Photo Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon / Flash 90
War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz

National Camp leader Benny Gantz on Saturday night communicated to the nation his ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused of being under the influence of a few extremists in the cabinet who are diverting the Israeli strategy into a brick wall. And then he spelled out the ultimatum that sounded a whole lot like what the White House has been saying for the past few months, which Gantz no doubt had been fed by Israel’s American allies.

Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying, “The conditions set by Benny Gantz are washed words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and defeat for Israel.” Also: “While our heroic fighters are combatting to destroy the Hamas battalions in Rafah, Gantz chooses to issue an ultimatum to the Prime Minister instead of issuing an ultimatum to Hamas.”

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So here goes, Gantz wants the following policies to be adopted by June 8, or he and his party would leave the emergency coalition government. Try to identify which of the following points necessitate the establishment of a Palestinian State and which are merely a means to force Netanyahu to commit political suicide:

“So that we can fight shoulder to shoulder, the war cabinet must formulate a comprehensive plan with six objectives:

  • the return of our hostages;
  • the collapse of Hamas and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip;
  • the establishment of a governing alternative;
  • the return of the evacuated residents of the north by September 1;
  • the promotion of normalization (with Saudi Arabia – DI);
  • the adoption of the Israeli military service outline (including the Haredim – DI).”

The first two items, returning the hostages and collapsing Hamas are contradictory. To bring back the hostages today, Israel must strike a deal with Hamas that would inevitably give the terrorist group a new lease on life and thus delay its collapse by months, if not years. At the same time, moving forcefully to collapse Hamas would certainly cause the death of most of the hostages. Also, Gantz has been part of the war cabinet that struggled with this dilemma for months and hasn’t been able to solve it in a way that would satisfy both the families of the hostages and Israel’s existential need for survival.

The Palestinian State items are the call for a governing alternative in Gaza, which the White House, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Egypt say should be the Palestinian Authority, despite its abysmal record in subduing Hamas back in 2007. The other item necessitating the establishment of a Palestinian State is the one about normalization with Saudi Arabia, which Riyadh has always conditioned on the 2-state solution.

Gantz did not dare say out loud that he wanted a Palestinian State because his voters would then abandon him in droves – but neither of those conditions in his ultimatum to Netanyahu can be achieved without it.

As to bringing the residents of the north back to their homes along the Lebanese border, this would be possible only after Hezbollah’s entrenched presence south of the Litani River is obliterated. You’ll notice that Gantz did not advocate an all-out war, carpet bombing, Daisy Cutters and all, on Hezbollah. He couched his point in a directive – as if what was keeping the citizens of Rosh Pina from returning home was a legal prohibition that Netanyahu must remove by September 1.

Again, Gantz has been a member of the war cabinet that forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of Israelis from the border area in response to the escalating confrontations with Hezbollah. Last Friday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah announced openly that the purpose of his attacks on Israel was to inflict attrition on the IDF, to limit its ability to fight in Rafah. This has only two outcomes: one, the attrition continues and Israelis cannot return home; two, Israel obliterates everything living between the Litani and the border. If Gantz supports this strategy, he should say so. He is in a position to direct the IDF to do so.

Regarding the recruitment of Haredi young men, Netanyahu outmaneuvered Gantz last week by submitting to a Knesset vote a Haredi enlistment bill that Gantz himself had authored as defense minister in 2022. It was not a bad bill, and it was passed in the first reading in the Knesset when Naftali Bennett was prime minister. Naturally, when Gantz was faced with his own bill, which, if passed, would get the Supreme Court off Netanyahu’s back about Haredi recruitment, Gantz voiced his objection, saying things have changed.

Mind you, Gantz’s bill said it was intended for the foreseeable tens of years. How did tens of years turn into less than a year and a half? Was it because Gantz as defense minister could not conceive of a massive Hamas attack that would drain the IDF’s human resources?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Belzer Rebbe, January 22, 2017. / Kobi Gideon / GPO

Of course, should Netanyahu accept Gantz’s demand he would lose his Haredi coalition partners, who had a hard time acquiescing to the PM’s clever proposal of Gantz’s original version of the bill. Likewise, Netanyahu would have to say goodbye to most of his voters should he permit the PA to govern Gaza again, and a Saudi deal that includes the 2-state solution would send Netanyahu packing as well.

Religious Zionism Chairman and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whom Gantz included in his reference to a minority of politicians that are pulling Netanyahu to the extreme right, responded:

“Benny, the shuffling in executing the war is because of you and because of your colleagues in the Conceptzia Cabinet who, even after October 7, continue to push for stopping the war and the establishment of a Palestinian state under American pressure.

“The State of Israel will win with Gantz or without him thanks to the heroic fighters and the people of Israel. I call on the Prime Minister to make a strategic decision on full Israeli control of Gaza and a decision that from now on we do not stop our forces in Rafah, as well as in the center and the north of the Gaza Strip until all the goals of the war are achieved: the destruction of Hamas, the return of the hostages, and the removal of the threat, both in the south and in the north, facing Hezbollah.”

You’ll notice that Smotrich, too, fails to note the contradiction between destroying Hamas and bringing back the hostages. Is no one in Netanyahu’s government man enough to speak this truth?

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.