What does Benny Gantz quitting Benjamin Netanyahu’s government mean for Israel’s political landscape?

on Jun 11, 2024
  • Gantz resigns, accusing Netanyahu of avoiding crucial war decisions.
  • Netanyahu’s coalition now more reliant on far-right factions.
  • Gantz's National Unity party’s lead in polls narrows significantly.

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For the eight months he has served in Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government, Benny Gantz has largely held his tongue about his frustrations with Israel’s veteran prime minister. However, Gantz announced his long-expected resignation on Sunday, finally voicing his discontent.

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The centrist former general, who joined the government after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, criticized Netanyahu for avoiding “fateful” decisions about the war due to narrow political calculations, which he claims have prevented Israel from achieving “true victory.”

By the full-contact standards of Israeli politics, it was a tame departure. However, it dissolved the last remnants of unity that had briefly emerged in Israeli politics following the October 7 attack.

This departure leaves Netanyahu even more reliant on the far-right politicians who dominate his coalition, at a time when he faces intense international pressure over his handling of the war in Gaza.

How does this impact Netanyahu’s position?

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Netanyahu’s coalition, which includes far-right and ultrareligious parties, holds 64 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

Even without Gantz’s National Unity party, this departure will not automatically trigger early elections. However, it does sharpen the rivalry between Gantz and Netanyahu.

Polling and political rivalry

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For the past year, polls have suggested that National Unity would win new elections. Recently, however, the gap has narrowed, and Gantz leaves the emergency government with his party’s lead at its smallest margin in months, while support for Netanyahu inches back from its lowest point.

This shift is critical as the rivalry between Gantz and Netanyahu intensifies.

Gantz’s political journey

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The son of Holocaust survivors, Gantz made his name in the military, joining an elite paratrooper unit and eventually becoming chief of staff.

On entering politics in 2018, he positioned himself as a centrist, building ties across Israeli society, from Tel Aviv liberals to the deeply religious ultraorthodox community.

He was also more open to the Palestinians than some of his counterparts, hosting President Mahmoud Abbas at his home in 2021.

Colleagues and diplomats portray Gantz as a serious, focused man who turned to politics out of a desire to serve.

This sense of responsibility was evident in the two biggest decisions of his political career: entering a grand coalition with Netanyahu after the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in 2020 and joining Netanyahu’s post-October 7 emergency wartime coalition.

Criticism and defense of decisions

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Critics argue that Gantz’s decision to join the coalition with Netanyahu in 2020 showed political naivety, as Netanyahu engineered the coalition’s demise by failing to pass a budget before Gantz could assume the role of prime minister.

Despite this, Gantz’s allies maintain that joining the coalition was the right decision for Israel and politically beneficial for Gantz.

Future political landscape

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The big question is whether Gantz’s second departure from Netanyahu will work out better. His presence in the war cabinet played a crucial role in the course of the fighting, preventing Israel from opening a second front against Hizbollah and prioritizing the release of hostages.

However, as National Unity’s lead in the polls has melted, analysts suggest that some of Gantz’s support might shift elsewhere if new alliances emerge.

Last month, three opposition groups — Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party — agreed to coordinate efforts to oust Netanyahu.

There is also speculation that former prime minister Naftali Bennett and ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen could enter the political fray.

A recent poll suggested that a party uniting Liebermann, Bennett, Cohen, and Saar could become Israel’s third biggest, potentially taking votes from Gantz.

Change in Gantz, Netanyahu dynamics

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Gantz will also face renewed attacks from Netanyahu. The prime minister and his proxies have previously directed fierce criticism at him, and Gantz’s resignation will likely trigger another wave of attacks.

People who have worked with Gantz say that the attacks he endured in 2019 hardened his approach to politics, leaving him better prepared to withstand future challenges.

To defeat Netanyahu, Gantz will need to adopt a more aggressive political strategy. Benny Gantz’s resignation marks a significant shift in Israel’s political landscape, highlighting the deep divisions within the government and the challenges ahead for both Gantz and Netanyahu.

As the political dynamics evolve, all eyes will be on how these leaders navigate the path to the next elections.

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