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Benny Gantz resigns as Israeli war cabinet member

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, is seen talking to the media after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on March 4 in Washington, D.C.  He resigned from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emergency government on Sunday.
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Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, is seen talking to the media after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on March 4 in Washington, D.C. He resigned from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emergency government on Sunday.

TEL AVIV — Benny Gantz, a key member of Israel's war cabinet and longtime rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced his resignation from Netanyahu’s government on Sunday evening. The announcement came after an ultimatum by Gantz three weeks ago, demanding — among other things — that Netanyahu come up with a plan to replace Hamas in Gaza by June 8.

“Netanyahu is preventing us from reaching real victory,” said Gantz, a former Israeli army chief, in his Sunday evening speech. He called on Netanyahu to set a date for new elections to take place by the fall.

Gantz’s resignation — delayed by a day due to Israel’s rescue of four hostages from Hamas captivity in Gaza — reflects a growing discontent among the Israeli public and moderates with the protracted war in Gaza and Netanyahu's far-right political partners.

His departure will not topple Netanyahu’s government, analysts say, but without Gantz, a centrist, Netanyahu will now be more dependent on his far-right partners. Polls have shown that Gantz would beat Netanyahu in an election.

Netanyahu, who on Saturday had urged Gantz not to resign, said in a tweet after Gantz’s announcement: “Israel is in an existential war on several fronts. Benny, this is not the time to abandon the campaign - this is the time to join forces.”

Gantz joined Netanyahu’s government at the beginning of the war in Gaza in October and was in the inner circle of decision-making on the war. But he accuses Netanyahu of refusing to embrace a cease-fire deal to end the war and failing to secure the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza because his far-right coalition partners could topple the government over it.

This move by Gantz comes after President Biden announced a three-part roadmap for a cease-fire in Gaza, touting it as the “Israeli plan,” though neither Israel nor Hamas have formally agreed to it.

Some of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners say Israel's military campaign in Gaza takes precedence over a negotiated deal with Hamas for the return of Israeli hostages.

In a letter delivered to Netanyahu when he gave his June 8 ultimatum last month, Gantz presented a six-point plan he demanded the prime minister adopt: prioritizing the return of Israeli hostages from Gaza; returning Israeli civilians displaced by fighting near the Lebanon border to their homes by September; moving toward diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia; creating a governing body, overseen by the U.S., European and Arab parties and unspecified Palestinians, to manage Gaza's civilian affairs after the war; and agreeing to a law for equal military and national service, including ultra-Orthodox Jews who have long been exempt.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.