Netanyahu Dissolved His War Cabinet. How Will That Affect Cease-Fire Efforts?

AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg
People take part in a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, demanding new elections and the release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip, outside of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 17, 2024.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his war Cabinet Monday, a move that consolidates his influence over the Israel-Hamas war and likely diminishes the odds of a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip anytime soon.

Netanyahu announced the step days after his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, withdrew from the three-member war Cabinet. Gantz, a retired general and member of parliament, was widely seen as a more moderate voice.

Major war policies will now be solely approved by Netanyahu’s security Cabinet — a larger body that is dominated by hard-liners who oppose the U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal and want to press ahead with the war.

Netanyahu is expected to consult on some decisions with close allies in ad-hoc meetings, said an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

These closed-door meetings could blunt some of the influence of the hard-liners. But Netanyahu himself has shown little enthusiasm for the cease-fire plan and his reliance on the full security Cabinet could give him cover to prolong a decision.

Here’s key background about the war Cabinet, and what disbanding it means for cease-fire prospects:

Why did Gantz join and then quit the war Cabinet?The war Cabinet was formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel when Gantz, an opposition party leader, joined with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a show of unity.

At the time, Gantz demanded that a small decision-making body steer the war in a bid to sideline far-right members of Netanyahu’s government.

But Gantz left the Cabinet earlier this month after months of mounting tensions over Israel’s strategy in Gaza.

He said he was fed up with a lack of progress bringing home the dozens of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. He accused Netanyahu of drawing out the war to avoid new elections and a corruption trial. He called on Netanyahu to endorse a plan that — among other points — would rescue the captives and end Hamas rule in Gaza.

When Netanyahu did not express support for the plan, Gantz announced his departure. He said that “fateful strategic decisions” in the Cabinet were being “met with hesitancy and procrastination due to political considerations.”

How will Israel’s wartime policies likely be changed?The disbanding of the war Cabinet only further distances Netanyahu from centrist politicians more open to a cease-fire deal with Hamas.

Months of cease-fire talks have failed to find common ground between Hamas and Israeli leaders. Both Israel and Hamas have been reluctant to fully endorse a U.S.-backed plan that would return hostages, clear the way for an end to the war, and commence a rebuilding effort of the decimated territory.

Netanyahu will now rely on the members of his security Cabinet, some of whom oppose cease-fire deals and have voiced support for reoccupying Gaza.

After Gantz’s departure, Israel’s ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, demanded inclusion in a renewed war Cabinet. Monday’s move could help keep Ben-Gvir at a distance, but it cannot sideline him altogether.

The move also gives Netanyahu leeway to draw out the war to stay in power. Netanyahu’s critics accuse him of delaying because an end to the war would mean an investigation into the government’s failures on Oct. 7 and raise the likelihood of new elections when the prime minister’s popularity is low.

“It means that he will make all the decisions himself, or with people that he trusts who don’t challenge him,” said Gideon Rahat, chairman of the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “And his interest is in having a slow-attrition war.”