The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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An ultimatum raises pressure on Netanyahu to make postwar plans for Gaza, even as fighting rages

Associated Press Sunday, 19 May 2024, 05:59 Last update: about 25 days ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under mounting pressure from his own War Cabinet and his country's closest ally over postwar plans for Gaza, even as the war with Hamas shows no sign of ending.

On Saturday, Benny Gantz, a member of the War Cabinet and Netanyahu's main political rival, said he would leave the government on June 8 if it did not formulate a new war plan including an international, Arab and Palestinian administration to handle civilian affairs in Gaza.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the third member of the Cabinet, has also called for a plan for Palestinian administration, and said in a speech this week that he wouldn't agree to Israel governing Gaza itself.

The United States has meanwhile called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza with assistance from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states ahead of eventual statehood. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is expected to push those plans when he visits Israel on Sunday.

So far, Netanyahu has brushed them all off. But Gantz' ultimatum could reduce his margin for maneuver.

Netanyahu has ruled out any role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, saying he plans to hand civil responsibilities over to local Palestinians unaffiliated with it or Hamas. But he has also said that it's impossible to make any such plans until Hamas is defeated because it has threatened anyone who cooperates with Israel.

Netanyahu's government is also deeply opposed to Palestinian statehood.

In a statement issued after the ultimatum, Netanyahu said Gantz' conditions would amount to "defeat for Israel, abandoning most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and establishing a Palestinian state.”

Netanyahu added, however, that he still thought the emergency government was important for prosecuting the war, and that he “expects Gantz to clarify his positions to the public.”

Gantz' departure would leave Netanyahu even more beholden to his far-right coalition allies, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who could more easily bring down the government if he doesn't meet their demands.

They have called for Israel to reoccupy Gaza, encourage the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from the territory and reestablish Jewish settlements that were removed in 2005.

Critics of Netanyahu, including thousands who have joined weekly protests in recent months, accuse him of prolonging the war for his own political survival. Gantz, who brought his centrist party into the government days after the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war, warned Netanyahu not to “choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss.”

Netanyahu denies such accusations, saying he is focused on defeating Hamas and that elections would distract from the war effort.

Polls indicate Netanyahu would be driven from office if new elections were held, with Gantz most likely to replace him. That would probably mark the end of Netanyahu's long political career and expose him to prosecution over longstanding corruption charges.

Israeli media have reported growing discontent within the country's security establishment over the course of the war, with officials warning that the lack of any such planning was turning tactical victories into strategic defeat.

With no one else to govern Gaza, Hamas has repeatedly regrouped, even in the hardest-hit areas that Israel previously said it had cleared. Heavy fighting has erupted in recent days in the built-up Jabaliya refugee camp in the north and the Zeitoun neighborhood on the outskirts of Gaza City.

Israeli troops are meanwhile pushing into parts of the southern city of Rafah in what they say is a limited operation. The fighting there has displaced some 800,000 people, many who had already fled from other areas, and severely hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Indirect talks mediated by the United States, Qatar and Egypt aimed at a cease-fire and the release of scores of hostages held by Hamas meanwhile appear at a standstill, with many of the hostages' families and their supporters blaming the Israeli government.

“Something has gone wrong," Gantz said in his address. “Essential decisions were not taken. Acts of leadership required to ensure victory were not carried out. A small minority has taken over the command bridge of the Israeli ship and is leading it toward a wall of rocks.”

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