Gantz positive on Gaza disengagement in first interview, drawing right’s ire

Lashed as a ‘leftist,’ former chief of staff mocks Netanyahu for backing 2005 pullout, vows no uprooting of settlements, says Israel should end ‘control’ over Palestinians

Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz, center, meets with residents of the Kochav Hatsafon neighborhood in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Israel Resilience)
Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz, center, meets with residents of the Kochav Hatsafon neighborhood in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Israel Resilience)

Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz was lashed by right-wing parties on Wednesday after appearing to praise the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and saying its “lessons” should be “implemented in other places.”

He also said Israel needed to find a way to end its “control” over the Palestinians.

Gantz’s comments came in an abridged preview published Wednesday in Yedioth Ahronoth of a larger interview set to run on Friday.

Gantz told his interviewers, popular singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi and columnist and stand-up comic Hanoch Daum, that “the main question” in achieving peace with the Palestinians “is the security question.”

Any agreement, he said, “must ensure Israel is secure. Now we have to ask what our interest is. We — and [Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] said this in his [2009] Bar Ilan speech — don’t want to rule over anyone else. We have to find a path that leaves us not in control of other people.”

Asked by Daum “if, in fact, you support something like the [2005] Disengagement,” Gantz seemed to praise the move.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, center, and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, right, in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

“The disengagement was born of Israel’s diplomatic policy. The parties involved got very high grades for managing to prevent a rift in the nation as they carried it out,” Gantz said.

Daum pressed on. “So you’re not saddened that we uprooted settlements from there?”

“It was a legal action,” Gantz insisted. “It was approved by the government of Israel and carried out by the IDF and the settlers, with great pain but done very well. We have to take its lessons and implement them in other places.”

The last comment sparked a flurry of rebuke from the right on Wednesday morning.

The Likud party declared in a statement that Gantz was admitting he had plans to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank.

Settler in the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim argues with soldiers who have come to evacuate him from his home, accusing them of betraying Jewish values, during the disengagement from Gaza, August 22, 2005. (Flash90)

“We told you,” the party said, “Gantz will form a left-wing government with the help of a parliamentary bloc that relies on [Arab lawmaker Ahmad] Tibi and the Arab Joint List.”

Netanyahu repeated the charge on his Facebook page.

But to Netanyahu’s right, the prime minister’s own policies were challenged alongside those of Gantz.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the New Right party, accused Gantz of “calling for the expulsion of more Jews from their homes, in a humane way as part of a unilateral disengagement from Judea and Samaria,” the Hebrew names for the West Bank.

“In light of the Trump plan for a Palestinian state, which is waiting for us right after the election, we have here a clear and present danger to the settlements. Only a strong New Right party will prevent Benny Gantz from becoming defense minister in the next Netanyahu government,” Bennett said.

Naftali Bennett on the Israel-Gaza border, on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, July 9, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett’s party issued a separate statement saying, “We thank Gantz for removing the mask. Gantz outflanks [Labor leader Avi] Gabbay from the left.”

Gantz moved quickly to respond, noting in a statement posted to social media that it was Likud itself that had carried out the disengagement.

“The disengagement was carried out and led by a legitimate government led by Likud,” he said in a statement. “Netanyahu and the leaders of Likud voted for it, and Miri Regev [who was IDF spokesperson at the time] was its spokesperson.”

He vowed that “in a Gantz government there won’t be unilateral actions to dismantle settlements.”

And he explained “the point about ‘lessons'” in his interview comments, saying Israel had learned from the disengagement “the importance of preventing a rift in the nation, and ensuring that our non-negotiable defense needs are part of any future policy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz watch a military exercise of the army’s Golani Brigade on the Golan Heights, September 11, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

A longer statement from Gantz’s party was less gracious.

“Netanyahu, who voted for the disengagement, and Regev, who sold it with a smile on her face, won’t preach to us about diplomatic and national-security responsibility.”

The statement noted three times that Netanyahu voted for the disengagement when he was part of the Ariel Sharon government in 2004 — the February 16 Knesset vote approving compensation for evacuees, the June 6 cabinet vote approving the withdrawal and the October 26 Knesset vote giving the final okay.

In its own statement, the Telem party headed by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, which is running on a joint slate with Israel Resilience, lashed Bennett for criticizing Gantz while sitting in a government with Netanyahu. Ya’alon opposed the disengagement as IDF chief of staff from 2003 to 2005, and was forced to retire on June 1, 2005, two months before the pullout began.

“Bennett and [fellow New Right leader Ayelet] Shaked have no problem sitting in a government with Netanyahu and Regev, who led the disengagement and the Hebron withdrawal agreement [in 1997], but they have a problem with Gantz, who has announced that his government won’t make unilateral moves,” Telem mocked in a statement Wednesday.

Former Israeli chiefs of staff Benny Gantz, center right, and Moshe Ya’alon, center left, at a rally in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Bennett and Shaked are the ones who approve every few weeks a transfer of protection money in cash to Hamas,” Telem added. “This isn’t a ‘new right,’ it’s a confused right.”

Gantz also drew some criticism from the left for his comments.

The dovish Meretz party complained of Gantz’s Israel Resilience party that “every sentence they manage to say” about peace with the Palestinians “is followed by a clarification. What Israel needs is frankness: for or against the disengagement, for or against removing settlements, for or against peace… Israel needs a peace agreement that must include removing settlements.”

Gantz’s interview also drew criticism from right-wing media outlets that objected to his defense of comments he made during the 2014 Gaza war, when he said he believed it was correct to risk the lives of IDF soldiers in order to help reduce collateral civilian casualties in Gaza.

“You were criticized for saying you had endangered soldiers in order to avoid hitting innocents,” Daum said.

An officer preparing to lead his troops into Gaza, August 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/Flickr)

Gantz replied, “You’d have me level a hospital with people inside? Answer me as a Jew, an Israeli, an IDF warrior.”

“No,” replied Daum, served in the mid-1990s in the IDF Armored Corps.

“There you go,” Gantz said. “If I want to destroy it” — gunmen had targeted Israeli territory or IDF troops from within hospitals on several occasions during the fighting — “I have to confirm there’s no one in it. That seems to place [soldiers] in danger. So I said to Golani troops to check that [the hospital] was empty, because we’re about to level it. That process takes some time. After we confirmed that no one was in there, within six minutes the hospital was lying on the ground.

“I have a responsibility to protect my people, to strike my enemy, to do it in the best way I can, with as little collateral damage as possible — I don’t know how to get that to zero — and minimal risk to the lives of our soldiers. So anyone who’s trying to play games with this story, I’m telling you, is playing politics.”

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