DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Benny Gantz, a popular centrist member of Israel’s three-member War Cabinet, threatened Saturday to resign from the government if it doesn’t adopt a new plan in three weeks’ time for the war in Gaza, a decision that would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more reliant on far-right allies.

The announcement deepens a divide in Israel’s leadership more than seven months into a war in which Israel has yet to accomplish its goals of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages abducted in the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack.

Gantz spelled out a six-point plan that includes the return of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule, demilitarizing the Gaza Strip and establishing an international administration of civilian affairs with American, European, Arab and Palestinian cooperation. The plan also supports efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and widen military service to all Israelis.

He gave a June 8 deadline. “If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss — we will be forced to quit the government,” he said.

Netanyahu in a statement responded by saying Gantz had chosen to issue an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of to Hamas, and called his conditions “euphemisms” for Israel’s defeat.

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Gantz, a longtime political rival of Netanyahu, joined his coalition and the War Cabinet in the early days of the war in a gesture at national unity. His departure would leave Netanyahu more beholden to far-right allies who believe Israel should occupy Gaza and rebuild Jewish settlements there.

Gantz spoke days after Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the third member of the War Cabinet, said he would not remain in his post if Israel elected to reoccupy Gaza, and called on the government to make plans for a Palestinian administration.

In what was seen as a swipe at Netanyahu, Gantz said “personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate into the holy of holies of Israel’s security.” Netanyahu’s critics accuse the prime minister of seeking to prolong the war to avoid new elections, allegations he denies.

Polls suggest Gantz as the most likely candidate to be the next prime minister. That would expose Netanyahu to prosecution on longstanding corruption charges.

Netanyahu is under growing pressure on multiple fronts. Hard-liners want the military offensive on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah to press ahead. Top ally the U.S. and others warn against the offensive on a city where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million had sheltered — hundreds of thousands have now fled — and they threaten to scale back support over Gaza’s humanitarian and hunger crisis.

The U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will be in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend to discuss the war and is scheduled on Sunday to meet with Netanyahu, who has declared that Israel would “stand alone” if needed.

Many Israelis, anguished over the hostages and accusing Netanyahu of putting political interests ahead of all else, want a deal to stop the fighting. There was fresh frustration Friday when the military said its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas on Oct. 7. Israel on Saturday announced the discovery of the body of a fourth hostage.

Thousands of Israelis again rallied Saturday evening to demand a deal along with new elections. Some police in Tel Aviv responded with water cannons.

“This government is taking the country to places that I don’t want to see my country go,” said one protester, Noam Fagi.

The latest talks in pursuit of a cease-fire in Gaza, mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, have brought little.

A new effort to deliver desperately needed aid to Gaza appeared to falter Saturday. Several Israeli tanks fired warning shots in an apparent attempt to clear the way for trucks ferrying food supplies on their way from a new U.S.-built pier. One Palestinian was killed, according to Associated Press journalists at the scene. Hundreds of Palestinians gathered around the stopped trucks and carried away boxes.

The Hamas Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more. The Israeli offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, local health officials say.

Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza and partner with local Palestinians who are not affiliated with Hamas or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But Netanyahu said it is impossible to plan for such a postwar authority before Hamas is defeated.

Krauss and Jeffery reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Sam Mednick in Tel Aviv and Natalie Melzer in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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