Netanyahu's top rival left Israel's war Cabinet. How does that affect the prime minister and Gaza?

JERUSALEM (AP) — The resignation of a senior member of Israel's war Cabinet was a dramatic show of distrust in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his strategy for the eight-month-old war with Hamas.

But the departure of Benny Gantz does not immediately appear to threaten Netanyahu, who still controls a majority coalition in parliament.

For now, the Israeli leader becomes more heavily reliant on far-right allies who oppose the latest U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal and want to press ahead with the war.

Here’s a look at what Gantz’s decision means for Israeli politics and for the war.

Why did Gantz resign and what was his war plan?

Gantz, a centrist who is seen as Netanyahu's main political opponent, resigned after months of mounting tensions within the war Cabinet over Israel's strategy in Gaza.

On Oct. 7, Hamas militants killed some 1,200 people across southern Israel and took about 250 hostages back to Gaza. Since then, Netanyahu has pledged twin goals: defeating Hamas and bringing back the hostages.

But as the war has stretched on, many Israelis — including Gantz — have grown frustrated with the lack of progress to bring home the captives and to secure a cease-fire deal. They say Netanyahu has placed his own political survival ahead of the country’s interests, prolonging the war to avoid new elections and his own corruption trial.

Gantz, whose popularity has grown since the start of the war, gave Netanyahu an ultimatum last month.

He threatened to leave the government on June 8 if Netanyahu did not endorse a plan to return hostages, end Hamas’ rule, demilitarize the Gaza Strip, establish an international administration of civilian affairs in Gaza, normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and widen military service to all Israelis.

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

Gantz’s departure from the war Cabinet returns him to his pre-war role of opposition leader in Israel’s parliament.

What does Gantz’s resignation mean for Israel’s government?

The move does not immediately pose a threat to Netanyahu, who controls a coalition with 64 of the 120 seats in parliament.

But Gantz, a longtime rival of Netanyahu, called for Israel to hold elections in the fall during his resignation speech. He also encouraged the third member of the war Cabinet, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, to “do the right thing” and resign.

The resignation strips a moderate voice from Israel's far-right coalition. Gantz’s National Unity party joined the emergency government in the days after Hamas attack in a show of unity.

The departure of Gantz, a former defense minister who is widely respected in Washington, will likely embolden and empower Israel’s ultranationalist ministers who have fiercely opposed all cease-fire deals.

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, two of the most extreme ministers within Israel’s unruly government, have called for Palestinians to be removed from Gaza and then for Israeli settlements to be re-established there. It’s a policy the war Cabinet has so far ruled out.

Netanyahu pleaded with Gantz on Sunday not to resign: “This is the time for unity, not for division,” the Prime Minister said in a post on X.

What does the resignation mean for the war?

The U.S. publicized a cease-fire proposal in early June that Biden said Israel supported. But with Gantz's resignation, Netanyahu may now be tempted to disregard the proposal so he can preserve his government and stay in power.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Hamas on Tuesday to accept the proposal, saying that the U.N. Security Council’s vote made it “as clear as it possibly could be” that the world supports the plan.

The U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal includes a phased release of hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, a surge of humanitarian aid into Gaza, a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territory and a reconstruction effort.

The far-right members of Netanyahu's coalition have threatened to leave the government if Israel does not press forward militarily in Gaza. Their departure would fracture the government and lead to new elections in which Netanyahu would likely face a stiff challenge from Gantz.

Julia Frankel And Jack Jeffery, The Associated Press