Far-right Israeli ministers threaten to quit over ceasefire plan

Prime Minister Netanyahu faces increasing domestic and international pressure over Gaza war

A protester with a message at a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in Tel Aviv. Calls for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas militant group are increasing. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing mounting pressure after two far-right ministers threatened to quit his cabinet if he proceeds with a ceasefire proposal set out by US President Joe Biden.

Mr Biden on Friday announced an Israeli plan to end the war in Gaza and win the release of hostages. Palestinian militant group Hamas said it viewed the proposed deal “positively.”

But Mr Netanyahu's coalition partners, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said they would resign if the deal was implemented.

Mr Ben Gvir, a staunch supporter of the war in Gaza, said his ultranationalist Jewish National Front party would “dissolve the government” if the deal went through.

“Agreeing to such a deal is not total victory – but total defeat,” he said.

Mr Smotrich, of the Religious Zionism party, said he did not “want to be part of a government that will agree to the proposed outline”.

Both ministers said that the deal would end the fighting without destroying Hamas – Mr Netanyahu's objective for the war.

“We demand the continuation of the war until Hamas is destroyed and all hostages return,” Mr Smotrich said on X. He added that he stands against the return of displaced Palestinians to the north of Gaza as well as the “release of terrorists”.

While the two parties are central to Mr Netanyahu's governing majority, he faces additional pressure from other members of his coalition as relations with his allies continue to fracture.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz, who joined the coalition after October 7, has threatened to leave if Mr Netanyahu does not agree to a postwar plan.

Last week, Mr Gantz's National Unity Party submitted a bill to dissolve parliament, in a move that could lead to elections.

The minister had set a June 8 deadline after which his party would leave the coalition if Mr Netanyahu did not commit to a plan for Gaza, where the war will enter its ninth month.

The National Unity Party only holds eight seats, and Mr Netanyahu is likely to stay in power without it, but that might not be possible if his far-right allies quit the government.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid criticised Mr Ben Gvir and Mr Smotrich for their threats to resign, calling their statements a “neglect of national security”.

“This is the worst and most promiscuous government in the country's history,” he said in a post on X.

Earlier, Mr Lapid had promised Mr Netanyahu that his party would provide him with political safety if his far-right partners left the government.

Thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday urging Mr Netanyahu to accept the deal that could bring the hostages home. The government has faced increasing anger from the families of the captives, accusing the leadership of not prioritising the safe return of their loved ones.

The war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,200 people. Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain Gaza.

Israeli campaign group Hostages and Missing Families Forum released a statement calling “on all government ministers and coalition members to publicly commit to supporting the deal and not to allow the possibility of torpedoing it and endangering the hostages”.

Some world leaders supported the plan, urging Mr Netanyahu and Hamas to use the opportunity to put an end to the fighting that has killed more than 36,300 Palestinians in Gaza and created a humanitarian crisis.

The first phase of the proposal involves a six-week ceasefire when Israeli forces would withdraw from “all populated areas” of Gaza, and some hostages – including the elderly and women – would be freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian detainees.

Palestinian civilians could return to their homes in Gaza and 600 lorries a day would take humanitarian aid into the enclave.

The three-phased ceasefire would begin with Hamas and Israel negotiating a permanent ceasefire that Mr Biden said would last “as long as Hamas lives up to its commitments”.

In the second phase, Mr Biden said there would be an exchange for all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers, and Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza and the permanent ceasefire would begin.

The third phase would then include a major reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of the remains of hostages to their families.

Updated: June 13, 2024, 12:51 PM