JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was publicly challenged on Wednesday about plans for the Gaza Strip by his own defence chief, who vowed to oppose any long-term military rule by Israel over the ravaged Palestinian enclave.

The televised statement by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant marked the most vocal dissent from within Israel’s top echelon against Netanyahu during a seven-month-old and multi-front conflict that has set off political fissures at home and abroad.

Netanyahu hinted, in a riposte which did not explicitly name Gallant, that the retired admiral was making “excuses” for not yet having destroyed Hamas in a conflict now in its eighth month.

But the veteran conservative premier soon appeared to be outflanked within his own war cabinet: centrist ex-general Benny Gantz, the only voting member of the forum other than Netanyahu and Gallant, said the defence minister had “spoken the truth”.

While reiterating the Netanyahu government’s goals of `destroying Hamas’ and recovering remaining prisoners, Gallant said these must be complemented by laying the groundwork for alternative Palestinian rule.

“We must dismantle Hamas governing capabilities in Gaza. The key to this goal is military action, and the establishment of a governing alternative in Gaza,” Gallant said.

“In the absence of such an alternative, only two negative options remain: Hamas rule in Gaza or Israeli military rule in Gaza,” he added, saying he would oppose the latter scenario and urging Netanyahu to formally forswear it.

Gallant said that, since October, he had tried to promote a plan to set up a “non-hostile Palestinian governing alternative” to Hamas but got no response from the Israeli cabinet.

The format of his broadside, a pre-announced news conference carried live by Israeli TV and radio, recalled Gallant’s bombshell warning in March last year that foment over a judicial overhaul pursued by Netanyahu was threatening military cohesion.

At the time, Netanyahu announced that Gallant would be fired, but backed down amid a deluge of street demonstrations. Some defence analysts believe Gallant’s prediction was borne out by Hamas’s ability to blindside Israeli forces a few months later.

Asked on Wednesday whether he was worried he may again face being ousted, Gallant said: “I’m not blaming anyone. In a democratic country, I believe, it’s appropriate for a person, especially the defence minister who holds a position, to make it public.”

Gallant’s Gaza criticism recalled that of the United States, which has sought to parlay the conflict into a role for the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which wields limited governance in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu has refused this, describing the PA as a hostile entity and repeated this position in a video statement he issued on social media within an hour of Gallant’s remarks.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

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