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Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz to meet US leaders | Israel War on Gaza News

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Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz is set to meet senior Biden administration officials on his visit to the United States.

The proposed meeting of Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, on Monday is reported to have enraged his rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and appears to signal a widening split in Tel Aviv as the war in Gaza enters its fifth month. Considered a comparatively moderate politician from Israel, he will be received by Vice President Kamala Harris, which is being viewed as a sign of the White House’s growing frustration with Netanyahu.

Gantz will also hold talks with the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, according to his National Unity party. On Tuesday, the one-time defence minister will meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has led calls for Netanyahu to allow the passage of more aid to ease the humanitarian suffering in Gaza, where famine now looms, according to the United Nations.

Israel and the US also disagree on how governance for the enclave will look like post-war.

Strengthened ties

Israeli media report that Netanyahu, who was apparently unaware of Gantz’s trip until his rival called him on Friday, has “made it clear to Minister Gantz that the State of Israel only has one prime minister”.

The Israeli embassy in Washington, DC is reported to have been ordered not to facilitate the “unauthorised” trip.

An Israeli official, speaking anonymously to The Associated Press news agency, said the visit is planned to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war on Gaza, and push for Hamas to release all Israeli captives.

US priorities in the region have increasingly been hindered by Netanyahu’s majority ultranationalist cabinet. Gantz’s party, which joined the government in October as the war cabinet was established, presents a counterweight that appears more closely aligned to Washington’s position, although it continues to support Israel with military supplies.

The US has been busy throughout, trying to push a truce, and Israel and Hamas are currently negotiating a possible new deal for a pause in fighting and the release of hostages. It has also urged Netanyahu to avert a planned assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah and to open the way for increased food and medical supplies.

In what is seen as a rare public rebuke for its ally, Harris called in a statement on Sunday for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and repeated the call for more aid to be allowed into the besieged enclave.

On Saturday, the US airdropped aid into Gaza, shortly after Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinians rushing to grab food from an Israel-organised convoy, killing at least 115.

The airdrops bypassed an aid delivery system hobbled by Israeli restrictions, logistical issues, and fighting in Gaza, but aid officials say the method is far less effective than deliveries by truck.

Netanyahu’s popularity falls

Netanyahu’s popularity has dropped markedly since the war broke out, with many in the country holding him responsible for failing to prevent Hamas’s October 7 attack, which killed 1,139 people, and saw about 250 others taken captive.

Israelis accuse his extreme right-wing government of a slow response during the attacks and say his government left victims largely without support in the aftermath.

Although most Israelis back the war and see it as self-defence, thousands marched late on Saturday to call for early elections, according to Israeli media.

a small toddler stands in front of a destroyed building covered in grey dust
A Palestinian child walks amid the rubble of a house destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza City on March 3, 2024 [AFP]

An opinion poll conducted by Israeli Channel 13 showed that 53 percent of Israelis believe that political survival is what is pushing Netanyahu to prolong the war in Gaza.

If elections were held today, the poll showed, Gantz’s National Unity party would clinch 39 seats, compared with 17 for Netanyahu’s Likud party. Opposition Yesh Atid party of Yair Lapid, who has called on Netanyahu to resign, would get 12 seats.

Disagreements with the US, Israel’s biggest ally, have not helped Netanyahu’s standing.

While the White House wants to see progress on Palestinian statehood and a revamped Palestinian leadership running Gaza, Netanyahu and the hardliners in his government oppose that vision.

Meanwhile, Gantz has remained vague about his views on a Palestinian state. Officials from his party have also questioned Netanyahu’s handling of the war and the strategy for freeing the hostages.

If the politician’s visit to the US yields progress on the hostage talks, it could boost his support base at home, and likely, on the international front.

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