Israel war cabinet minister Benny Gantz quits Netanyahu’s government

Gantz’s departure will not endanger the parliamentary majority in the Knesset held by the ruling right-wing coalition.

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Israeli minister Benny Gantz addresses the media after his ultimatum to withdraw his party from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government expired, in Ramat Gan, Israel [Nir Elias/Reuters]

Israeli minister Benny Gantz has announced his resignation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government, withdrawing the only centrist power in the embattled leader’s far-right coalition, amid a months-long assault on Gaza.

“Netanyahu is preventing us from advancing toward true victory. That is why we are leaving the emergency government today, with a heavy heart but with full confidence,” Gantz said at a televised news conference on Sunday.

He called for early elections, saying “there should be elections that will eventually establish a government that will win the trust of the people and be able to face challenges”.

“I call on Netanyahu: set an agreed election date.”

Gantz last month threatened to leave the emergency government – formed last year to oversee the war on Gaza – if Netanyahu failed to present a post-war plan for the besieged and bombarded Palestinian territory, where Israel is continuing a ground and aerial bombardment campaign that has killed more than 37,000 people since October 7, according to Gaza health officials.

Demonstrations against the Netanyahu-led government are important but must be lawful, Gantz said.

“The protests are important, however, they need to be conducted in a legal manner and they must not encourage hatred. We are not each other’s enemies. Our enemies are outside of our borders,” he told reporters.

“I will be part of a national unity government that includes all centrist parties and only that option will allow us to face all the challenges that stand before us, even with Netanyahu. Like I said, what we need is true and genuine unity and not partial unity.”

Don’t ‘abandon the front’

Gantz also called on Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant to “do what is right”.

Netanyahu issued a brief statement calling on Gantz not to “abandon the front”, but his departure will not endanger the parliamentary majority of 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset held by the ruling right-wing coalition.

Gantz is seen as Netanyahu’s main political rival in Israel. He was a leading figure in the opposition before joining the war cabinet.

Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat, reporting from Jordan’s capital Amman, said the move did not come as a surprise.

“He said his demands were very clear,” Khairat said.

“Benny Gantz was brought into this war cabinet … At the beginning, they showed a united front. These cracks started to appear throughout, and there was much speculation, eventually last month he said that he gave the prime minister an ultimatum,” she said.

Gantz’s departure, Khairat said, leaves the “floor open for the most far-right ministers” within Netanyahu’s coalition government to now join the war cabinet, including Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s party.

Smotrich reacted to Gantz’s resignation in a post on X. “There is no act less stately than withdrawing from the government during a war,” he said.

“This is exactly what [Yahya] Sinwar, [Hasan] Nasrallah and Iran were aiming for, and unfortunately you are fulfilling their request,” Smotrich also said, referring to Hamas and Hezbollah leaders.

“I call on all the leaders of the Zionist parties for whom the State of Israel is important to join the unity government until victory.”

Smotrich’s far-right party draws support from Israel’s settler community.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies