How does Gantz's resignation impact Israel's next steps in Gaza, Lebanon, and the West Bank?

How does Gantz's resignation impact Israel's next steps in Gaza?
7 min read
19 June, 2024

The resignation of senior member of Israel’s war cabinet Benny Gantz has left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even more beholden to his far-right allies — who have taken a hardline stance on the ceasefire deal and are pushing for escalatory policies in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon.

Gantz, the leader of Israel’s centrist-right National Unity party, and his party member, Gadi Eisenkot, announced their resignation from Netanyahu’s government on June 9 after months of mounting frustration over Israel’s war policy in Gaza.

Following Gantz’s departure, on Monday Netanyahu dissolved the six-member emergency war cabinet. He is now expected to hold consultations over the war in Gaza with a small group of ministers, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

While the far-right, ultranationalist ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, were excluded from the emergency war cabinet, they hold seats on Israel’s regular security cabinet — likely to now have more decision-making power.

“[Gantz’s departure] brings the composition of the Israeli government back to its pre-October 7 composition, in which the right-wing factions have more impact on decision-making,” Nimrod Goren, a Jerusalem-based political analyst with Middle East Institute, told The New Arab.

"Nobody in the Israeli political establishment is willing to say ‘stop the war’"

“Now that a war cabinet with Gantz’s party was dismantled by Netanyahu, the regular cabinet with the far-right ministers may be dealing with more issues of higher significance than it did in previous months,” Goren said.

Gantz joined Netanyahu’s emergency government last year as a gesture of solidarity following the Hamas attack on October 7. Pushing for ceasefire and hostage deals, he earned the reputation as the more rational and sensible leader in Netanyahu’s ultranationalist and religious government. 

Although Gantz and Eisenkot’s resignation was not enough to break Netanyahu’s 64-member majority in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and push early elections, it has left Netanyahu alone with his far-right allies and their adamant calls to continue Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.

“He doesn’t have that fig leaf anymore; he doesn’t have any so-called moderate voices,” Mairav Zonszein, the International Crisis Group’s senior Israel-Palestine analyst, told The New Arab

Benny Netanyahu's fractured war coalition has finally been dissolved. But is Benny Gantz gunning for Bibi's position? [Getty].
Benjamin Netanyahu's fractured war cabinet has been dissolved, with far-right parties returning as kingmaker [Getty]

Will Gantz's resignation kickstart right-wing demands?

In Gantz’s absence, Netanyahu’s far-right coalition members will have more leeway to raise their voices and push their aggressive war policies. They have called for the Jewish settlement of the Gaza Strip and the shooting of women and children, to invade southern Lebanon, and have repeatedly blocked deals for a ceasefire in the Strip.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich responded to the latest ceasefire deal revealed on June 1 by threatening to “bring down” the government if it was adopted by pulling their parties out of the coalition. Netanyahu needs Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s parties to keep his 64-member majority and hence must cater to their demands.

Now, Goren noted that they will be even “better positioned to try and block these deals that require government approval”.

Ben Gvir has hailed Gantz’s departure as “a very big opportunity”, criticising Gantz’s centrist party for putting “a spoke in the wheels of the war machine”.

“Nobody in the Israeli political establishment is willing to say ‘stop the war’,” Zonszein said. “If we continue on this route [of endless war with no real end game], it isn’t hard to see their political vision of de-populating and resettling Gaza [becoming a reality],” she added. 

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Zonszein noted this could also have dangerous implications on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where there is a “consistent escalatory paradigm that could at any moment break out”.

Fighting has escalated on the border following an Israeli strike that killed a senior Hezbollah commander on June 11. Hezbollah retaliated on June 12 by firing the most rockets in a single day towards Israel since the clashes erupted on October 8. 

Ben-Gvir lambasted Netanyahu for what he said was an insufficient response to the Hezbollah rocket barrage on June 12. “Netanyahu — the excuses are over. You are the prime minister, and you can’t even hide behind Gantz and Eisenkot anymore,” he wrote on X.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is “under pressure to respond more forcefully [in Lebanon]”, considering “Israel’s tactical achievements are not adding up to any strategic breakthrough”, Zonszein added. 

“It’s clear the situation [on Israel’s northern border] is extremely precarious,” Zonszein said. “With just the far-right and Netanyahu, it seems less likely they’re going to put a stop to it [the fighting] because it depends on a ceasefire in Gaza, which they’re not endorsing.”

A high price from the Palestinian pocket

Without Gantz and Eisenkot, Netanyahu can no longer maintain the image that the government is paralysed by quarrelling war cabinet members.

He will be under more pressure to appease the more powerful far-right, likely with deals that facilitate their settlement expansion policies and the violent crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank, Khalil Shaheen, a Ramallah-based political analyst from the Palestinian Policy Network, told The New Arab.

For instance, Netanyahu will have to convince Ben Gvir and Smotrich to move forward with a ceasefire deal and hence, must “pay a price”, Shaheen said — likely to come from “the Palestinian pocket”.

“If Netanyahu can reach a deal with them to buy their silence over a [ceasefire] deal in Gaza, the price will be very high from the Palestinian pocket,” Shaheen said. 

"The renewed strength of far-right actors following Gantz’s departure has left Israel more isolated on the international stage"

Ben Gvir, Smotrich, and their far-right allies have been pressing for a punitive sweep throughout the West Bank. Smotrich on May 30 threatened to destroy cities, neighbourhoods and Palestinian camps in occupied territories, calling for the Israeli army to repeat in the West Bank what it did in Gaza.

In a recent raid of Jenin city and refugee camp on June 12, Israeli forces demolished the infrastructure in the area — destroying streets, shops, and electricity networks to points beyond repair. 

Shaheen added that the Israeli army has been destroying infrastructure vital to Palestine’s economy, like in Jenin, in the northern part of the West Bank.

“The same things we are witnessing in Gaza are being carried out in another way in the West Bank,” Shaheen stated.

Attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank have spiked during the war in Gaza — provoked by Israel’s ultranationalist ministers like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich.

After the October 7 attack, the Israeli government encouraged the formation and training of defence units for settlements and has since expanded its role. “The settler [violence] is turning into an official policy,” Shaheen said.

He expressed his fears that soon — with the Knesset dominated by ultranationalist, religious politicians — “religious Zionism will become the official policy of the Israeli army”.

How does Gantz's resignation impact Israel's next steps in Gaza?
Is Benny Gantz gearing up another electoral challenge? [Getty]

Israeli electorate moves right

Gantz soared in the polls after October 7; his supporters tout him as their next prime minister, drawn to his more centrist stances and military background.

Goren commented that while Gantz is still “seen as more fit for prime minister than Netanyahu at the moment”,  a significant portion of the Israeli electorate is turning towards what might be a new right-wing coalition, potentially led by former prime minister Naftali Bennett and opposition party head Avigdor Lieberman.

“The war very clearly took Israelis more to the right,” Goren said. “Israelis became more hawkish, more security-minded, more sceptical of any agreement with the Palestinians and more fearful of what might happen yet.”   

 “For months after October 7, while more Israelis adopted right-wing ideas, they expressed in the polls an intention to vote for Gantz’s centrist party,” he added, “But, the gap between attitudes and possible electoral behaviours could not stick for a long time.”

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Following Gantz’s resignation, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud policy also gained some traction in the polls, closing the gap behind Gantz. 

On the prospect of early elections, Goren noted that Gantz’s resignation could be a "momentum of change” to encourage political dynamics that could eventually lead to the early elections “most Israelis want”.

He said one of the actors to watch is Israel’s Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant, whose stances are often against Netanyahu’s. In his resignation announcement, Gantz called for early elections and called on Gallant to “do the right thing” and leave Netanyahu’s cabinet.

Meanwhile, now, the renewed strength of far-right actors following Gantz’s departure has left Israel more isolated on the international stage. “The international community doesn’t have someone easy to engage with now within the Israeli government,” Goren said. He also noted that global criticism of Israel is likely to rise should the war continue.

The “pure, right-wing, fascist government” in Israel after Gantz’s departure will be detrimental to Palestinians, Shaheen said. “They want to destroy the rights of Palestinians and force them to leave their homeland”.

Hanna Davis is a freelance journalist reporting on politics, foreign policy, and humanitarian affairs.

Follow her on Twitter: @hannadavis341