With his political coalition disintegrating, Netanyahu faces a battle at home

With his political coalition disintegrating, Netanyahu faces a battle at home

Still battling Israel’s external enemies on multiple fronts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu woke up Monday to a new political battlefield at home.

The departure this weekend of Benny Gantz and his centrist National Unity Party from Israel’s wartime emergency government is unlikely to immediately sever Mr. Netanyahu’s grip on power. The ruling coalition led by the Prime Minister still has a slim majority of 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

But Mr. Gantz’s move means that Mr. Netanyahu is now fully dependent on his far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners as he continues the war in Gaza in the face of growing international condemnation, leaving him increasingly isolated and exposed at home and abroad.

Mr. Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, another powerful member of the National Unity Party, also left Netanyahu’s small war cabinet. Both are former military commanders and are widely seen as key voices of moderation in the five-member body, which was formed in October after the Hamas-led attack on Israel that led to the Israeli bombing and ground invasion of Gaza.

The two centrist politicians have sparked public confidence in government decision-making at a time of national trauma. It also gave the war cabinet an aura of legitimacy and consensus as Israel fought Hamas in Gaza, as well as its arch-enemy Iran and its other proxies, including the powerful Hezbollah militia across Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

Mr. Gantz accused Mr. Netanyahu of “political procrastination,” noting that he was postponing crucial strategic decisions to ensure his political survival. His decision to resign from the wartime government heralds a new period of political instability and has left many Israelis wondering where the country will go from here.

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Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Jerusalem, described the political change as “incredibly consequential,” and said in a statement that the Israelis were already offering Low ratings for the government On a range of war issues. He added that this includes the way to deal with the fighting and relations with the United States, an important ally of Israel.

“With Gantz’s absence, I expect these scores to become even lower,” Plesner said.

Mr. Gantz had issued an ultimatum three weeks ago, warning Mr. Netanyahu that he would dismantle the emergency government unless the prime minister came up with clear plans, including who would replace Hamas as Gaza’s post-war ruler and how to bring it back. Dozens of hostages are still being held in the Palestinian Strip.

Mr. Gantz joined the government last October to promote a sense of unity in a time of crisis. He has joined forces with his political rival, Mr. Netanyahu, despite a deep mistrust between the two and a history of betrayal. The last time Mr. Gantz entered a government with Mr. Netanyahu, in 2020, it also ended badly after Mr. Netanyahu broke their power-sharing agreement. The influence of Mr. Gantz and Mr. Eisenkot, whose son was a soldier and who was killed in December during fighting in Gaza, has waned in recent months, leading many Israelis to question why they had not left the emergency government and joined the opposition earlier. Mr. Gantz has called for early elections this fall.

Netanyahu’s remaining official partners in the war cabinet are his defense minister, Yoav Galant, a rival within the conservative Likud party whom Mr. Netanyahu tried to expel last year. And Ron Dermer, a veteran confidant of Netanyahu who has more diplomatic than political experience. It is unclear whether it will continue to operate.

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The separate, broader security cabinet includes two ultra-nationalist party leaders: Itamar Ben Gvir, Minister of National Security, and Bezalel Smotrich, Minister of Finance. They both want to resettle Gaza with the Israelis.

Both Mr. Ben Gvir and Mr. Smotrich have vowed to bring down Mr. Netanyahu’s government if he follows through on an Israeli proposal for a deal that would include a truce and hostage exchange of Palestinian prisoners, as President Biden made clear on a deal a week ago, that would effectively end the war.

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