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Israel-Hamas conflict: How Netanyahu's decision to dissolve War Cabinet will impact ceasefire efforts?

Netanyahu's rival Benny Gantz left the Cabinet earlier this month, leaving him more dependent on his far-right allies. His decision to dissolve the War Cabinet can impact monthslong efforts by the US, Egypt and Qatar for a lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Jerusalem Published on: June 18, 2024 16:01 IST
Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu's War Cabinet
Image Source : AP Israel's dissolved War Cabinet (L-R): PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz.

Jerusalem: It has been a day since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly dissolved the War Cabinet created in the wake of the Hamas-led attack on October 7 last year, following the departure of key partner and opposition lawmaker Benny Gantz. Netanyahu has faced increasing criticism over his handling of the war and is likely to become more dependent on his far-right allies, who favour expanding settlements and oppose ceasefire deals.

For months, negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have been trying to mediate a ceasefire. Hamas says it wants a permanent end to the war in the Gaza Strip and Israeli withdrawal from the enclave of 2.3 million people. The UN Security Council recently passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas, but the war continues unabated.

The war was sparked by Hamas’ surprise October 7 attack in southern Israel in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mainly Israeli civilians, and took about 250 others hostage. About 120 hostages remain, with 43 pronounced dead. Israel’s military offensive has killed close to 37,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 83,000 others, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Who is Benny Gantz and why did he leave the government?

Gantz, who has for long been Netanyahu's chief political rival, had joined the government in a show of unity after the October 7 attacks and demanded the establishment of a small cabinet to oversee Israel's military operations. The major decisions taken in the conflict were taken by Gantz, Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. 

A retired general and a member of parliament, Gantz was seen as a more moderate voice and joined the government to sideline the ultranationalist members of the government. Gantz left the Cabinet earlier this month after months of mounting tensions over Israel’s strategy in Gaza, claiming to be "fed up" with the lack of progress to bring back dozens of hostages kidnapped on October 7.

He accused Netanyahu of drawing out the war to avoid new elections and a corruption trial and called on the Israeli PM to endorse a plan that — among other points — would rescue the captives and end Hamas rule in Gaza. When Netanyahu did not express support for the plan, Gantz announced his departure.

What will Netanyahu do now?

Netanyahu relies on a group of small parties to help keep his government afloat and without the support of Gantz’s party, Netanyahu could be more beholden to the far-right allies who have repeatedly pledged to topple the government if their demands are not met. This has led critics to believe that Netanyahu's decisions are influenced by the ultranationalists, which he has denied.

Officials speaking on the condition of anonymity claim that Netanyahu would now hold smaller forums for sensitive issues surrounding the war, which includes his security Cabinet, comprising far-right governing partners who oppose a ceasefire and have voiced support for reoccupying Gaza. This could possibly deepen an apparent rift between the US and Israel - two close allies - as US President Joe Biden has also expressed discontentment with Netanyahu's handling of the conflict.

Netanyahu is expected to consult on some decisions with close allies in closed-door meetings, said an Israeli official, which could blunt some of the influence of the hard-liners. Netanyahu himself has shown little enthusiasm for the ceasefire plans and his reliance on the Security Cabinet could give him cover to prolong a decision.

How will this impact Israel's ceasefire policies?

As Netanyahu becomes more dependent on his far-right allies, it is expected to diminish the chances of a ceasefire in Gaza anytime soon. Both Israel and Hamas have been reluctant to fully endorse a US-backed plan that would return hostages, clear the way for an end to the war, and commence a rebuilding effort of the decimated territory.

After Gantz’s departure, Israel’s ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, demanded inclusion in a renewed war Cabinet. Although Netanyahu's move to dissolve the Cabinet could keep Ben-Gvir at a distance but it cannot sideline him completely. The move also gives Netanyahu leeway to draw out the war to stay in power.

Netanyahu’s critics accuse him of delaying because an end to the war would mean an investigation into the government’s failures on Oct. 7 and raise the likelihood of new elections when the prime minister’s popularity is low. Gantz’s departure, while not posing a direct threat to Netanyahu’s rule, rocked Israeli politics at a sensitive time, as he was quite popular who is credited for boosting Israel's credibility with its international partners at a time when Israel was getting increasingly isolated.

(with inputs from AP)

ALSO READ | Netanyahu dissolves War Cabinet tasked to oversee Gaza conflict after key partner Benny Gantz's departure

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