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Israel’s war Cabinet at war with itself

May 22,2024 - Last updated at May 22,2024

Israel’s three-member war Cabinet is at war with itself. Defence minister Yoav Gallant and former army chief Benny Gantz have expressed strong opposition to the handling of the Gaza offensive by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Last week, Gallant vowed to resign by June 8th if Netanyahu failed to formulate a post-war plan for Gaza which would end the war rather than drag out the conflict. Gallant said this plan would exclude both Hamas and Israeli military rule although the Israeli military appears to be making preparations on the ground in Gaza for the latter.

Gallant demanded that Netanyahu advance “the national interest over all other interests, even if this requires paying personal or political costs”. By this Gallant indicated Netanyahu should not rule out the Palestinian Authority, which the US promotes, or full withdrawal from Gaza.

If he were to agree to either or both, Netanyahu would face a revolt by far-right zealot ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir who have 14 seats in the 120-member Knesset and have threatened to resign and topple the government if Netanyahu agrees.

Gallant does not have direct political leverage on Netanyahu because the minister does not have a party. Gantz’s National Unity Party has five ministers in the government. If his party steps down, Netanyahu would still have 64 seats. This would make him dependent on the extremists Smotrich and Ben-Gvir with whom Netanyahu is comfortable.

In his plan for Gaza, Gantz called for freeing Israeli captives there and demilitarising the Gaza strip. He said Israel must retain “security control” without reoccupying Gaza. He called for the establishment of “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”. His “mechanism” differs from Gallant’s position but agrees with Netanyahu’s determination to exclude the Palestinian Authority.

Gantz criticised Netanyahu for elevating the parties of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir: “A small minority took over the bridge of the Israeli ship, and is sailing it towards a wall of rocks,” he stated.

Gantz warned that Netanyahu’s refusal to draw up a post-war scenario in Gaza would lead to Israel’s defeat. He pointed out that the 130 captives held by Hamas are “undergoing the agonies of hell [while] some of the politicians are thinking [only] of themselves”. He warned Netanyahu, “If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss, we will be forced to quit the government.”

Galant and Gantz have ganged up on Netanyahu although they agree with him that Hamas cannot return.

Meanwhile, the army, under Gallant, has bisected Gaza into two sectors with a military road, the Netzarim Corridor, which runs from east to west just south of Gaza City. Checkpoints prevent Palestinians displaced from areas north of the road from returning home and block humanitarian aid deliveries to the north.

The military is also creating a 500-metre buffer zone along the Gaza border with Israel by bulldozing buildings, farms and orchards in this zone. It has been suggested that the Israeli military could co-opt Gaza’s local civilian leaders to administer areas Israeli troops have “cleared” of Hamas fighters but, so far, none of these notables have come forward. Hamas fighters, plain clothes police and administrators have returned to areas left by the Israeli army to reassert authority. Hamas has pledged to wage a “long war of attrition” against Israeli occupation.

Netanyahu’s refusal to announce his intentions has been roundly condemned by Israel’s financier and arms dealer, the US. Last week Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “One, you have to have a clear, credible plan to protect civilians [during the ongoing offensive in Rafah], which we haven’t seen. Second, we also need to see a plan for what happens after this conflict in Gaza is over, and we still haven’t seen that.”

During a weekend visit to Jerusalem, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also “reaffirmed the need for Israel to connect its military operations to a political strategy that can ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all the hostages, and a better future for Gaza”.

Netanyahu has a plan for post-war Gaza but his disparate and divided coalition will not agree on what he intends to do. Without stating his intentions, he has proceeded to implement his plan. His Gaza offensive has displaced 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians, destroyed or damaged most residential areas, bulldozed farmland, and eradicated public buildings. Northern and Central Gaza have become wastelands and Israel’s army is laying waste to Rafah and the rest of the south. His aim is to make Gaza uninhabitable for Palestinians while reserving the strip for Israelis who have means to reconstruct and take over Gaza.

Writing in the Israeli liberal daily Haaretz, columnist Aluf Benn warned, Netanyahu is “consistent in demanding security control of Gaza. While Israelis tend to treat his remarks as political chicanery, he is leading the process to ‘Judaize Gaza,’ and Benny Gantz, Yoav Gallant, and the US won’t stop him”.

Benn elaborated by saying Netanyahu is committed to “the conquest of Gaza, the exodus of many of its Palestinian residents to Arab and European countries, and the re-establishment of Jewish settlements” which were withdrawn along with the army in 2005 by predecessor Ariel Sharon while he focused on colonising the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu seeks to recolonise Gaza.

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