Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz dismissed government talk of extending Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, saying at a campaign event on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should first gain control of the rocket-battered Gaza border region.
“I suggest that Netanyahu ‘extend sovereignty’ first of all to Netivot, Sderot and the Gaza border region,” Gantz said at an election campaign event in the coastal city of Netanya, referring to towns and communities bordering the Palestinian enclave.
“I would suggest that he reach an agreement first of all with the parents, who don’t know which child to grab first to take to the bomb shelter,” Gantz continued, presumably referring to the statement made by a mother last week after she fell while running for shelter with her newborn baby.
“Netanyahu bores the Israeli public,” Gantz said. Last year, Netanyahu criticized as “boring” a woman who interrupted his speech to protest the closure of a local medical center.
Earlier, Netanyahu had criticized Gantz for his position on the Trump administration’s plan, which envisions Israel annexing key parts of the West Bank, and described his chief political rival as “cute, but no leader.”
Netanyahu gave his support for the Washington peace plan, unveiled last week, and immediately declared he would push ahead with annexation moves, alarming Washington which indicated it wants to wait until after coming March 2 elections before any such measures are taken. Netanyahu has since implied he will wait until after the elections.
At his own campaign event in Herzliya, Netanyahu attacked Gantz’s policies on US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
“Gantz said that he is prepared to accept the ‘Deal of the Century’ only with the agreement of the international community,” said Netanyahu. “With whom?” he asked. “The European Union already announced that it opposes it.”
“The UN? With the agreement of Abu Mazen?” Netanyahu said, using the nickname for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who has firmly rejected all parts of the peace proposal.
“Gantz is cute, but he is not a leader,” remarked the prime minister of the former IDF chief of staff, who, under Netanyahu, led the military during the 2014 Gaza war.
The past week has seen near-daily rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, during which dozens of balloon-borne explosive devices were also launched from the Hamas-ruled Strip toward southern Israel.
On Wednesday night Gaza terrorists fired two mortar shells at southern Israel, the military said, amid growing tensions in the enclave.
The projectiles apparently struck an open field in southern Israel. No damage or injuries were reported.
Also on Wednesday, Netanyahu told municipal leaders in the Gaza area that Israel could launch extensive military operations in the Palestinian enclave — before the upcoming Knesset elections if necessary — should Palestinian terrorists continue firing rockets and launching balloon-borne explosive devices at southern Israel.
Netanyahu told the council chairmen that while Israel was making significant efforts to ensure calm in the area, the military was ready for an operation in Gaza if needed, according to Hebrew media reports.
Israeli defense officials believe that the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group is either directly carrying out or allowing these attacks to be carried out in order to increase pressure on Israel in a bid to extract greater concessions in ongoing ceasefire negotiations.
Trump’s plan envisions the Jewish state annexing key parts of the West Bank, including in the strategic Jordan Valley and all the settlements. The outline would see the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, with restricted sovereignty, over some 70 percent of the West Bank, without most of East Jerusalem, falling far short of minimal Palestinian demands.
The Palestinians have firmly rejected the plan, with Abbas calling it the “slap of the century.”
Breaking with past US administrations, the plan envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in part of the West Bank, a handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and some areas of southern Israel — on condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip disarm.
The plan also calls for granting Israel ongoing overall security control west of the Jordan River, and barring Palestinians from entering Israel as refugees.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war — for an independent state and the removal of more than 700,000 Israelis from these areas.