Israel’s Gantz challenges Netanyahu with call for election amid Gaza war

Polls suggest Gantz’s party would come top in any election, making him favourite to take over Netanyahu as prime minister.

Israeli Emergency cabinet minister and opposition politician Benny Gantz addresses the press in Kiryat Shmona
Israeli emergency cabinet minister and opposition politician Benny Gantz addresses the press in Kiryat Shmona, Israel, November 14, 2023 [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

Israel war cabinet member Benny Gantz has called for elections in September as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faces pressure at home and abroad over the war in Gaza.

“We must agree on a date for elections in September, towards a year to the war if you will,” Gantz said in a televised briefing on Wednesday. “Setting such a date will allow us to continue the military effort while signalling to the citizens of Israel that we will soon renew their trust in us.”

Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in recent days demanding new elections. Many have criticised Netanyahu and expressed anger at his government’s handling of the 134 Israelis still held captive in Gaza six months into the war.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has repeatedly ruled out early elections, which opinion polls suggest he would lose, saying that to go to the polls in the middle of a war would only reward the Palestinian group Hamas.

His Likud party on Wednesday said Gantz must “stop engaging in petty politics” during the war. “Elections now will bring about paralysis, division, harm to the fighting in Rafah and a fatal blow to the chances of a hostage deal,” Likud said.

Gantz, a former army general, joined Netanyahu’s government in the early days of the war as a gesture of political unity during the crisis. Polls suggest his party would come top in any election, and he would be favourite to take over as prime minister.

Netanyahu has pledged to bring the captives home, as well as destroy Hamas, although it is unclear how Israel would be able to do so.

Netanyahu’s government has faced widespread criticism over the security failure of the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel in which 1,139 people were killed and about 250 Israelis and foreigners kidnapped, according to Israeli authorities. Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 32,975 people, mostly women and children, according to Palestinian authorities.

A truce between Israel and Hamas in November led to the release of more than 100 captives in exchange for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Revived talks on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas appear to be making little progress, with the two sides showing few signs that they are ready to compromise on their demands.

Israeli objections to the return of displaced residents to their homes in Gaza is a key issue holding up the negotiations, Qatari officials said on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Hamas said it will not budge on its conditions to release captives it holds in the besieged and bombarded territory.

“After six months, it seems like the government understands that Bibi Netanyahu is an obstacle,” demonstrator Einav Moses, whose father-in-law Gadi Moses is being held captive, told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday during protests. “Like he doesn’t really want to bring them back, that they have failed in this mission.”

Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before he was due to undergo hernia surgery, said he understood the families’ pain.

He said calling new elections would paralyse Israel for six to eight months.

Netanyahu also repeated his promise for a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of the territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing the fighting elsewhere.

“There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said, adding that US pressure would not deter him. The next vote for parliament is set for October 27, 2026, per Israel’s Central Elections Committee.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies