Gantz’s challenge to Netanyahu and the ICC: What comes next?

Gantz’s challenge to Netanyahu and the ICC: What comes next?

For now, Israel will show unity and solidarity regarding the ICC move. But that will not last long. (File/AFP)
For now, Israel will show unity and solidarity regarding the ICC move. But that will not last long. (File/AFP)
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Israel is in turmoil. It has been in chaos since before Oct. 7. Its war on Gaza has turned into a stigma, haunting the country, its government, and its standing among nations. This has turned out to be Israel’s longest, most horrific, and most controversial conflict. The declared goals of the war have not been fulfilled as the war enters its eighth month with no visible finishing line. Inside Israel, the debate is not about the calamitous outcome of the Israeli onslaught on Palestinians in Gaza — more than 35,000 dead and 10,000 missing and counting — but over two main issues: returning the Israeli captives alive, and agreeing on a post-war plan that excludes a Hamas role.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been wavering on both issues. He has rejected last-minute deals to end the fighting and retrieve all hostages, and failed to deliver a pragmatic plan for the day after that is acceptable to all stakeholders, mainly Israel’s political and military bodies, the US, and the rest of the world.

So he has sanctioned — against US warnings — an onslaught on heavily populated Rafah, believing that he can deliver a decisive victory against Hamas and force his obscure vision for a post-war plan. That is not working well for him and an exhausted Israeli military. Instead, he faces an enduring insurgency, to quote a beleaguered US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In recent days, the fight in Jabalia, in northern Gaza, has been the fiercest since the early days of the war.

This prompted War Cabinet member and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz to issue an ultimatum to Netanyahu on Saturday: 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 handle civilian affairs in Gaza. He called on Netanyahu to put Israel’s interests ahead of his own.

This has become a political earthquake for Israel and its foreign allies

Osama Al-Sharif

It is unclear what a Gantz withdrawal from the Netanyahu coalition would do. Netanyahu had become dependent on his far-right partners to the extent that he had become a hostage to their will. But Gantz’s threat must be taken seriously. His departure would weaken the coalition and could bring the government down. If that happened, an early election would be called, and Gantz and his broad coalition would likely emerge winners.

Gantz is seen as a more “moderate” replacement to Netanyahu and his radical partners in the eyes of the Biden administration, which has given up on the current premier.

That was the calculus, at least before the shocking declaration by the International Criminal Court announcement on Monday that the prosecutor, Karim Khan, was seeking arrest warrants against senior Israeli and Hamas officials, including Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The proposed arrest warrants include Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant and other key Hamas military leaders.

Khan has been under pressure for months to take action in response to documented Israeli atrocities, including crimes against humanity. Ignoring intimidation by US lawmakers, Khan has finally made his move, saying there are reasonable grounds to believe that both Netanyahu and Sinwar bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity from the day of Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7 onwards.

ICC judges will now decide whether they believe the evidence is sufficient to issue arrest warrants, a process that could take weeks or months.

Regardless of the outcome, this has become a political earthquake for Israel and its foreign allies. Once such warrants are issued, the top political leaders of Israel will become wanted men. But the international and domestic reverberations will go deep.

Already, top US leaders have attacked and attempted to discredit the ICC. President Joe Biden called the ICC move “outrageous.” Other lawmakers threatened to take action against the court and its judges. Israeli politicians moved together to condemn the ICC decision. They looked to the US to adopt measures to discredit the ICC, where the US and Israel are not even members.

Israel will show unity regarding the ICC move, but that will not last long

Osama Al-Sharif

Gantz has attacked the ICC and its equivalence between Israel and Hamas. So did Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who nevertheless hinted that Israel has reached this point because of Netanyahu’s policies.  

For now, Israel will show unity and solidarity regarding the ICC move. But that will not last long. There is a belief that Israel would not have reached such a devastating milestone without Netanyahu. The conclusion will be that he must go.

How Gantz will use this significant development to his advantage remains to be seen. Regardless of how the US reacts to the ICC’s next move, Israel now confronts a dire challenge unlike any it has faced in its short history.

The ICC, with 124 members, also faces an existential challenge. Since it was established in 2002, it has overseen more than 30 cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity. Failure to address the carnage in Gaza would mean its demise. Doing so would restore credibility to the rules-based order and international law covenant.

Away from all this, can Gantz use the overwhelming international pressure on Israel to dismantle the Netanyahu government? That will not be an easy task. Netanyahu will fight until the end to keep his government alive. He will use the ICC indictments to stir emotions that Israel is now under attack by an antisemitic conspiracy.

But it is worth mentioning that while he may disagree with Netanyahu’s tactics, Gantz is no dove. Israeli society has become anti-Palestinian in recent years and more so since Oct. 7. Gantz may support the existence of a Palestinian Authority, but only as a proxy of an extended Israeli control of the West Bank. He will not risk supporting a two-state solution.  

We could see an attempt to dethrone Netanyahu, opening the path for a Gantz rise, but that will not be good news for the Palestinians. The project that Netanyahu has launched will go on: total annexation of Palestinian territories and a derailment of a Palestinian state project.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. X: @plato010
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