Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot emphasized his commitment to minority rights and the need to separate from the Palestinians, during a press conference launching the National Unity party on Sunday night.
The new party, an amalgamation of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White and Justice Minister’s Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, with Eisenkot and his allies, has touted itself as a moderate center-right outfit capable of forming a broad and stable government despite the deep political divide in the country.
But Eisenkot did not shy away from addressing his concerns about the ongoing failure to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, which has received scant attention from centrist parties during more than three years of political deadlock.
“I believe that the nation-state of the Jewish people must provide equal rights for all its citizens without regard for religion, race, or sex,” said Eisenkot in an implicit rebuke to the far-right parties in the opposition who are antagonistic to Israel’s Arab population.
“We must take active policies to prevent the dangerous development of a bi-national state,” he said, referencing a possible outcome for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which failure to establish a Palestinian state leads to a bi-national state of Jews and Palestinians.
Such an eventuality would be “a danger to the Zionist project,” he said.
“We need to preserve Israel as Jewish, democratic and equal, and we need to do that by taking the initiative,” he added.
The former general all but ruled out sitting in government with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, due to his ongoing corruption trial, saying that a public figure “cannot stand for public office” when under indictment.
“This is not part of the norms we want for ourselves as a democratic country that preserves the rule of law,” he said.
Gantz, who introduced Eisenkot and showered him with praise, took the opportunity to highlight what he said were extremists in the right-wing bloc, and to insist that any new government must exclude them from power.
“I believe we can do really well in the elections and thereby block an extremist government which will endanger democracy in the state of Israel,” said the defense minister.
He also argued that if Netanyahu cannot form a government after the November vote, the ultra-Orthodox parties, which have so far remained loyal to the former prime minister and his Likud party, would be willing to join a centrist coalition.
“I don’t rule out anyone, I very much respect the ultra-Orthodox who have preserved Jewish tradition for many years, and are a crucial and inseparable part of Israeli society.”
Sa’ar faced questions during the press conference about the incompatibility of his policies opposing a Palestinian state with those of Eisenkot, whose focus on separating from the Palestinians indicates he supports such a state.
Sa’ar countered that the establishment of a Palestinian state is not, realistically, close at hand, and that there would therefore not be any friction between him and Eisenkot.
Sa’ar said that any government National Unity would participate in would instead focus on “reducing the conflict” with the Palestinians and increasing their self-governance.
In the same spirit, he argued that the new party could be the political home for an ideologically diverse collection of voters.
“This movement can be and will be a home for anyone who is loyal to the original values of the Zionist movement in its various forms: revisionist Zionism, the labor movement, and religious Zionism. And it will also be a home for all citizens of Israel regardless of religion or ethnic community. This will be a democratic home and strive for unity among the people.”