War cabinet minister announces presser for after shabbat

Gantz expected to leave coalition Saturday night, though he’s under pressure to stay

National Unity chair’s ultimatum expires June 8; US said to urge him to remain as hostage deal efforts ongoing; in plea, mother warns leaving would let PM ‘give up’ on hostages

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

War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz is set to announce the withdrawal of his National Unity party from the government by Saturday night, fulfilling an ultimatum he set to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month demanding a commitment to an agreed-upon vision for the Gaza conflict that would include stipulating who might rule the territory in a scenario in which Hamas has been defeated.

Gantz’s office announced Friday that he would give a press statement Saturday evening at 8:40 p.m.

According to Hebrew media reports, there are no ongoing negotiations or efforts by coalition parties to bridge the gaps with Gantz or ensure that he remains in the coalition after the June 8 deadline, and barring any last-minute surprises, he will honor the ultimatum made three weeks ago, as the government has not accepted or even seriously discussed the demands he made.

Gantz has come under pressure from some to remain in the government, after he joined the coalition days after the Hamas terror group’s October 7 assault to form an emergency wartime government.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Thursday, without citing sources, that the US government has tried to convince Gantz to delay his planned departure amid ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire and hostage deal with Hamas in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s far-right partners, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, have asserted they will not agree to a currently proposed deal with Hamas — approved by the high-level war cabinet that includes Gantz, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — or to any arrangement that ends the war in exchange for the release of hostages.

They have repeatedly threatened to bring down the government if such a deal is adopted — though Netanyahu has insisted the current offer would enable Israel to fulfill its war goals — making Gantz’s presence in the coalition significant for the success of a deal.

On Thursday, Einav Zanguaker, whose son Matan is held hostage in Gaza, also appealed to Gantz to remain in the government to convince other coalition members to approve the proposed deal.

“Matan is not expected to be released in the first [phase of the] deal, but I need him at home. I can’t allow you to destroy it all. Now your responsibility should come into play, more than in all the eight months you have been there,” she said, adding that if he leaves, he would be allowing Netanyahu to “give up” on the hostages.

She urged Gantz to tell him to her face if he had decided to leave the government and “abandon” her son.

“I am committed to this struggle, no matter where I am,” Gantz replied, adding that he would look for any way to help the hostages.

Israel is awaiting Hamas’s official response to its most recent offer for a deal, though indications by the terror group suggest it will decline the offer.

The proposal envisions a six-week truce in its first phase during which the remaining living female, elderly and sick hostages will be released. Also during this first phase, the parties are to hold talks on a permanent ceasefire.

One clause specifies that the phase one ceasefire can extend beyond the initially allotted six weeks if the negotiations for a permanent ceasefire are still taking place in good faith. The clause was kept vague in a manner that mediators hoped would satisfy both sides enough to at least get them to agree to phase one of the deal.

In his ultimatum last month, Gantz demanded that the war cabinet formulate a plan that would include returning the hostages, eliminating Hamas in Gaza, allowing for the return of thousands of Israelis displaced from their homes in the north and the south of the country since October 7, and “adopting a framework for [military/national] service under which all Israelis will serve the state and contribute to the national effort.”

Included in his demands was a call for the government to “create an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza, including American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements — which will also serve as a basis for a future alternative that is not Hamas and is not [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas,” and to advance normalization with Saudi Arabia — a condition for which has been committing to a viable pathway to creating a Palestinian state.

In response to that press conference, Netanyahu issued a scathing statement in which he accused his coalition partner of making an ultimatum that would mean “an end to the war and defeat for Israel, abandoning the majority of the hostages, leaving Hamas in power, and creating a Palestinian state.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz at a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)

Officials from the National Unity party were cited by the Ynet news site Thursday as saying the party’s eight-month stint in the government had “exhausted itself” and that elections should be brought forward.

Tensions have been steadily growing since Gantz joined the emergency government, with almost all opinion polls in recent months — including two this 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.

Netanyahu and members of his government have repeatedly refused to take responsibility for the failures that preceded the massive Hamas attack, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

On April 3, Gantz called for Israel to hold early elections by September, amid growing dissatisfaction over how the war against Hamas was being waged and the failure to bring home the hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 — 120 of whom remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

National Unity submitted a bill to dissolve the Knesset last week, in the clearest indication to date that the alliance is nearing its end.

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