Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Wednesday that if the Likud loses the election, his chief political rival Benny Gantz of the Israel Resilience Party would conspire with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to make territorial withdrawals.The premier wasted no time in taking advantage of a negative spin the media and the Palestinians placed on a statement Gantz made to Yediot Aharonot, that made it seem as if he would support some form of a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, akin to Israel’s 2005 pull out from Gaza.Netanyahu added fuel to the political fire against his rival, exploiting a statement by Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, in which he lauded Gantz, telling Reuters it was “encouraging” that the former IDF chief had said he opposed dominating another people and suggested that Israel cede territory in the West Bank.
“The problem is that Abbas is satisfied, because Benny Gantz said today that he would carry out a second disengagement in Judea and Samaria, and Abbas wished him success in the election,” Netanyahu said. “This is why we have to go together, win these elections and prevent this. This is what election is really about: whether there will be a left-wing government led by Gantz or a Likud government led by me.”The Israel Resilience Party launched a counter attack, reminding the public that Netanyahu voted for the Disengagement and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev “spoke of the Disengagement with a smile on her face.”Gantz attacked Netanyahu stating: “You evacuated Jews. You paid protection money to Hamas. Your time is up – we are moving onwards.” He then provided a reminder about the process by which the Disengagement was approved by the government and the parliament.“On June 6, 2004, the government voted on the Disengagement plan; Netanyahu voted in favor,” he said. “On October 26, the Knesset voted on the Disengagement plan; Netanyahu voted in favor. And then, on February 16, 2005, the Knesset approved the Evacuation Compensation Law that allowed the Disengagement to be carried out.” Gantz then clarified that under his watch, “There will be no unilateral actions related to the evacuation of settlements.”In the interview published that morning, his first since announcing his candidacy for prime minister, Gantz said that Israel must find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“We must find a way that does not require us to exercise control over other people,” Gantz said.When asked if he would support another unilateral move, Gantz said, “The Disengagement was carried out with a lot of political consideration.“All sides had a lot at stake and the state managed to do it without tearing the country apart. It was done legally, carried out by the State of Israel and the IDF – and even though it was very painful for the settlers, it was handled well,” he said.“We must take the lessons of the Disengagement and implement them in other arenas,” but he did not make an explicit link between unilateralism and West Bank territorial withdrawals.The full Gantz interview with singer-turned-columnist Shlomo Artzi and stand-up-comedian-turned-columnist Hanoch Daum will be published in the Yediot Aharonot’s weekend edition.During their interview, Gantz responded to questions about his desire to replace the prime minister. “Netanyahu took on the most difficult job in the State of Israel and gave his all,” said Gantz. “I consider him a patriot. I do not hate Bibi, but I think it is time for him to step down in a dignified way.” When asked if he would sit in a Netanyahu government if the prime minister is indicted and a hearing is pending, Gantz said: “I intend to win, and resolve this issue that way. For the first time in the last decade, I think there is a chance to beat him.”When pressed, Gantz said that he felt it was unlikely that an indicted prime minister could serve the State of Israel. “So, I said that I would not sit with him with an indictment,” he said, in what the interviewers interpreted as a sign that Gantz would be willing to sit in a Netanyahu-led government until the expected indictment comes at the end of 2019.Labor leader Avi Gabbay expressed disappointment at Gantz’s answer to the question, telling a conference of the Calcalist newspaper on Wednesday that he “cannot understand how a good and fitting man who entered politics to bring about change says such a thing.”“What kind of change can you bring about in a government led by a man facing three bribery indictments?” Gabbay asked.When asked whether he saw as a success Operation Protective Edge, the recent operation in Gaza that he oversaw, Gantz said that the army exercised effective discretion.“I have a duty to hurt the enemy with as few uninvolved casualties as possible,” he said. “I cannot get to zero. And I must do it all while ensuring minimal risk to the lives of our soldiers.”“Everyone who plays a part in this story, I tell you, he plays a political game.”More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge – which ran from July 8 through August 27, 2014 – as well as 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.Finally, Gantz attacked the Culture Loyalty Law and criticized the way the government has been operating lately under Netanyahu.“It is unreasonable to me that there is a government in which the culture minister attacks the institutions for which she is responsible, and the minister of justice attacks the institutions for which she is responsible, the cabinet attacks the IDF – and the prime minister attacks everyone.”In response to Gantz’s interview, the New Right Party accused him of being more Left than the Labor Party.“He wants to expel more and more Jews from their homes during a unilateral disengagement from Judea and Samaria,” the New Right said in a statement. “Benny Gantz must not be Israel’s next defense minister. As we said: A ‘New Right’ or a weak Left.”The Likud Party’s statement said simply: “Gantz will form a leftist government with a coalition that relies on [Ahmad] Tibi and the Joint List.”Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
Benny Gantz begins campaign with a message of hope, January 20, 2019 (Courtesy)