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As His Political Alliance Breaks Up, Netanyahu Faces a Battle at Home

As His Political Alliance Breaks Up, Netanyahu Faces a Battle at Home


Still fighting Israel’s outside enemies on multiple fronts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu woke up on Monday to a new political battlefield at home.

The departure this weekend of Benny Gantz and his centrist National Unity party from Israel’s emergency wartime government is unlikely to immediately sever Mr. Netanyahu’s grip on power. The prime minister’s governing coalition still commands a narrow majority of 64 seats in the 120-seat Parliament.

But Mr. Gantz’s move means that Mr. Netanyahu is now totally dependent on his far right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners as he prosecutes the war in Gaza in the face of mounting international opprobrium, leaving him increasingly isolated and exposed at home and abroad.

Mr. Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, another powerful member of National Unity, also left Mr. Netanyahu’s small war cabinet. They are both former military chiefs who were widely viewed as key voices of moderation in the five-member body, which was formed in October after the Hamas-led assault on Israel prompted the Israeli bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza.

The two centrist politicians raised public confidence in the government’s decision-making process at a time of national trauma. They also lent the war cabinet an aura of legitimacy and consensus as Israel fought Hamas in Gaza, as well as its archenemy Iran and its other proxies, including the powerful Hezbollah militia across Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

Mr. Gantz accused Mr. Netanyahu of “political procrastination,” suggesting that he had been putting off critical strategic decisions to ensure his political survival. His decision to quit the wartime government ushers in a new period of political instability and left many Israelis wondering where the country goes from here.

Describing the political shake-up as “incredibly consequential,” Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Jerusalem, said in a statement that Israelis had already been giving low grades to the government on a host of wartime issues. That included the handling of the fighting and relations with the United States, Israel’s crucial ally, he said.

“With Gantz’s absence, I expect those grades to become even lower,” Mr. Plesner said.

Mr. Gantz had issued an ultimatum three weeks ago, warning Mr. Netanyahu that he would break up the emergency government unless the prime minister came up with clear plans, including who would replace Hamas as the ruler of a postwar Gaza and how to bring back the scores of hostages still being held in the Palestinian enclave.

Mr. Gantz joined the government last October to foster a sense of unity at a time of crisis. He joined forces with his political rival, Mr. Netanyahu, despite a deep lack of trust between the two and a history of betrayal. The last time Mr. Gantz went into a government with Mr. Netanyahu, in 2020, it also ended badly after Mr. Netanyahu broke their power-sharing agreement.The influence of Mr. Gantz and Mr. Eisenkot, whose son, a soldier, was killed in December while fighting in Gaza, has waned in recent months, leading many Israelis to ask why they hadn’t left the emergency government and joined the opposition earlier. Mr. Gantz has called for early elections this fall.

Mr. Netanyahu’s formal partners remaining in the war cabinet are his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, a rival within their conservative Likud party whom Mr. Netanyahu tried to fire last year; and Ron Dermer, a seasoned Netanyahu confidant with more diplomatic than political experience. It is unclear if it will continue to function.

A separate and broader security cabinet includes two ultranationalist party leaders: Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister for national security, and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister. Both want to resettle Gaza with Israelis.

Mr. Ben-Gvir and Mr. Smotrich have both vowed to bring down Mr. Netanyahu’s government if he proceeds with an Israeli proposal for a deal involving a truce and a swap of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, which, as outlined by President Biden over a week ago, would effectively wind down the war.



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