Gantz expected to announce exit from government at rescheduled Sunday press conference

National Unity party chair set to speak at 8 p.m. after delaying planned Saturday departure from emergency coalition due to rescue of 4 hostages from Gaza

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz at a Jerusalem Day ceremony in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2024. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

National Unity chairman Benny Gantz was set to hold a press conference in Kfar Maccabiah Sunday evening at 8 p.m., after scrapping one planned for the night before in which he had been expected to announce his party’s exit from the wartime emergency government.

The cancellation of Saturday’s announcement was apparently done in light of that day’s rescue of four Israeli hostages from Gaza, with the party still intending to bolt the coalition due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to address Gantz’s concerns.

Following the rescue operation, the prime minister tweeted a plea to Gantz Saturday evening not to leave, stating that it was “the time for unity and not for division.”

In response, Gantz — one of three members of Netanyahu’s war cabinet — replied at the time that “alongside the justified joy in the achievement, we must remember that all the challenges Israel faces have remained as they were. Therefore, I tell the prime minister and the entire leadership — today, too, we must consider responsibly how it is best and possible to continue from here.”

Last month, Gantz went on television to issue an ultimatum to Netanyahu, threatening to withdraw from the coalition unless the premier committed to an agreed-upon vision for the Gaza conflict by June 8.

His party later submitted legislation to dissolve the Knesset, in a clear indication that the alliance was nearing its end.

File: War cabinet Minister Benny Gantz (standing), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, at a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

National Unity’s exit would not topple the government, which holds 64 of 120 Knesset seats without the centrist party. Gantz has come under pressure to remain in the government as a counterweight to Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who fiercely oppose an end to the fighting in Gaza, even as part of a deal to release the hostages.

The National Unity party joined the government days after October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 251 hostages into the Gaza Strip, sparking the ongoing war in the enclave.

Upon entering the government, Gantz was made a member of a newly founded narrow war cabinet, while the party’s No. 2, fellow former military chief Gadi Eisenkot, became an observer on that high-level panel.

New Hope, an erstwhile right-leaning faction of the centrist party, quit the government in March after its leader Gideon Sa’ar’s demand for a spot on the war cabinet went ignored.

Tensions have been steadily growing since Gantz joined the emergency government, with almost all opinion polls in recent months — including two last week — showing Gantz being preferred over Netanyahu when asked who is better fit to be prime minister. In addition, National Unity has been predicted in virtually all surveys to become the largest Knesset party if elections were held now, with the current coalition parties continuously projected to fall far short of a majority in the parliament.

Ben Gvir said Sunday afternoon that he would demand increased influence on the government, including in the war cabinet, following National Unity’s expected exit.

After Gantz quits, “I will demand that our power be reflected [in policy], not as it has been until now,” the far-right minister said at the Muni Expo 2024 conference in Tel Aviv, adding, “I need to return to being a leading force like I was before Gantz entered the government.”

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