Gantz's Resignation Will Have Serious Implications On The War


Gantz's Resignation Will Have Serious Implications On The War

The resignation of the National Unity party leader, Gantz, who joined the war cabinet, should not come as a surprise. He warned Prime Minister Netanyahu nearly a month ago that he must decide on an endgame to the war. He could not have put it more succinctly, stating, “Personal and political considerations have begun to invade the holy of holies of Israel’s security. Prime Minister Netanyahu, the choice is in your hands. If you prioritize the national above the personal, you will find us to be partners to the battle, but if you choose the path of zealots and lead the entire country to an abyss—we will be forced to quit the government.” Netanyahu’s failure to make that critical decision forced Gantz to resign and precipitated the crisis that Israel finds itself in, due entirely to Netanyahu's dismal failure to make that fateful decision. It is evident that Netanyahu has placed his self-interest above that of the nation to stay in power and implement his perilous illusions on several fronts. First, if not foremost, he wants to appease his extremist, messianic ministers, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who threatened to defect and topple the government unless he rejects any ceasefire before Hamas is wholly defeated. He wants to maintain indefinite military control over Gaza and prevent the Palestinian Authority from governing Gaza. He wants to secure the release of all hostages. Critically, he needs to ensure the supply of weapons from, and the support of, the US. And, perhaps most importantly, he wants to keep Gantz in his war cabinet to lend him the credibility and legitimacy to conduct the war responsibly with a clear eye and with realistically attainable objectives. To be sure, Netanyahu, who is marred with wishful thinking, wanted to keep stalling. He was hoping against any hope that something extraordinary would happen to explain, if not justify, his indecisiveness and utter lack of credibility when the stakes for the country are hard to exaggerate, not to mention Israel’s deteriorating reputation in the eyes of the community of nations. Although Saturday’s rescue of four hostages was received with an outburst of jubilation from Israelis and offered some hope that others would be rescued, leave it to Netanyahu to act as if this is enough to justify the criminal approach that he adopted to the whole war effort. Has he even given any thought about the 274 Palestinians, over 70 percent of whom were women and children, and an Israeli soldier who were killed in the raid to rescue the hostages? Is that something any conscientious Israeli can take with pleasure and pride?

Regardless of how much longer Netanyahu can prolong the agony of not making a decision, he must face the bitter truth sooner than later. Gantz warned Netanyahu multiple times of his intention, most recently by submitting on May 30 a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold an early election. Adding to that, Netanyahu’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has also called on Netanyahu “to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip.” Forming a new government or new elections Following Gantz's departure, Netanyahu will have to choose one of two options. His first option is to hold onto his current government and continue to execute the war to realize his selfish and ideological goals, which, as indicated above, is illusionary at best. He will not be able to eradicate Hamas, even if he succeeds in destroying its military capabilities and preventing it from reconstituting itself in Gaza. Hamas will remain ideologically committed and politically viable, with the ability to terrorize Israel both in Gaza and the West Bank. Moreover, Israel will be stuck in Gaza with unimaginable security and administrative hazards, a nightmare that will make the violence resulting from the occupation of the West Bank feel like a walk in the park. Even more ominous is if the war continues and Palestinian casualties and destruction continue to mount, Hezbollah may well enter the fray in full force. With somewhere between 120,000 and 200,000 rockets at its disposal, it could rain death and destruction on Israel of such a magnitude it will be hard to fathom. If Hezbollah suffers massive losses as a result of Israeli retaliation, one cannot rule out the likelihood that Iran will enter the fray. Imagine the horrifically unprecedented development should a regional war erupt, which will force the US to come to Israel's defense and be mired in a war, which Biden wants to avoid at all costs.

Netanyahu’s second option is to call for new elections or dissolve his current government and establish a new one that supports Biden’s general peace plan. Netanyahu does not want to hold new elections because, based on repeated polls, he knows there is no chance he will be able to form a new government as his Likud party will decisively lose its relative majority. Given his untenable situation, his preferred option should be to dissolve his current government and form a new coalition. The new coalition government, still led by Netanyahu, would include Likud with 32 mandates, Lapid’s Yesh Atid (24), Deri’s Shas (11), Gantz’s National Unity (8), Sa’ar’s New Hope (4), and Labor (4). This coalition will have an overwhelming majority of 83 mandates in the Israeli Knesset. Potentially, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, with six mandates, could also join. Although a couple of leaders, especially Lapid’s Yesh Atid, have sworn never to sit in a government with Netanyahu at the helm, they may, nevertheless, join such a new government in this hour of unprecedented national crisis, provided that Netanyahu offers a clear roadmap about the ‘Day After’ that must preclude continuing military and administrative control over Gaza while seeking a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Biden’s peace plan Here is where Biden’s peace plan comes into play. I agree with the first phase of Biden’s peace plan that calls for a six-week ceasefire to allow for the inflow of massive humanitarian assistance desperately needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis from becoming catastrophic, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas, return of Palestinian civilians to their homes, and the release of several hostages. Whereas such a first phase is crucial, Biden’s second phase needs to be refined and lead to the creation of the conditions necessary to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Biden’s call on Israel and Hamas to “negotiate the necessary arrangements to get to phase two, which is a permanent end to hostilities,” has a fundamental problem as it leaves the central part of negotiating a permanent ceasefire subject to, as Biden stated, “a number of details to negotiate” because “Israel will want to make sure its interests are protected.” Here is where the main problem lies. As the old cliché goes, the devil is in the details. How can Israel make sure that Hamas no longer poses an existential threat? Prior to ironing out the details, this would have to be based on the assumption that Hamas lives up to its commitments. Biden added that “if Hamas fails to fulfill its commitments under the deal, Israel can resume military operations. But Egypt and Qatar have assured me and they are continuing to work to ensure that Hamas doesn’t do that.” But is there any real weight to Egypt’s and Qatar’s assurances?

I maintain that “phase two, which is a permanent end to hostilities,” must include negotiations about putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, for Israel to “make sure its interests are protected,” it must translate to Hamas not being able to reconstitute itself in Gaza, or Hamas finally coming to its senses and swallowing the bitter pill of Israel’s irrevocable reality. During these negotiations, Hamas must agree to renounce the use of violence to achieve its political goals, and agree to a two-state solution. Hamas can, in fact, claim victory by forcing Israel’s hand by agreeing to a two-state solution.

Turkey and Qatar, who have a special relationship with Hamas, can help bring the group to this realization. Having seen the indescribable death and destruction inflicted on Gaza, will Hamas come to its senses? Over time, yes. And the same goes for Israel. As stated above, Hamas, as a political nationalist movement, is a reality that Israel will have to come to terms with even if Hamas is militarily devastated.

As I have stated several times in the past, Hamas’ attack and Israel’s retaliation have created a new paradigm; it is impossible to restore the status quo that existed before October 7, 2023. The two-state solution has come back, which Biden has reiterated time and again. The two sides need to negotiate a permanent ceasefire in the context of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace. No one can overstate the difficulties that the negotiations over a two-state solution would entail. But then, no one can convince me or any other rational person that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can end unless the Palestinians realize their state.

I fully agree with Biden's assertion in his peace proposal that “With this deal, Israel could become more deeply integrated into the region, including — it’s no surprise to you all — including a potential historic normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. Israel could be part of a regional security network to counter the threat posed by Iran.” All of this would create the conditions for a different future and a better future for the Palestinian people, one of self-determination, dignity, security, and freedom. This path is available once the deal is struck.

Israel can come out of this ugly war better, stronger, and at peace, or weaker, constantly threatened, on the defensive, and loathed by the community of nations. Netanyahu can rise to the occasion and spare Israel the agony of political defeat, or leave the political scene in utter disgrace and be remembered as the prime minister who drove Israel toward the abyss.

____________ Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations, most recently at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.