Gantz asks Netanyahu and the ICC – what comes next for Israel?

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Gaza, Palestinian, Israel

Israel is in turmoil. Even before the current conflict escalated on October 7, the nation was already grappling with deep internal and external challenges. Its ongoing war on Gaza has turned into a significant stigma, haunting the country, its government, and its standing among nations. This conflict has evolved into Israel’s longest, most horrific, and most controversial confrontation to date. The declared objectives of the war remain unfulfilled as the conflict enters its eighth month with no end in sight. Inside Israel, the debate is not about the catastrophic outcomes of the Israeli offensive on Gaza-resulting in over 35,000 Palestinian deaths and 10,000 missing-but rather focuses on two primary issues: the return of Israeli captives and forming a post-war plan that excludes Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indecisive on both matters. He has rejected last-minute deals to end the fighting and retrieve all hostages and failed to present a pragmatic plan for the post-war era that satisfies Israel’s political and military bodies, the US, and the international community. In response, he has sanctioned, against US warnings, an aggressive assault on heavily populated Rafah, hoping to deliver a decisive victory against Hamas and impose his vague vision for Gaza’s future. However, this strategy is faltering, resulting in a prolonged insurgency, as noted by a beleaguered US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Recent battles in Jabalia, in northern Gaza, have been some of the fiercest since the war’s early days.

In a significant development, War Cabinet member and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu: He will leave the government on June 8 if it does not formulate a new war plan, including an international, Arab, and Palestinian administration to manage civilian affairs in Gaza. Gantz urged Netanyahu to prioritize Israel’s interests over his own political survival.

The potential consequences of Gantz’s withdrawal from the coalition are profound. Netanyahu has become heavily reliant on his far-right partners, effectively becoming a hostage to their demands. Gantz’s threat, therefore, must be taken seriously. His departure would weaken the coalition and could potentially topple the government, triggering an early election in which Gantz and his broader coalition could emerge victorious. Gantz is perceived as a more moderate alternative to Netanyahu and his radical allies by the Biden administration, which has grown increasingly frustrated with the current prime minister.

Complicating the political landscape further is the shocking announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday. Prosecutor Karim Khan revealed that he is seeking arrest warrants for senior Israeli and Hamas officials, including Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The proposed warrants also target Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other key Hamas military leaders.

Khan has faced mounting pressure for months to respond to documented Israeli atrocities, including crimes against humanity. Ignoring intimidation from US lawmakers, Khan has finally acted, asserting that there are reasonable grounds to believe that both Netanyahu and Sinwar bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity from the onset of Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 onwards. ICC judges will now evaluate the evidence to determine whether to issue arrest warrants, a process that could take weeks or months.

Regardless of the ICC’s ultimate decision, this development is a political earthquake for Israel and its allies. Should the warrants be issued, Israel’s top political leaders will become internationally wanted individuals. This will have deep and far-reaching repercussions both domestically and internationally.

Top US leaders have already condemned the ICC’s actions. President Joe Biden described the ICC move as “outrageous,” while other lawmakers threatened retaliatory measures against the court and its judges. Israeli politicians, too, have united in denouncing the ICC decision, looking to the US to adopt measures to discredit the court, despite neither country being a member of the ICC.

Gantz has criticized the ICC’s equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid has also condemned the ICC but hinted that Israel’s current predicament is a result of Netanyahu’s policies. For now, Israel will likely present a united front against the ICC’s actions, but this unity may not last. There is a growing belief that Israel would not have reached such a dire situation without Netanyahu’s leadership, leading to increasing calls for his resignation.

How Gantz will leverage this significant development to his advantage remains to be seen. The ICC’s move presents an unprecedented challenge for Israel, one unlike any it has faced in its short history. Meanwhile, the ICC itself faces an existential challenge. Since its establishment in 2002, the court has overseen more than 30 cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity. Failure to address the situation in Gaza could undermine its credibility, while taking decisive action could restore faith in international law and the rules-based order.

Gantz might use the mounting international pressure on Israel to destabilize Netanyahu’s government. However, this will not be an easy task. Netanyahu will fight to maintain his government’s survival, likely using the ICC indictments to rally nationalistic sentiments and claim that Israel is under attack from an anti-Semitic conspiracy.

It is important to note that while Gantz may disagree with Netanyahu’s tactics, he is no dove. Israeli society has become increasingly anti-Palestinian, particularly since October 7. Gantz may support the existence of a Palestinian Authority, but only as a proxy under extended Israeli control of the West Bank. He is unlikely to support a two-state solution. Therefore, even if Gantz were to replace Netanyahu, the fundamental policies towards Palestinian territories would likely remain unchanged.

Now, Israel stands at a crossroads. The current turmoil and the ICC’s unprecedented move have created a complex and volatile situation. While Benny Gantz poses a significant challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership, the path forward is fraught with difficulty. The potential for an early election looms, but whether this will lead to meaningful change remains uncertain. What is clear is that Israel must navigate these challenges with careful consideration of its long-term national interests and its standing in the international community.

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