Netanyahu allies lash out at Gantz over Washington trip

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies have lashed out at senior minister Benny Gantz for an upcoming visit to the White House, in a sign of growing strains within Israel’s war cabinet and in its relations with Washington.

Gantz, a former defence minister who joined Netanyahu’s coalition in the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, said he told the prime minister on Friday of his plans to see senior US officials so that the two could “co-ordinate messaging”.

But in an indication of Netanyahu’s displeasure, the Israeli embassy in Washington was ordered to boycott Gantz’s meetings, according to one person familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s allies accused Gantz of acting like a “Trojan horse” against Israeli interests.

The trip comes as American officials have indicated that US President Joe Biden is increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu, as their long-difficult relationship reaches a new low point amid Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.

Some in the Biden administration prefer working with Gantz and view him as a good test of where the Israeli public stands on major policy issues, such as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Gantz is set to hold meetings on Monday with US vice-president Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Dudi Amsalem, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party known to be close to the premier, chided Gantz for violating government protocol, describing him as the person Americans probably see as “the address to lead the process of a Palestinian state and the cessation of fighting in Gaza”.

“You entered the emergency government to create a consensus during wartime . . . not to stop the [Israel Defense Forces] from winning the war,” he wrote on the social media platform X.

Harris on Sunday urged the Israeli government to “do more to significantly increase the flow of aid” to Gaza.

She also called for an “immediate ceasefire” in the Israel-Hamas war under the auspices of a deal being brokered by several nations including the US.

The deal proposes a six week break in hostilities, and would enable the exchange of vulnerable hostages held by Hamas since October 7 such as women and the elderly, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” said Harris.

Gantz’s National Unity party has soared in popularity in opinion polls in recent months at the expense of Likud, with the former army chief consistently leading Netanyahu on the question of suitability for the premiership.

The rivalry between the two, dating back several years, has resurfaced despite their partnership in the wartime unity government.

Gantz has on several occasions reprimanded Netanyahu for his open criticism of the country’s security chiefs, and for siding with ultranationalist ministers on policy relating to the Gaza campaign.

Over the past week a new faultline emerged over potentially ending military conscription exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox.

Gantz’s proposal is an anathema to the ultra-Orthodox parties that constitute a key pillar of Netanyahu’s coalition.

A person with knowledge of Gantz’s trip said the visit was meant to strengthen ties with Washington, ensure the continuation of US military aid, and discuss various diplomatic initiatives, including the proposed hostage deal with Hamas.

The person added that another goal of the visit was “preserving the legitimacy for the continuation of Israel’s ground operation in Gaza”.

The US administration has over the past week increased its criticism of the Israeli offensive, due primarily to the worsening humanitarian conditions inside the devastated enclave.

The US on Saturday began airdrops of aid packages over Gaza, a move viewed by many analysts as a direct reaction to the bloodshed on Thursday around a private aid convoy under the protection of the Israeli military.

Health authorities in Gaza and eyewitnesses alleged that Israeli troops opened fire at desperate crowds seeking food, killing more than 100 people.

The Israeli military has denied those claims, and said on Sunday that its initial review of the incident indicated that “the majority of Palestinians were killed or injured as a result of [a] stampede” around the convoy.

Yet Daniel Hagari, chief Israeli military spokesman, did admit “several individuals” were hit by Israeli fire as “looters approached our forces and posed an immediate threat to them”.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, on Sunday described the Israeli fire during the incident as “unjustifiable”, as he called for an “impartial international investigation”.

The provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza during wartime has been a major point of contention inside the Israeli government.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister, has decried the policy and tacitly permitted far-right protesters to block crossings into Gaza.

Ben-Gvir on Sunday urged Netanyahu to consider sacking Gantz for insubordination.

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