Netanyahu to speak with Gallant after row over post-war Gaza, again vows no PA role

Asked if he still trusts defense minister, PM responds evasively: ‘What I have to say to him I’ll first say one-on-one’; right-wing protesters outside Kirya urge Gallant’s ouster

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF soldiers in southern Israel, May 16, 2024 (Maayan Toaf / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF soldiers in southern Israel, May 16, 2024 (Maayan Toaf / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he will soon speak face-to-face with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who demanded a day earlier that the premier publicly rule out the possibility of Israeli military or civilian rule in Gaza, suggesting instead that “Palestinian entities” and other “international actors” should govern the Strip.

While visiting an area close to the Gaza border, Netanyahu was asked by a reporter if he still trusts Gallant and whether they can still work together, but responded evasively.

“If you’re talking about what the defense minister said yesterday, then what I have to say to him I’ll first say one-on-one, and not here,” he said.

Asked if that meeting will come soon, the prime minister said, “Absolutely.”

Netanyahu’s public disagreement with Gallant came about after the premier dismissed any discussions of the “day after” in Gaza as meaningless until Hamas is defeated.

Hours later, in a televised address, the defense minister told Netanyahu that he must take “tough decisions” to advance non-Hamas governance of Gaza, whatever the personal or political cost because the gains of the war are being eroded and Israel’s long-term security is at stake.

Gallant warned in his address that he will not consent to Israeli civil or military governance of Gaza, and that governance by non-Hamas Palestinian entities, accompanied by international actors, is in Israel’s interest.

Netanyahu quickly retorted that he was “not prepared to switch from Hamastan to Fatahstan,” referencing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a statement to the press at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu again echoed that same sentiment on Thursday, after a reporter said Gallant was essentially advocating for the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.

Repeating his frequent summation that the PA “funds terrorism, supports terrorism, educates for terrorism,” Netanyahu accused it of “running a global campaign against us — at the World Court in The Hague and at all the institutions of the UN that are coming to choke us.”

Letting the PA back into Gaza “after what happened there” would be “a prize for terror,” he said, warning that what happened in 2007 when Hamas booted out the Palestinian Authority and seized control of the Gaza Strip would happen again should it be allowed to return.

“We’re not making that mistake again…. If somebody wants to bring in the PA, they should say so clearly,” he said, referring to Gallant’s accusation that he refuses to make decisions on a post-Hamas Gaza. “That’s a decision I refuse to make.”

In the wake of Gallant’s statement, some right-wing lawmakers have urged Netanyahu to fire the defense minister for what would be the second time in 14 months.

In late March 2023, Netanyahu fired Gallant for warning that the divides in Israeli society caused by the coalition’s judicial overhaul plans posed a “clear, immediate and tangible threat to the security of the state.” His termination was met with public outrage and was short-lived as he was rehired two weeks later.

A group of right-wing Israelis staged a protest outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, calling for Gallant’s removal from government. Several protesters sported Likud flags — the party to which Gallant belongs — while others held signs calling for his termination.

Right-wing activists demonstrate against Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, outside the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, May 16, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

At the same time as pressure mounts to formulate a plan for post-Hamas Gaza, the Israeli offensive in Rafah, where four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are believed to be located, has continued inching forward despite deep misgivings from Israel’s allies.

Speaking to IDF troops on the Gaza border, Netanyahu said on Thursday that the offensive in Rafah was “critical.”

“This battle, of which you are an integral part, is a battle that will decide many things in this campaign,” he said, telling the soldiers that Rafah was the lifeline on which the terror group depends.

Gallant too, addressed the Rafah operation in a conversation with troops on Thursday, vowing that the operation would intensify.

“Hamas is not an organization that can replenish itself now,” he said. “It has no reserves, no ability to produce weapons, no supplies, no armaments; it can’t treat its wounded terrorists, and this means that we’ll go and wear them down.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on the southern border with the Gaza Strip, May 15, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Israel’s war cabinet — comprised of Netanyahu, Gallant and minister Benny Gantz — were slated to meet on Thursday evening to discuss the Rafah offensive. According to a report from Channel 12, the meeting was due to focus on mapping out a wider offensive, pending US approval of such a move.

Among others, the US and EU have warned Israel against launching a full-scale offensive inside the southernmost Gaza city, the population of which swelled to more than one million people throughout the months of war as civilians fled the fighting.

Israel hopes to bring US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan around to the idea of an expanded operation in Rafah when he visits at the start of next week, Channel 12 reported on Thursday. However, Washington said earlier this week it had received assurances that the offensive wouldn’t be widened before Sullivan’s visit.

Also Thursday, Netanyahu was asked why, unlike the chief of staff and Shin Bet head, he has refused to state that he was responsible for the catastrophe of October 7: “The government is responsible for protecting Israel’s security. The IDF and the security branches are responsible for protecting Israel’s security,” he replied. “Clearly, there was a failure here. As for assigning responsibility, the degree of responsibility, all those things, everybody, me included, will have to give answers to tough questions.”

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