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Netanyahu sidelines Gantz in truce talks as tensions mount

But the latter's people claim he will be involved in decisions going forward.

Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister in April 2021, flanked by Benny Gantz and Israel Katz. Photo: Oren Ben Hakoon.
Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister in April 2021, flanked by Benny Gantz and Israel Katz. Photo: Oren Ben Hakoon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to exclude Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz, a member of the War Cabinet, from decision-making in the negotiations taking place in Qatar for the release of the captives held in Gaza.

Gantz’s associates are complaining about the decision, but this is not expected to lead to his National Unity Party breaking up the emergency government formed after Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre.

Netanyahu informed Cabinet members of his decision during a discussion on Sunday. He said that from now on, the directives for the Israeli delegation would only be determined by himself and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

This is in contrast to previous rounds of negotiations, where decisions were made by the Netanyahu-Gallant-Gantz triangle (the voting members of the War Cabinet) authorized to do so by the Security Cabinet.

In recent days, the relationship between Netanyahu and Gantz has been described by several sources as the worst since the start of the war. They said it appeared Netanyahu was seeking to distance Gantz from decision-making processes, contrary to the explicit agreement that paved the way for Gantz’s party to join the coalition in October. The parties had then agreed that Gantz would be a full partner in managing all war efforts, including leading negotiations for the release of captives.

Members of Gantz’s circle said on Sunday that Netanyahu continued to engage in petty politics during wartime, when fateful issues are on the table, foremost being the matter of the captives. Gantz’s people claim that in practice, he was involved in approving the mandate given to the delegation that left for Qatar, and will also be involved in decision-making going forward.

Less flexibility

Removing Gantz from the negotiations is just one change Netanyahu made at the last minute before the delegation headed by Mossad chief Dedi Barnea left for talks in Qatar. Netanyahu also made changes to the mandate given to the delegation, leaving it with less flexibility than originally determined.

A source familiar with the matter said it appeared Netanyahu sought to appease the far-right representatives in his government. According to the source, a heavy cloud of doubt hovers over Netanyahu’s decisions as to whether he truly wishes to reach a deal.

In the discussions of the War Cabinet, there was consensus among all ministers and all security chiefs (the IDF chief of staff, Shin Bet head, Mossad director, and the captives coordinator Nitzan Alon) that progress could be made towards a deal. But Netanyahu decided to transfer the decision to the broader Cabinet.

The officials expressed concern that the strategy employed by the prime minister could jeopardize negotiations and that in such a case, he would blame Hamas, claiming its excessive demands foiled the talks.

The assessment is that the negotiations in Qatar will be tough and crisis-ridden, among other reasons because the only figure in Hamas authorized to make decisions is the Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, communication with whom is problematic, regardless of the delaying tactics he employs. The estimate is that at least two weeks will be needed.

Israel hopes the deal will lead to the release of 40 living captives: women (including female soldiers), elderly and wounded. The price demanded by Hamas in return is unacceptable to Israel, mainly regarding Hamas’s demand to choose who gets released from  Israeli prisons.

However, it is clear to decision-makers that terrorist murderers will need to be released as part of a deal—an issue expected to spark intense controversy in the Cabinet against the backdrop of the declared opposition of right-wing members. Even after the list of terrorist prisoners is finalized, a decision will be needed as to where they will be released, their homes or abroad.

Another contentious issue is Hamas’s demand to allow the full return of residents of the northern Gaza Strip to their homes. Israel opposes this to prevent Hamas from rebuilding its strength in that area, where the IDF continues to carry out intense raids, like the one conducted in the Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City.

The return of residents to northern Gaza would hinder the continuation of military activity in the area, and increase the risk to Israeli communities near the Strip where Jerusalem seeks to allow residents to begin a gradual process of returning home.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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