As international pressure grows to extend a temporary cease-fire with Hamas, some right-wing members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are threatening to bring it down if he does not resume fighting in Gaza.
The far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said on Wednesday that if Israel did not continue its war with Hamas, his political faction would leave the government coalition.
“Stopping the war = breaking apart the government,” said Mr. Ben-Gvir in a written statement.
While Mr. Ben-Gvir’s departure alone would not topple the government, it would give Mr. Netanyahu a very slim majority to keep his hold on power.
On Monday, Israel and Hamas agreed to prolong their cease-fire to six days from four, under a deal that would see the ongoing exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages, and mediators are trying to hammer out another extension. The longer pause was largely cheered by the Israeli public, which has been watching round-the-clock news coverage documenting the return of Israeli civilians who were kidnapped from their homes on Oct. 7.
But far-right members of Mr. Netanyahu’s government have been critical of the cease-fire, arguing that Israel should continue its military assault on Gaza. Mr. Ben-Gvir, who went from being a fringe figure in the Israeli settler movement to his current role in Mr. Netanyahu’s government, has been especially vocal, at times calling for Israel to “eliminate” anyone who supports Hamas.
Mr. Netanyahu can ill afford to alienate Mr. Ben-Gvir, who is part of a right-wing coalition of parties who give the prime minister a slim majority in the parliament. If he fails to hold a majority of the 120 seats, he would need to try to form a new coalition, or face another national election.
Two members of Mr. Netanyahu’s staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said the Israeli prime minister wanted to avoid elections at any cost.
Mr. Netanyahu’s approval ratings have steadily declined since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. In a poll conducted by Israel’s Bar-Ilan University earlier this month, trust in Mr. Netanyahu was at 4 percent. In another poll, conducted by the Israeli Maariv newspaper last week, 57 percent of Israelis said they would vote for Benny Gantz, a moderate member of Mr. Netanyahu’s war cabinet, for prime minister, over the 27 percent who said they would vote for Mr. Netanyahu.
Mr. Netanyahu has also been conducting his own polling, said the two staff members, and felt he would not fare well in a national election if it were held in the coming months.