Israel-Hamas: War cabinet member threatens to resign if Benjamin Netanyahu won't change Gaza plan

Israeli military recovers the body of a fourth hostage taken into Gaza and tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets. It comes as fighting intensifies in both northern and southern parts of the Strip. Chloe Keedy sent this report from Tel Aviv.

A member of Israel's War Cabinet has issued a resignation threat if a new plan for the war in Gaza is not adopted in three weeks.

Benny Gantz, a popular centrist member of Israel’s three-member War Cabinet, threatened to resign from the government if it doesn’t change tactics by June 8, a decision that would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more reliant on far-right allies.

The announcement deepens a divide in Israel’s leadership more than seven months into a war in which Israel has yet to accomplish its stated goals of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages abducted in the militant group’s October 7 attack.

Tens of thousands of people protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Saturday. Credit: AP

Mr Gantz spelled out a six-point plan that includes the return of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule, demilitarising the Gaza Strip and establishing an international administration of civilian affairs with American, European, Arab and Palestinian cooperation. The plan also supports efforts to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia and widen military service to all Israelis.

Giving a June 8 deadline, he said: "If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss, we will be forced to quit the government."

In a statement reported by Israeli media, Netanyahu responded by saying Gantz had chosen to issue an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of to Hamas, and called his conditions “euphemisms” for Israel’s defeat.

Palestinians storm trucks loaded with humanitarian aid as airstrikes continue in Gaza. Credit: AP

Gantz, a longtime political rival of Netanyahu, joined his coalition and the War Cabinet in the early days of the war in a gesture at national unity.

His departure would leave Netanyahu even more beholden to far-right allies who take a hard line on negotiations over a cease-fire and hostage release, and who believe Israel should occupy Gaza and rebuild Jewish settlements there.

Gantz spoke days after Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the third member of the War Cabinet, said he would not remain in his post if Israel elected to reoccupy Gaza. Gallant also called on the government to make plans for Palestinian administration of the enclave.

In what will be seen by many as a swipe at Netanyahu, Gantz said “personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate into the holy of holies of Israel’s security.” Netanyahu’s critics accuse the prime minister of seeking to prolong the war to avoid new elections, allegations he denies.

Polls suggest Netanyahu would be replaced in elections, with Gantz the most likely candidate to be the next prime minister. That would expose Netanyahu to prosecution on longstanding corruption charges.

“The people of Israel are watching you,” Gantz said in his prime-time address to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is under growing pressure on multiple fronts. Hard-liners want the military offensive on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah to press ahead. Israel's top ally the U.S. and others have warned against the offensive on a city where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million had sheltered — hundreds of thousands have now fled — and they have threatened to scale back support over Gaza’s humanitarian and hunger crisis.

Protesters in Tel Aviv are calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group. Credit: AP

The U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will be in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend to discuss the war and is scheduled on Sunday to meet with Netanyahu, who has declared that Israel would “stand alone” if needed.

Many Israelis, anguished over the hostages and accusing Netanyahu of putting political interests ahead of all else, want a deal to stop the fighting and get them freed.

There was fresh frustration on Friday when the military said its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas in the October 7 attack. The discovery of the body of a fourth hostage was announced on Saturday.

Thousands of Israelis again rallied on Saturday evening to demand a deal along with new elections.

The latest talks in pursuit of a cease-fire in Gaza, mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, have brought little change and a vision beyond the war is also uncertain.

Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more. The Israeli offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, local health officials say.

Gantz echoed Netanyahu’s call for the return of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule and demilitarising the territory. But he said an international administration should be set up there, apparently ruling out long-term Israeli occupation.

“We will not allow any outside power, friendly or hostile, to impose a Palestinian state on us,” he added.

Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza and partner with local Palestinians, who are not affiliated with Hamas or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But Netanyahu said it is impossible to plan for such a postwar authority before Hamas is defeated.

In March, Gantz met with U.S. officials in Washington to discuss the war, earning a rebuke from Netanyahu. He had been widely expected to leave the government once the heavy fighting in Gaza subsides, signalling the period of national unity established after the Oct. 7 attack has ended.

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