Two weeks after US President Donald Trump recognized Israeli control over the Golan Heights and a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin helped bring home missing-in-action soldier Zachary Baumel, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said he hoped Trump and Putin were not purposely aiding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post in an interview in his Tel Aviv office whether Trump and Putin were trying to help Netanyahu get reelected, Gantz said: “One could think like that. I hope that’s not the case.”
Regarding the return of Baumel’s body after 37 years, just ahead of the April 9 election, Gantz said: “One can look at it as political spin but I put it aside totally, because I’m so happy to have him back with his dear ones, so they can have a funeral and have a grave to go to and less question marks for the rest of their lives.”
Gantz said that when it came to the US, “Netanyahu did the wrong thing by choosing sides,” preferring the Republicans and the Orthodox Jews.
“He neglected and didn’t support the others at all,” Gantz said. “I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. It’s your choice, and your politics is your choice. The bonds between Israel and America have to be above political life and religion.”
When he attended the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington two weeks ago, Gantz did not request a meeting with Trump. When asked why, he said: “I knew the answer in advance. If the White House thought it would be important to meet me, it would have happened.”
Gantz reiterated that he would not serve with Netanyahu in a government, citing his indictments pending a hearing that Gantz believe will soon force Netanyahu out of politics.
Asked why he did not want to first gain political experience as a minister under Netanyahu, Gantz said he was ready to run the country after serving as chief of staff of the IDF and bashed Netanyahu for working for a furniture company in the US before entering politics.
“Everyone can use more experience,” Gantz said. “A doctor can be a good doctor and become better over time. A lawyer can be a good lawyer and become better over time. I am not putting down the importance of experience. I ran the IDF – a huge organization – through many challenges. In the IDF, I was exposed to so many aspects of the state, which made me a lot more ready than a man who worked for a furniture company.”
Gantz confirmed a report that Netanyahu had offered him in the past to become defense minister or ambassador to the US but he decided to enter politics on his own instead.
He hinted that he intends to serve as opposition leader if Netanyahu forms the next government. Asked if he would quit politics if he lost, Gantz said: “I will win. I offered my services to Israeli society for the next decade, and I’m going to keep my promise to win and to be effective.”
Regarding his deal with Blue and White’s No. 2 candidate Yair Lapid on a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office, Gantz said: “I can give you a three-minute lecture on why we will receive more votes if we keep the rotation and lose more votes if we give it up. But we toasted for blessings and luck when we made our agreement, and we are going to keep it.”
He said his goal was for Blue and White to become the biggest party and be appointed by President Reuven Rivlin to form the next government. His preferred top coalition partner is the Likud, post-Netanyahu.
“It is more than likely that Netanyahu will be indicted,” he said. “The Likud is about to enter a new era. I don’t think Netanyahu helps Likud that much. He spreads fear. Like a pine tree, he does not let anything grow under him.”
When building a coalition, Gantz said he would differentiate between Otzma Yehudit in the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which he would not let join, and Zehut, even though he disagreed with some of chairman Moshe Feiglin’s views.
“Feiglin is liberal in some aspects, and he is radical in others,” he said. “I cannot buy into radicalism. I can buy into liberalism. He can’t get anywhere with any of his radical ideas.”
Among Gantz’s first steps as prime minister, he said, would be to restore deterrence against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He said he would not give Hamas “protection money” but instead work with international organizations while ensuring oversight.
After that, he said, Israel should start diplomatic activities with Arab countries, pressing Hamas and the PA to improve Gaza’s infrastructure. He said there should be more workers coming into Israel from Gaza with severe security considerations and checkups “so they wont be desperate and we can promote hope.”
Asked what happens when the sick and elderly Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas dies, Gantz said he would work with his replacement.
“Graveyards are full of people who couldn’t be replaced,” he said. “The Palestinians have to take their future into their hands. I will lead the Jewish-democratic country to a bright future alongside whoever they come up with. There will be a prime minister after Netanyahu, and you have him in front of you. There will be someone else in the PA after Abbas, and we will move on.”
Gantz revealed that when he was a defense attache in Washington, he rode motorcycles all over the US.
“I won’t ride for 10 years while I will be in politics, and then I will be too old,” he lamented. “So I guess after next week I won’t get to ride again.”