Blue and White candidate for prime minister Benny Gantz vowed to “work to shape a new reality” between Israel and the Palestinians if he wins the April 9 election, in interviews he gave to three Israeli television networks, broadcast simultaneously on Tuesday night.
Gantz said Israel must try to achieve peace while maintaining security and that he is “not ashamed of the word peace.”
He promised to not take any unilateral steps, but would not say anything positive about Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas or commit to the creation of a Palestinian state.
“This is far away, unfortunately,” he told Channel 12 anchorwoman Yonit Levi. “There isn’t anyone to talk to.”
Gantz said he wants an agreement that will keep Israel Jewish and democratic, and that he will advance whatever helps Israel guarantee that.
A day after Channel 13 revealed a recording of Gantz saying he had closed but not locked a door to entering a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz ruled it out – unless the prime minister’s legal situation changed dramatically.
“I said that in the situation that was created, I cannot sit with Netanyahu,” he told Channel 13 anchorwoman Tamar Ish-Shalom. “The situation has only gotten worse. I will not sit with Netanyahu. The only thing that could change that is if the situation changes in the [prime minister’s legal] hearing, and I unfortunately do not see that happening.”
When asked which parties he would invite into a governing coalition, Gantz said that he was confident Blue and White will form a coalition with as many parties as possible and would be happy to work with whom he called “good Israelis,” including New Right leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, the Meretz Party and MK Orly Levy-Abecassis.
He ruled out a coalition with the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP), Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List-Balad. He said Arab Israelis are citizens who deserve better infrastructure, but their leaders work against the State of Israel. But if they adopt a positive attitude to the state that would be different.
Regarding the Zehut Party of former MK Moshe Feiglin, he said “Feiglin has extremist, messianic views that would have to be reassessed.” He did not rule out Zehut joining his coalition, but said that it would be complex.
A Walla News poll published on Tuesday found that if elections would be held now, Likud would beat Blue and White 31 seats to 28. It was the first poll predicting that Blue and White would gain under 30 seats since the party was formed.
“There are ups and downs in an election,” he said. “If we get 40 seats, we take power and I lead the security cabinet with Gabi [Ashkenazi], [Moshe] Bogie [Ya’alon] and Yair [Lapid], and not URP candidate Smotrich and [Culture Minister] Miri Regev.”
Gantz challenged Netanyahu to a debate “anytime and anywhere.”
“I don’t know what happened to the man,” he said. “The Netanyahu I see now is not the Netanyahu I knew.”
He denied having any sensitive information or intimate conversations on his phone, which was hacked, and claimed to be totally beyond the reach of any attempt at exploiting the information. Gantz said Netanyahu’s controversial submarine deal mattered more.
“I am not concerned about my phone, which is a private issue,” Gantz told KAN anchorwoman Doria Lampel. “The little phone is much less important than the massive submarine, and I will focus on that. I am not naïve and neither are you. When I entered politics, I knew I would be attacked on three spheres: that they would attack me on security issues and they did, that they would attack me on management issues and they did, and they would attack me personally. [The phone] is personal, and it will stay that way.”
Likud’s spokesman called Gantz’s comments about the submarine affair a “libelous lie,” saying that the vessels were purchased for Israel’s security and Netanyahu did not make any money from them.
During a visit to Shiloh in the West Bank, Netanyahu said, “I have not received even one shekel from the submarine deal.”
“The state attorney and attorney-general’s offices examined every detail of this matter and unequivocally determined that I am not suspected of anything – and that there was nothing wrong with my actions,” he added.
Gantz announced Monday night that his party will establish a commission of inquiry into the “Submarine Affair” if it forms the next government. The affair, also known as Case 3000, involves alleged bribery and wrongdoing in the purchase of the vessels from Germany. Several people close to Netanyahu have been embroiled in the affair, including his lawyer and cousin David Shimron. Opposition figures questioned several issues related to the matter, including why the government did not put up a fight when Egypt sought to purchase similar submarines.
In recent days, it has come to light that Netanyahu sold NIS 16 million of company stock related to the affair, although it is unknown how much he bought the stock for and whether he earned or lost money in the deal. Despite this, Gantz and others in Blue and White have represented it as Netanyahu earning NIS 16 million from the submarine deal.
Netanyahu said: “I understand that [Blue and White leaders] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid are very stressed, to say the least, from Iran hacking Gantz’s phone – so they are trying to distract from it.”
Last week, it was reported that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) found that Iran had hacked Gantz’s phone, but there was no sensitive security material on it.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they have such bad judgment,” the prime minister said. “Because they both supported the disastrous nuclear deal [between world powers and Iran], which I fought – and happily, together with President Trump, we see a change in direction in the US as well. But they didn’t understand that, and I think they don’t understand it to this day.”
Netanyahu concluded that leading the country “is not for them,” because they do not understand the Iranian threat.
Gantz and Lapid did not openly support the Iran deal – and Lapid publicly argued against it while it was being negotiated – but Lapid did speak out against Netanyahu’s continued efforts to reverse it after it had already been signed.
Earlier this week, Lapid wrote on Facebook that “the problem isn’t [Netanyahu’s] lie, but the harm to security. The world needs to know that the absolute majority of Israelis oppose the nuclear deal. There is no coalition and opposition on this matter. When Netanyahu lies that Benny Gantz and I supported the deal, it helps the Europeans, Chinese and Russians who want to continue trading with Iran. It’s dangerous, it harms Israeli security and it is shockingly irresponsible.”Hagay Hacohen and Uri Bollag contributed to this report.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>