Gantz: Solving conflict with Palestinians must be the top priority

Former IDF chief, who has yet to formally announce his entry to politics, says Israel must find a solution without compromising on security of citizens

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, widely expected to run in the upcoming 2019 elections, told a gathering of Mexican Jews in April that solving the conflict with the Palestinians should be the highest priority, Channel 10 news reported Monday.

“Our number one interest is to find a solution. This is not just a political question of left and right,” Gantz said, in contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has long put the nuclear threat from Iran at the forefront of policies.

“During my [military] service, I met a leader from a Middle Eastern country and he said: ‘There are 14 million people between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River — a few million Jews and a few million Palestinians — and none of them are going anywhere, and we have to find a way to live together,'” Gantz said. “I could not agree more.”

“I believe that for us Israelis it is important to find a solution without compromising our security needs and the safety of our citizens,” he added.

A poll released Sunday showed a hypothetical party run by Gantz continuing to gain traction. According to the poll, if Gantz, who helmed the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015 and was seen as a moderating figure, were to run on a joint ticket with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, the two could start to close in on Likud’s lead.

Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on December 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to the poll of 533 respondents (with a maximum sampling error of 4.3 percent), when only taking into account an independent party headed by Gantz, Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 28 seats, a slight decrease of two seats from its current 30.

Gantz would be in second place but at a significantly fewer 16 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 13 (up just two from its current 11), the Joint (Arab) List with 12 and the center-left Zionist Union faction at 10. Zionist Union, which is composed of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, has 24 seats in the current Knesset, and was polling at around 21 seats a year ago.

The pro-settlement Jewish Home party would win 9 seats, according to the poll, while the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism would receive 7.

Next in the survey was the the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party with 6 seats, while the centrist Kulanu, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the as-yet-to-be-named party headed by independent MK Orly Levy-Abekasis would each pick up 5. The left-wing Meretz party would just scrape the electoral threshold with four seats.

But if Gantz were to run in elections together with Lapid, the poll showed, they would win a collective 26 seats, nipping at the heels of Likud’s 29.

Speculation over Gantz’s political future has swirled this year with the expiration of his legally required “cooling off” period, under which former top security officials must wait three years after retiring before entering politics. Gantz, 59, left the military in 2015 after a four-year stint as head of the Israel Defense Forces that saw him command the 2014 Gaza war.

Then-Givati Brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter, center, speaks to then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, right, and then-head of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Sami Turjeman during the 2014 Gaza war on August 2, 2014. (Israel Defense Forces)

Though Gantz has yet to formally announce his entry to politics, he has reportedly gathered enough signatures to set up his own party and is said to prefer to run alone rather than join an existing center-left or centrist faction.

Sunday’s poll shows general growing support for Gantz, with the 16 predicted seats up from a June survey which gave him 13 and a poll last month that had him on 15.

Despite the gains, most polls in recent months have also shown the prime minister’s party maintaining power, and even gaining, despite corruption investigations against Netanyahu.

Elections are currently slated for fall 2019, though many analysts believe Netanyahu will call a snap poll before then.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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