Gantz bolts wartime unity government

Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich called Gantz’s resignation ‘irresponsible’ and said it is ‘just what Sinwar, Nasrallah, and Iran were aiming for.’

By Troy Osher Fritzhand, Akiva Van Koningsveld, JNS and World Israel News Staff

War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday night announced his National Unity Party’s departure from the government set up in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre and the ensuing Gaza war.

Speaking at a press conference in Ramat Gan, Gantz said, “It was an easy decision to enter the government, but the decision to leave was very difficult.”

“Unfortunately, Netanyahu is stopping us from reaching a true victory,” continued Gantz. “Therefore, we are now leaving, today, the unity government. With a heavy heart, but wholeheartedly.”

Gantz also demanded that Netanyahu do “everything he can” to advance U.S. President Joe Biden’s outline for a hostages-for-ceasefire deal with Hamas. National Unity will back “any responsible roadmap” from the opposition, vowed Gantz.

Gantz called on the remaining members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to “listen to their conscience,” singling out Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who has frequently clashed with the premier in recent months.

“This war has led me to appreciate you even more,” Gantz said of Gallant.

“To ensure true victory, we must go to elections after which a government will be formed which will be trusted by its citizens,” said the National Unity Party leader.

Gantz also demanded that Netanyahu do “everything he can” to advance U.S. President Joe Biden’s outline for a hostages-for-ceasefire deal with Hamas. National Unity will back “any responsible roadmap” from the opposition, vowed Gantz.

During the press conference, Netanyahu issued a statement urging Gantz to reconsider his decision, saying that “this is not the time to abandon the campaign [against Hamas]—this is the time to join forces.”

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“We will continue until victory and the achievement of all the war goals, primarily the release of all our hostages and the elimination of Hamas,” continued the premier.

“My door will remain open to any Zionist party willing to shoulder the burden and help attain victory over our enemies and ensure the safety of our citizens,” he concluded.

Gantz’s decision to leave the government was reportedly made on Thursday at a party meeting in Tel Aviv.

Observers had anticipated that due to the continuing indirect talks with Hamas over a hostages-for-prisoners deal, Gantz might back out of pledge last month to bolt the government by June 8 if no plan for the “day after” Hamas in Gaza was formulated.

The former army chief of staff had initially been scheduled to speak to the press on Saturday night, supposedly to announce his resignation from the government.

Despite the National Unity party’s eight lawmakers joining the opposition, it will not topple the government. Netanyahu still has a 64-member majority in the 120-MK legislature.

“This is the time for unity and not for division. We must remain united within ourselves in the face of the great tasks before us. I call on Benny Gantz—do not leave the emergency government. Don’t give up on unity,” Netanyahu said on Saturday night, hours after the daring IDF/Border Police/Shin Bet rescue of four hostages from the Gaza Strip.

Gantz responded: “We have a reason to be happy. We have what and whom we can be proud of. You can imagine the shock of the freed people who suddenly changed their world again, and this time for the better. My friends and I, along with the entire people of Israel, rejoice with the families of the returnees and at the same time strengthen the families who are still awaiting the return of their loved ones.”

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At the same time, he continued, “It should be remembered that all the challenges that Israel faces, regarding the return of the other 120 hostages, and regarding the other security challenges in general in the theaters of war, vis-à-vis the region, vis-à-vis the world as well as domestically—remain as they were. Therefore, I say to the prime minister and to the general leadership—it is incumbent upon us to take a serious look at how we can and should proceed from here.”

National Security Minister and Oztma Yehudit Party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has been calling for Gantz’s departure for some time, welcomed the news.

“I will demand that our power be expressed. I need to go back and be a leading force like we were before Gantz came in,” Ben-Gvir said.

“Gaza must be conquered. We must also fight with Hezbollah [in Lebanon], because there is no alternative. We have contented ourselves enough with peace agreements and disengagement, only through war can they be defeated,” he added.

Otzma Yehudit issued a statement on Thursday saying the party would reverse a June 5 decision to suspend its role in Netanyahu’s coalition “in light of what appears to be Hamas’s rejection of the reckless deal and Gantz’s expected departure from the government.”

However, Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich called Gantz’s resignation “irresponsible” and said it is “just what Sinwar, Nasrallah, and Iran were aiming for.”

Smotrich wrote on X, “Today, your step is aimed at dismantling this cohesion for political reasons and is irresponsible.”

“There is no less stately act than resigning from a government during a war. This is exactly what Sinwar, Nasrallah, and Iran were aiming for, and unfortunately, you are fulfilling their request,” Smotrich wrote.

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However, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman wrote on X, “Better late than never, the time has come for a Zionist coalition.”

Opposition Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid applauded Gantz’s decision to leave the government and posted on X, “Gantz and Eisenkot’s decision to leave the failed government is important and just.”

Lapid added, “The time has come to replace this extreme government with a sane government that will lead to the return of security to the citizens of Israel, to the return of the hostages, to the restoration of Israel’s economy and international status.”

Labor leader Yair Golan called Gantz’s departure “too late.”

“I do not doubt that on a personal level, Benny Gantz had good intentions. He is a patriot who worries about the fate of this country – just like us. His decision to resign from the government was the biggest failure in the country’s history – necessary, appropriate, but late. Too late,” Golan wrote.

Gantz announced in mid-May that he would exit the government unless Netanyahu presented a post-war plan for Gaza. Gantz set the deadline of June 8 for a plan of action accomplishing what he said were six key strategic goals of the war.

He listed these as: Bringing home the hostages; destroying Hamas, demilitarizing the Gaza Strip and establishing Israeli security control there; creating an “international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza” including Palestinians but not Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas; returning Israeli residents to the north and rehabilitating the western Negev; advancing normalization with Saudi Arabia; and establishing a new framework for Israelis’ military service.