Netanyahu rival Gantz defends Gaza pullout, supports more withdrawals

“We need to find a way that we’re not ruling over other people,” said Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz, earning the ire of Israel’s right.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

In his first interview since announcing his candidacy for Israeli prime minister, former IDF Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz, who has emerged as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main contender in the run-up to the April 9 elections, appeared to support further withdrawals from Judea and Samaria.

“We need to find a way so that we’re not ruling over other people,” Gantz said.

Gantz prefaced his remarks by noting first that Netanyahu supported a similar position. “We — and Bibi said this in his Bar-Ilan speech — are not looking for control over anyone else,” Gantz said, referring to Netanyahu’s June, 2009 speech at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University, in which he accepted the idea of a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel once certain security conditions are met.

“The main question is a security question. It must ensure the State of Israel in terms of its security,” Gantz, the leader of the new Israel Resilience party, also said in his response, staking a position virtually identical to that of Netanyahu.

This did not prevent Netanyahu and the Likud party from attacking Gantz over the interview. Netanyahu posted on his Facebook page: “We told you: Gantz will set up a left-wing government with the help of a bloc relying on Tibi and the Joint List.” Netanyahu referred to Ahmed Tibi, an Arab Knesset member and the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties that holds 13 seats in Israel’s parliament.

The recently formed New Right party, led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who recently left the Jewish Home party to strike out on their own, also attacked Gantz.

Bennett said, “In light of the Trump plan for a Palestinian state, which is waiting for us right after the election, we have here a clear and present danger to the settlements. Only a strong New Right party will prevent Benny Gantz from becoming defense minister in the next Netanyahu government.”

Bennett tweeted on Wednesday, “In the end, there’s one election question: a Bibigantz government or a Bibibennett government.”

Bennett and his colleague Shaked have argued in their campaign for votes that only a strong right-wing faction within a Netanyahu-led government will ensure that the government represents the interests of right-wing voters.

2005 disengagement

Gantz also appeared to support the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, in which some 8,000 Jews were forcibly evicted from their homes. He said: “The disengagement was carried out with political considerations by the State of Israel. Very high marks were achieved by all parties involved in their ability not to tear the nation apart when it was carried out.”

“Daum: So you do not regret that we uprooted the settlements?

“Gantz: This was a legal move, which was accepted by the Israeli government and carried out by the IDF and the settlers in a painful but good way. We have to take the lessons and implement them in other places. ”

Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the new leader of the Jewish Home party, responded to Gantz’s comments, saying “”Gantz, my friend, I was there, my home was destroyed and I was uprooted, the disengagement ripped the people apart, the disengagement ripped me apart.”

Positioning as center

Though Gantz wants to position his party as centrist in order to appeal to the most number of voters, he appears to be having difficulty doing so.

According to a Jan. 16 poll published by the Israel Broadcasting Authority and conducted by the TNS Institute, most Israelis view him as center-left.

Of those surveyed, 36 percent said the former IDF chief of staff was politically in the center. Twenty-six percent said he is politically left. Only 12 percent identified him as right-wing.

The first position Gantz took as a candidate against the Nation-State Law may have made the job of right-wing politicians easier, who wish to paint him as left-wing.

The law, which codifies certain Jewish symbols as symbols of the state and encourages Jewish immigration, is popular with Israel’s right. Opposition to it has come to be identified with the political left.

Gantz’s interview was conducted with singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi and stand-up comic Hanoch Daum for Israel’s No. 2 most popular daily Yediot Ahronot. The full interview will appear in the paper’s Friday edition.