'The issue of the sense of victory... is dramatic'

In recording, Gantz notes need for large lead over Likud, backs West Bank deal

Filmed by undercover reporter, Blue and White leader backs settlements blocs but urges end to control over Palestinians, says Likud members he meets are wishing him luck

Benny Gantz at the launch of his Israel Resilience party's Knesset list, in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz at the launch of his Israel Resilience party's Knesset list, in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

To win the April 9 election, the Blue and White party must win dramatically more Knesset seats than Likud, in order to convince potential coalition partners not to join a Likud-led government, party leader Benny Gantz told an off-the-record gathering of party activists on Sunday, in comments surreptitiously recorded by Channel 12.

“We want to take a bit [of votes] from the right, of course. But the most important thing is how much larger our number [of Knesset seats] will be. That — the scale of victory — is significant,” he told a group of some 30 leaders of the youth branch of his Israel Resilience party, which united with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White last month.

He pointed out that the group included former voters for both Likud and Labor, and said to them, “Now when people talk about how many [seats] will go to the ‘right,’ how many to the ‘left,’ this bloc, that bloc, that’s for the pundits and political analysts. And honestly? It’s important. I don’t discount it. It may even decide the whole thing,” he said.

But, he added, “the issue of the sense of victory, if we come with Blue and White as a kind of huge centrist front and the gap [with Likud], is dramatic — then there won’t be any debate” over who forms the next government.

“In the discussions we’ll have after [election day with potential coalition partners], this will be clear to people. They won’t be able to ignore this issue, not in terms of political substance or political ethics.”

Gantz alluded to support from the right being greater than some believe. Recounting his participation in the funeral of a Likud minister’s mother, Gantz said: “Lots of people came over quietly, shook my hand and said ‘Good luck, good luck.’ I’m telling you, something is happening on the streets.”

Hidden camera footage of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaking to party activists on March 3, 2019. (Channel 12 screen capture)

Gantz was recorded by undercover Channel 12 reporter Lehava Blum, who had spent a month as an activist in his party before being invited to the Sunday get-together.

After Blum presented herself as a resident of the settlement of Peduel, which lies just east of Tel Aviv, Gantz spoke about his views of the West Bank’s future, a topic he rarely addresses in public.

Major settlement blocs would not be evacuated, Gantz vowed to the activists, and said he nevertheless sought ways to separate from the Palestinians and believed any agreement should be put to a national referendum.

“I know every meter on the road [to Peduel], where you turn right, through Bruchin, Peduel, Alei Zahav, Beit Aryeh, Ofarim,” he told the reporter. “So I know what I’m talking about here. Those people will raise their grandchildren there, and their great-grandchildren and their great-great-grandchildren.”

He added: “On the other hand, we don’t want to control the Palestinians, or any of the things that will turn the state into a binational state. We will find the arrangement that gives security.”

A West Bank settlement. May 2012. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Illustrative: The Beit Aryeh settlement in the West Bank, January 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Blum pushed back, fishing for details: “My family [in Peduel], from its perspective. What do we do with the Palestinians living next to us?”

Gantz replied, “What do you want? To expel them? Working on the assumption that they live on that land, and that there are millions here on both sides [of the Arab-Jewish divide], in the end we have to reach an arrangement of some sort. And we can’t let that arrangement endanger our security.”

Asked about the future of the settlements and a possible Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, he said, “Much of the settlement [project] will be developed far more than it is today. And if it becomes relevant, we’ll discuss what we do after that. And even that we’ll take to a referendum. In other words, it isn’t something that will be relevant tomorrow morning, if at all.”

Blum went on: “My family is mostly, in the end, voting for [New Right’s leader Naftali] Bennett and farther right.”

“Bennett and farther to his right risk turning Israel into a binational or nondemocratic state. One of the two. We don’t want either one. We don’t have a choice except to look for a responsible, safe, non-unilateral diplomatic arrangement,” Gantz replied.

Left to right: Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, heads of the Blue and White party, on a visit to an overlook point near the border with Syria on March 4, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The activists also asked about the new party’s future, and whether the alliance between Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience will stand the test of time.

Gantz said he viewed Israel Resilience’s union with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid as incomplete, a “family” of nevertheless distinct parts.

He said the sacrifices made by himself and Lapid showed the strength of the alliance.

“Think about the fact that I agreed to a rotation [between himself and Lapid as prime minister]. Think that Yair Lapid agreed to be number two. Think that my former bosses became my subordinates,” a reference to Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, both former IDF chiefs of staff who now hold the third and fourth slots on the Blue and White list.

“These aren’t things you usually see” in politics, he said.

But he nevertheless sees Israel Resilience as a separate entity, at least for now, he added.

“The situation in which ‘Resilience’ is our first name and ‘Blue and White’ our family name is very important to me. We may reach a point where it’s ‘Blue and White’ alone, without first names. We’re not there yet.”

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