” even at personal and political cost, prompted a slew of criticism from other members of the coalition and an angry retort from Netanyahu, and sparked the biggest threat to the stability of the government since the start of the war.

In a video message posted to X, formerly Twitter, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich demanded that Netanyahu bring a resolution to the cabinet ruling out the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s involvement in the coastal strip’s postwar governance — and for Gallant to be forced out if he does not agree.

“Defense Minister Gallant today announced his support for the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist state as a reward for terrorism and Hamas for the most terrible massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” Smotrich declared, arguing that Gallant’s plan would “pave the way for the establishment of an Arab terrorist state and for Hamas to take over Judea and Samaria as well,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

“A government in which we are members will not… establish a Palestinian state and will not endanger the existence of the State of Israel,” he added.

While Smotrich appeared willing to give Gallant a chance to recant, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir demanded his immediate termination, tweeting that “from Gallant’s point of view, there is no difference between whether Gaza is controlled by IDF soldiers or whether Hamas murderers control it.”

File: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, May 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“This is the essence of the conception of a defense minister who failed on October 7, and continues to fail even now. Such a defense minister must be replaced in order to achieve the goals of the war,” Ben Gvir, who has previously called for Gallant’s ouster, insisted.

Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf also slammed Gallant’s demand that Netanyahu eschew Israeli military and civilian rule following Hamas’s defeat.

The hardline legislator from Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party tweeted a famous picture of a Palestinian man in Ramallah showing off his bloodstained hands during the vicious lynching of a pair of Israeli reservists at the start of the Second Intifada.

“Palestinian actors backed by Arab countries,” he captioned the image.

Hours after Netanyahu declared that any discussions of the “day after” in Gaza are meaningless until Hamas is defeated, Gallant, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, went on television to tell the prime minister that he must take “tough decisions” to advance non-Hamas governance of Gaza, because the gains of the war are being eroded and Israel’s long-term security is at stake.

He also warned that he would not consent to Israeli civil or military governance of Gaza, and that governance by local, non-Hamas Palestinians there is in Israel’s interest — and called on Netanyahu to publicly rule out the notion of ongoing Israeli governance in the Strip.

In addition, Gallant claimed that since October, during sessions of the security cabinet, he has been bringing up the subject of finding a replacement for Hamas, but has been rebuffed.

Netanyahu immediately posted a video in which he rebuffed Gallant.

Responding to Gallant’s declaration that he would “not allow” Israeli “civil or military governance of Gaza after Hamas,” Netanyahu declared that he was “not ready to replace Hamastan with Fatahstan.”

Fatah is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s party.

“After the terrible massacre on October 7, I ordered the destruction of Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “As long as Hamas remains intact, no other party will step in to manage civilian affairs in Gaza, certainly not the Palestinian Authority. 80 percent of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria support the terrible massacre of October 7,” Netanyahu added.

The data cited by Netanyahu appeared to come from a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research which showed that 82 percent of West Bank Palestinians supported the events of October 7. A second poll released by the same organization in March showed that number had dropped to 71%.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a recorded statement on the war with Hamas in Gaza, May 15, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)

“The Palestinian Authority supports terror, educates for terror, funds terror. And so the first condition for preparing the ground for another party is to eliminate Hamas, and to do so without excuses,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly eschewed any role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. Following the October 7 attacks, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh declared that Ramallah would not go back to governing the territory unless there was a “comprehensive” solution involving the West Bank as well.

The PA, he explained, would not sweep into the Palestinian coastal enclave on the wave of an Israeli military victory.

Earlier this week, the PA reportedly rejected an Israeli offer to help manage the Gaza side of the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt, which was recently taken by Israeli troops.

While only Smotrich and Ben Gvir have called for Gallant’s ouster thus far, several other right-wing politicians criticized his position.

“The people of Israel are not ready to be humiliated,” Justice Minister Yariv Levin declared in a statement rejecting “a second Oslo process, which will lead Israel to another disaster” — a reference to the early 1990s peace process that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

Former cabinet minister Gideon Sa’ar, whose New Hope party recently left the coalition, also took issue with Gallant’s speech, stating that “Israel has never excelled in determining for its neighbors who will rule over them.”

File: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks ahead of a faction meeting in the Knesset, March 18, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

“To be honest – it is quite clear that even if there was such a Palestinian element… it would have had no chance if it had been given power as part of an Israeli move,” Sa’ar tweeted, noting that the PA had linked its return to Gaza to progress on a two-state solution, which poses a “strategic danger for Israel.”

Defending Gallant, National Unity leader Benny Gantz, who sits on Netanyahu’s war cabinet alongside the defense minister, stated that his colleague “speaks the truth.”

“The leadership’s responsibility is to do the right thing for the country, at any cost,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, over on the opposition, Labor party chief Merav Michaeli slammed Netanyahu for rejecting Gallant’s words.

“Once again, Gallant warns Netanyahu about the devastating consequences of his actions and Bibi doesn’t like what he hears,” she said. “Is he just going to fire him again?”

Netanyahu announced he was firing Gallant last March over his criticism of the government’s judicial overhaul — before reversing course two weeks later under intense public pressure.

Times of Israel staff and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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