In a new excerpt from his first political interview, which has already drawn ire from the right for appearing to praise the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz does not rule out a future evacuation of West Bank settlements located outside the major settlement blocs of Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion.
Asked in the Yedioth Ahronoth interview whether he believes settlers outside the blocs should be removed, Gantz chose not to make a clear commitment to retaining all Israeli settlements, saying that a good negotiator doesn’t reveal what he thinks ahead of time.
In the excerpt, obtained by The Times of Israel ahead of the interview’s full publication in Yedioth on Friday, Gantz also said that the question would only be relevant if the Palestinians “wake up” and enter serious negotiations.
A spokesperson for the party said that the full interview “is an in-depth piece that’s almost 10 pages long, and addresses the important economic, social, security and state issues that are of interest to the public.”
In the new excerpt, interviewer Hanoch Daum referred to a remark made in Gantz’s maiden political speech last week: “You said that we need to strengthen the settlement blocs. But there are settlers who live outside of the blocs. People live in Eli, in Kedumim. Does that mean they should be removed?”
“All of us have experience in the world of negotiations,” Gantz replied. “I don’t think that ahead of time I need to speak in too much detail about what I think and what I don’t think. I can tell you what I’m driven by. I’m driven by what’s in Israel’s interest. I’m driven by the fact that 90% of the people will agree with 90% of the things. I am not waiting. I continue to improve, I continue to strengthen, I start to build.
“I won’t go into questions that are not currently relevant,” he added. “If the Palestinians will one day decide to wake up and join a diplomatic process that is being carried out with the support of countries in the region, with international support — welcome. But I’m not waiting.”
Daum then asked whether that means that if no such negotiations are held, Gantz would unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank, similarly to the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
“I said I’m not waiting,” Gantz said. “I didn’t say it would be unilateral and I don’t mean that it will be unilateral. We will do something constructive. Up until now, my profession has been to destroy, now my role is to build. I will not wait, I will build.”
Elsewhere in the interview, according to an excerpt released Wednesday by Yedioth, Gantz seemed to praise the 2005 disengagement, saying: “It was a legal action. 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 rebukes from right-wing parties, with Likud declaring that Gantz was admitting he had plans to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank.
“We told you,” the ruling 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.
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 name for the West Bank.
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 spokeswoman at the time] was its spokesperson.”
He vowed, as he does in the new excerpt, that “in a Gantz government there won’t be unilateral actions to dismantle settlements.”
Attempting to explain his point about “lessons,” Gantz said 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.”