Israel’s wartime government is worried as frustration with Netanyahu grows

Benny Gantz, a centrist member of Israel’s war cabinet, gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an ultimatum on Saturday, saying he will leave the government if it does not soon develop a plan for the future. future of the war in Gaza.

While Mr. Gantz’s departure will not topple the country’s wartime emergency government, the move will further strain the fragile coalition that has given Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right government a boost. international legitimacy and it will make the prime minister even more dependent on his hard-line partners.

“If you choose the path of fanaticism, dragging the country into the abyss, we will be forced to leave the government,” Mr. Gantz said in a televised press conference. “We will turn to the people and build a government to win the people’s trust.”

Mr. Gantz, who leads the National Unity party, said he would give Mr. Netanyahu until June 8 – three weeks’ time – to develop a plan to ensure the release of hostages held by rebels. Hamas leadership sent to Gaza in October. . 7, addressing future territorial governance, returning displaced Israelis to their homes and promoting normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia, among other issues.

Mr. Gantz’s ultimatum is the latest sign of growing pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to develop a postwar plan. The prime minister is increasingly being pressed – externally from Israel’s closest ally, the United States, and from within his own War Cabinet – to clarify the strategy for Gaza. Just days earlier, Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense Minister, said the government was charting “a dangerous course” and asked Netanyahu to immediately commit not to establish an Israeli military government in Gaza.

Responding to Mr. Gantz’s ultimatum, Mr. Netanyahu accused the former army chief of staff and a longtime political rival of calling for “Israel’s defeat” by effectively allowing Hamas to remain in power.

Mr. Gantz, he added, “chose to give the ultimatum to the prime minister, rather than to Hamas.”

Domestic frustration is also growing over Netanyahu’s failure to secure freedom for the remaining hostages in Gaza. Israeli forces on Saturday found the body of an Israeli man detained in Gaza since October 7, a fourth body was found in two days, raising concerns about the fate of about 128 people arrested remain in the area.

Even as Israeli politicians grapple with how to end the war, the impact of the current strategy is still playing out in Gaza.

Israeli ground forces entered the eastern suburbs of the city of Rafah on Saturday, the Israeli army said. In a statement on Saturday morning, Hamas said its fighters fired at Israeli troops east of Rafah, as well as near the Rafah border crossing.

As the war enters its eighth month, more than 34,000 people have died in Gaza, according to health authorities there, but the Israeli military has made slow progress in achieving the government’s stated goals of disband Hamas and release the hostages.

Ceasefire negotiations to free some hostages have stalled, with Israel and Hamas disagreeing over ceasefire conditions. The Israeli army also had to return to the northern regions of Gaza to fight the new Hamas uprising. And Israeli forces and Hezbollah, the politically powerful Lebanese armed group, continue to bombard each other across the border, displacing tens of thousands of Israelis with no idea when they will be able to return home.

Mr. Gantz joined the Israeli government after October 7 as an emergency wartime measure. The result has been a fragile and fractured coalition, with Mr. Gantz and his allies fighting Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right allies and at times the prime minister himself.

To some extent, the criticisms of Mr. Gallant and Mr. Gantz are similar to those of American officials. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said this week that Israel must present a “clear, specific plan” for post-war management of Gaza.

The United States has sought to empower the Palestinian Authority, which controls much of the occupied West Bank, to administer Gaza. But Netanyahu and his allies have rejected that idea, proposing that Palestinians not affiliated with Hamas or the PA take over.

The Biden administration has also called for the creation of a Palestinian state – of which Gaza would be an integral part – a proposal that has lost support in Israel since the Hamas-led terrorist attack on the 7th. October.

On Saturday, Mr. Gantz vowed not to “allow any side, friend or foe, to impose a Palestinian state on us,” echoing Mr. Netanyahu’s rhetoric opposing Palestinian sovereignty .

Mr. Gantz said that until a permanent solution is found, Gaza will temporarily be run by a “American-European-Arab-Palestinian” civilian administration, with Israeli security oversight. . Mr. Gantz joined Mr. Netanyahu in denying any role for the internationally backed PA

The discovery of the dead hostages and the resurgence of Hamas fighting in recent days have highlighted the failures of Netanyahu’s current strategy.

Israeli forces said Saturday they had found the body of Ron Binyamin, 53, an Israeli man and the fourth hostage brought back to Israel for burial in the past two days.

According to Israeli authorities, about 124 of the more than 250 people taken hostage on October 7 are still in Gaza. Four other prisoners have been held there for years, since long before the Hamas attack. According to Israeli government statistics, at least 35 remaining hostages are believed to be dead.

As fighting in Gaza has intensified near the southern city of Rafah, the flow of aid to the area has dwindled. Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid began rolling onto Gaza’s shores this week through a temporary dock built by the United States.

But US officials and aid groups stress that the new maritime corridor cannot replace land border crossings, the most effective way to resupply civilians in the territory. Only 310 aid trucks entered Gaza through these crossings in the 10 days since Israel begins a military attack in the southern city of Rafah, United Nations officials said on Friday.

This is far less than the more than 500 people a day that aid organizations say is needed to maintain even minimally acceptable living conditions.

Humanitarian workers have repeatedly warned that famine is looming amid severe shortages of basic goods for civilians, many of whom have been displaced multiple times. According to UNRWA, the main United Nations agency for Palestinians, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Rafah since Israel began its military offensive on May 6.

Israel continues to describe the offensive in and around Rafah as a “limited operation” against Hamas. But recently satellite images showing widespread destruction and suggesting that a significant incursion had been made. On Thursday, Israel said it would send more forces to Rafah, signaling that it intended to strike deeper into the city despite international concerns about the threat to civilians from an invasion. comprehensive strategy caused.

Rafah has become home to more than a million Palestinians who have fled their homes elsewhere in Gaza in search of some safety, even as the Israeli military continues to carry out air strikes on the city. This is one of the last places not invaded by Israeli soldiers.

Now, many Palestinians are seeking shelter in places like the central city of Deir al Balah and Al-Mawasi, the western coastal region of Khan Younis. Both are overcrowded and face harsh conditions, the United Nations and aid groups say. In the north, Israeli attacks and new military evacuation orders have displaced more than 160,000 people from several areas around Gaza City, according to UNRWA.

Mohammed al-Lahham and his family fled Rafah last week and returned to Khan Younis, their hometown in Gaza and a city devastated by Israeli bombing. They hope they won’t be forced to flee again.

“The situation in my city is unbearable, but at least it is better than living in a tent,” said Mr. al-Lahham, 41, a plumber and father of five. . “I finally returned to Khan Younis, my hometown, where I know its people, places and streets.”

The lack of aid has forced families like the al-Lahhams to fend almost entirely on their own.

On Thursday, Mr. al-Lahham stood in line with his two sons to fill cans with water from a large tank brought by a charity. And although water that day was free, nothing else was available in this devastated city, with prices in markets skyrocketing, amid food shortages and limited trade goods.

Raja Abdulrahim, bilateral shbair And Victoria Kim Report contributions.


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