ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Likud denies report

Gallant said to pitch elections in 2 years or 6 months postwar, whichever comes first

Defense minister looking to diffuse political tensions between Netanyahu and Gantz amid sinking popularity of premier in wake of Oct. 7, unsourced Channel 12 report says

FILE - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz address a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
FILE - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz address a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Amid rising tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party, Defense Minister Gallant has proposed that new elections be held in two years or six months after the war against Hamas in Gaza ends, whichever comes first, according to a new report.

Channel 12 reported Tuesday, without citing a source, that the proposal was aimed at diffusing political tensions between Netanyahu and Gantz, who left the opposition and agreed to join the government on an interim basis days after the war’s outbreak on October 7 when Hamas launched its terror spree across southern Israel, killing 1,200 and abducting 253 people.

The Likud quickly denied the Channel 12 report, which said Gallant’s proposal would help allay Netanyahu’s concerns for his government, and address Gantz’s suspicions that Netanyahu is playing politics to avoid fresh elections amid mounting calls for new leadership.

“No such proposal was received from Minister Gallant. The date for the elections has already been determined by law,” the Likud said in a brief statement.

Tensions have been mounting in recent weeks as the war closes in on a fifth month and amid growing discontent over the war cabinet’s handling of the campaign against Hamas. Gantz has lashed out at Netanyahu, who has notably refused to take direct personal responsibility for the October 7 atrocities, breaking with Gallant and security chiefs who have said they failed in preventing the murderous rampage.

The government has come under increasing pressure to reach a deal for the release of the remaining hostages and the bodies of those killed in captivity after over 100 people were freed as part of a weeklong truce in late November.

The Channel 12 report also said Gallant came up with the elections proposal amid concerns that a potentially brewing deal for the release of the hostages could crack Netanyahu’s far-right, right-wing, ultra-Orthodox coalition.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, threatened on Tuesday to bring down the government if a “reckless” deal is reached with Hamas.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir attends a National Security Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Reports have been swirling around the possibility of the sides soon reaching an agreement that could see the release of thousands of Palestinian security prisoners and a long halt in the fighting in Gaza in return for the hostages being held in the Strip.

Right-wing politicians have strongly criticized many of the reported details.

“A reckless deal = the dismantlement of the government,” Ben Gvir posted on X earlier.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement earlier Tuesday insisting that reports that he would make significant concessions as part of the deal and release a large number of Palestinian prisoners were incorrect.

“The prime minister’s position is consistent — the war will only end when all its goals are achieved, the IDF will not withdraw from the Strip and thousands of terrorists will not be released,” the statement read.

“The reports that a so-called agreement was reached on a solution for the release of security prisoners are not true,” specified Netanyahu’s office. “The issue was not discussed at all.”

The statement from Netanyahu’s office came hours after he made similar comments while visiting the Bnei David military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli earlier on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, public support for Netanyahu has been slipping further in recent weeks, according to a new TV poll.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Bnei David military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, January 30, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

If new elections were held today, Channel 12 news reported Tuesday that Gantz’s National Unity party would be the largest with 37 seats, followed by Netanyahu’s Likud with 18. They are followed by Yesh Atid, headed by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, at 14 seats, Shas 10, Yisrael Beytenu eight, Otzma Yehudit eight, United Torah Judaism seven, Hadash-Ta’al five, Ra’am five, Religious Zionism four and Meretz four.

Neither Labor or Balad clear the minimum vote threshold in the new poll.

Overall, the anti-Netanyahu bloc would have 68 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, and Likud and its allies would have 47. The majority-Arab Hadash-Ta’al party is not aligned with either bloc.

Pairing prime ministerial candidates head-to-head, the survey also asked who would be better suited to be premier.

In a Gantz versus Netanyahu matchup, 41 percent back the former, while 23% back the latter. In a poll released by the network earlier this month, those figures were 42% and 29% respectively.

When faced off against National Unity MK Gadi Eisenkot, an observer in the war cabinet, 24% say Netanyahu is better suited to be prime minister and 36% say Eisenkot.

Though trailing Gantz and Eisenkot, Netanyahu continues to be a more popular choice for premier than Lapid, with 29% saying he is more fit for the job and 27% saying the opposition leader.

This week, some 300 people who lost family members in the Hamas terror onslaught on October 7 and the subsequent war drafted a petition calling for elections at the earliest possible date.

Three hundred and ten family members of October 7 victims initiated the petition, which they called “October 7 families call for elections” and which states that “only an elected government with a broad mandate will be able to set us on a new path.”

Families, supporters, and activists have been turning up for weekly rallies calling for the release of the hostages, bringing a resurgence of the mass protests that rocked Israel over the course of 2023 prior to October 7 when hundreds of thousands demanded the government halt its judicial overhaul plans.

While the events of October 7 put a temporary pause on these protests, demonstrators have returned to Tel Aviv alongside the newer protest movement calling for the return of the hostages.

While the anti-government protests and the protests by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum are two distinct movements, there is overlap between the two as many share the belief that the government failed to protect its citizens on October 7.

On January 8, some relatives of hostages still held captive in Gaza were among protesters forcibly dispersed by police for staging a protest outside of the Knesset calling for the government to resign.

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