Still in coalition, Gantz’s National Unity party files bill to dissolve Knesset

Party bids to create ‘stable unity government,’ further indicating it is set to bolt the emergency coalition it joined after Oct. 7; Likud dismisses call as harmful to war effort

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

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 Photo via AP)
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 Photo via AP)

Benny Gantz’s centrist National Unity party, which joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government days after the October 7 attack to create an emergency coalition, submitted a bill to dissolve the Knesset on Thursday, in the clearest indication to date that the alliance was nearing its end.

The move follows Gantz’s demand in April for early elections following the colossal failure in preventing Hamas’s onslaught, and comes days after its No. 2, war cabinet observer MK Gadi Eisenkot, reiterated the call for early elections — which Netanyahu has rejected as harmful while the war in Gaza is still ongoing.

“October 7 is a disaster that requires us to go back and receive the people’s trust, to establish a broad and stable unity government that can lead us safely in the face of the enormous challenges in security, the economy and above all — in Israeli society,” National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata said in a statement. “Submitting the bill now will allow us to bring it up in the current legislative session.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party dismissed the call as unnecessarily disharmonious and damaging to the war effort. Netanyahu’s Likud heads a 64-strong right-wing religious bloc in the 120-member Knesset — without Gantz’s party — and is therefore unlikely to be felled by the bill.

“In the midst of a war, Israel needs unity, not division. The dissolution of the unity government is a reward for [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar, a surrender to international pressure and a fatal blow to the efforts to free our hostages,” the ruling party said in a statement.

Tensions have been growing since Gantz joined the government in the wake of October 7, with Netanyahu recently overtaking him as the public’s preferred choice for premier in a television survey aired Wednesday for the first time in a year. However, the poll still predicted the current coalition parties would fall far short of a majority in the parliament.

Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality chair MK Pnina Tamano-Shata leads a session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 2, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 — 121 of whom remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

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

The National Unity chair 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 ultimatum 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.

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.”

Speaking with The Times of Israel at the time, MK Tamano-Shata explained that she and her colleagues “don’t want to leave the government, but if [Netanyahu] pushes us to that, we will leave.”

Days later, Gantz challenged Netanyahu by demanding the immediate establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the failures that led to Hamas’s devastating assault.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz in a video message issued May 23, 2024, demanding the immediate establishment of a state commission of inquiry in the events leading up to October 7, 2023. (Screenshot)

“There is no doubt — the period and the events leading up to October 7, and the continuation of the campaign since then, are a national upheaval from which we must learn,” he said in a video message last week.

Some have blamed the government’s attempts to overhaul the judiciary in 2023 — and the rise of a massive opposition movement to that plan — for projecting weakness, leading Hamas to launch its onslaught on October 7.

Netanyahu rejects charges that he had been warned by the IDF about the massive Hamas attack, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

On Wednesday, Eisenkot, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and observer on the war cabinet, accused Netanyahu of having failed Israel on matters of both security and the economy — asserting that it was “clear that this government needs to be replaced as soon as possible.”

Eisenkot suggested a vote be held sometime between September and December “to build the nation.”

War cabinet observer, Minister Gadi Eisenkot, speaks at the annual Meir Dagan conference at Netanya Academic College, May 29, 2024. (Courtesy)

The Likud party scorned Eisenkot, saying in a statement that National Unity was playing “petty politics” and looking for a way to abandon the government.

Trust in the government plummeted after the October 7 attack, with polls until this week showing little appetite among Israel’s public for returning Netanyahu to power should elections be held. International support for Israel has also waned as the war has dragged on, with Washington indicating scant patience for Netanyahu and his far-right allies, Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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