Gantz sets June 8 deadline for PM to make postwar plan, or he’ll bolt coalition

Minister lists 6 key goals including alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza, return of hostages, Saudi normalization; Netanyahu’s office: He should issue ultimatums to Hamas, not the PM

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, May 18, 2024, at which he delivered an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, May 18, 2024, at which he delivered an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, demanding the premier commit to an agreed-upon vision for the Gaza conflict that would include stipulating who might rule the territory after Hamas’s defeat, and warning that he would bolt the coalition should this not happen.

In a statement that provoked swift outrage from other members of the government, Gantz said he believed that the war triggered by the Hamas-led October 7 massacre had been drifting off course in recent months due to the cowardice of some of Israel’s leaders.

“While Israeli soldiers are displaying incredible bravery on the front, some of the people who sent them to battle are acting with cowardice and a lack of responsibility,” said Gantz, who brought his National Unity party into the governing coalition in the immediate aftermath of the terror onslaught.

“While in the dark tunnels of Gaza the hostages are undergoing the agonies of hell, there are some who are involved in nonsense,” he said. “While the Israeli public is outdoing itself, some of the politicians are thinking of themselves.”

Lamenting that “within the holy of holies of Israeli security, personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate,” Gantz appeared to take a shot at the slow pace of the war in recent months and at Netanyahu’s unwillingness to lay out a plan for a post-Hamas Gaza Strip.

“A war is only won with a clear and realistic strategic compass,” he said.

To this end, Gantz warned that if no clear plan of action has been set in motion by June 8, he will pull his centrist party from government and return to the opposition.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits during a press conference along with Minister Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The war cabinet must “formulate and approve a plan of action,” Gantz said, in order to achieve “six strategic goals”:

  1. “Bring the hostages home.”
  2.  “Topple Hamas rule, demilitarize the Gaza Strip and gain Israeli security control [over Gaza].”
  3.  Alongside that Israeli security control, “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] Abbas.”
  4. “Return residents of the north [who were evacuated due to Hezbollah attacks] to their homes by September 1, and rehabilitate the western Negev [adjacent to Gaza, targeted by Hamas on October 7].”
  5. “Advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive process to create an alliance with the free world and the West against Iran and its allies.”
  6. “Adopt a framework for [military/national] service under which all Israelis will serve the state and contribute to the national effort.”

Gantz’s statement came days after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant appealed for Netanyahu to set out a postwar plan for the Gaza Strip, as the lack of planning was eroding the gains of the war, putting Israel’s long-term security at stake.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) and Minister Benny Gantz (right) embrace, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at left, at a joint press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 11, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The six-step plan “will not be easy,” said Gantz, but he added that he knows from his conversations with Arab and world leaders that it is attainable. “But only when we define the goals in a clear and bold fashion will we be able to choose the long path that leads to the summit.”

“To be clear — we will go after Hamas and all our enemies in every situation and everywhere and at all times,” he added, stressing that Israel will retain sole responsibility for its own security.

And, he said, “we will not allow any outside power, friendly or hostile, to impose a Palestinian state on us.”

“A small minority took over the bridge of the Israeli ship, and is sailing it toward a wall of rocks,” Gantz charged. “Crucial decisions were not made. The acts of leadership needed to guarantee victory were not made.”

“Change is needed here and now,” he said, pledging that his National Unity party “will do everything possible to change course, to prevent a crash into the rocks, and to ensure that Israel will sail safely toward real victory. ”

Gantz said the choice for Israel’s future was in Netanyahu’s hands, warning that steps must be taken to avoid a “long and harsh existential war — even harder than we have known to date.”

“The moment of truth has arrived, the hour of decision has arrived,” he said to his longtime political rival. “The Netanyahu of a decade ago would have done it,” he continued. “Can you do the right and patriotic thing today?”

Should Netanyahu choose “the national interest over the personal, in the footsteps of Herzl, Ben Gurion, Begin and Rabin,” National Unity will be a partner, Gantz said, providing Netanyahu a political lifeline.

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)

“But if you choose the path of the zealots and lead the whole state into the abyss, we will be forced to leave the government,” he warned. “We will turn to the people and form a government that will win the trust of the people.”

Gantz barely finished speaking before condemnation began pouring in from right-wing coalition lawmakers, some of whom have already called for him to be out of the government.

Scathing response from Netanyahu

In a scathing statement released via his office, Netanyahu accused his coalition partner of “issuing an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of issuing an ultimatum to Hamas.”

Gantz’s demands 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,” the statement claimed.

If Gantz truly prioritizes the national interest and not the toppling of the government, the Prime Minister’s Office argued, he must answer three questions:

  • Does Gantz want to see the operation in Rafah through to its end, and if so, why is he threatening to topple the unity government during the IDF operation?
  • Does he oppose Palestinian Authority rule in Gaza, even if Mahmoud Abbas is not involved?
  • Would he support a Palestinian state as part of a normalization process with Saudi Arabia?

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is determined to eliminate the Hamas battalions,” the Prime Minister’s Office stated. “He opposes bringing the Palestinian Authority into Gaza, and establishing a Palestinian state that will inevitably be a terror state.”

Netanyahu, continued the statement, believes that the unity government is key to achieving the war aims, “and expects Gantz to make clear to the public his positions on these issues.”

Gantz swiftly hit back at Netanyahu, responding to the prime minister’s questions in a statement issued by his office.

“If the prime minister had listened to Gantz,” said the former defense ministers and chief of staff’s office, “we would have gone into Rafah months ago and finished the mission. We must finish it and create the necessary conditions for that.”

The Palestinian Authority should not rule Gaza, Gantz said, but other Palestinians can, with the backing of Arab states and the US. “The prime minister should deal with this and not torpedo these efforts,” he said.

Finally, responding to Netanyahu’s question about whether he would support the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a normalization deal with the Saudis, Gantz claimed that was not a Saudi demand, and he doesn’t intend to back such a state, but recalled that Netanyahu himself has previously voiced support for a Palestinian state. Gantz has previously said he backs the eventual creation of a Palestinian “entity,” but avoided using the term “state.”

If Netanyahu values the unity government, said Gantz’s office, he must take the necessary decisions, “and not drag his feet out of fear of the extremists in his government.”

Far-right clamor

Ultranationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir accused Gantz of being “a small leader with large eyes.”

From the moment Gantz joined the government, Ben Gvir charged, he has “mainly been involved in attempts to dismantle it.”

“His trips to Washington for talks opposing the prime minister’s position (because of which the administration became hostile), were only a small part of his subversion.”

“The man who hosted [Abbas] in his home, brought in workers from Gaza, led the agreement to surrender our gas to Lebanon, removed security barriers in the West Bank and endangers Golani soldiers ‘out of concern for Palestinians,’ is the last person who should offer security alternatives,” Ben Gvir charged, listing perceived failures from Gantz’s time as defense minister.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the country “will win with Gantz or without him, thanks to the heroic fighters and the people of Israel.”

Amid growing calls by far-right lawmakers to reestablish settlements in Gaza, Smotrich urged Netanyahu “to make a strategic decision on full Israeli control of Gaza,” which Gallant explicitly said he would not allow during his remarks earlier in the week.

Smotrich also called for Netanyahu “to no longer halt our forces in Rafah or the central and northern Strip until we achieve all the aims of the war: destroy Hamas, return the hostages and remove threat, both in the south and in the north against Hezbollah.”

Gantz’s speech was received was received negatively across the aisle too, with Opposition Leader Yair Lapid accusing him of doing too little too late.

“Enough. Get out of there,” Lapid said. “Enough with the press conferences, enough with the empty ultimatums, get out! If you weren’t sitting in government, we would already be beyond the era of Netanyahu and Ben Gvir.”

“In the face of difficulty, in the face of despair, in the face of extremism, I pledge to you: We will continue to work with you and for you, until we send this government home,” Lapid continued. “This government will fall, the State of Israel will rise again.”

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