Opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu accused the new government of failing to protect the country’s citizens after back-to-back stabbing attacks earlier Monday, even calling out Defense Minister Benny Gantz after reportedly courting him for months.
“Two days ago, against the view of the police, [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett removed the closure on Judea and Samaria. The tragic results we saw today with the terror attack at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station,” Netanyahu said in a video statement, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
Hours earlier, a Palestinian teenager stabbed two Israeli men inside a pharmacy near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, moderately wounding them, before a Border Police officer arrived at the scene and shot him.
Earlier in the day, a Palestinian man armed with a screwdriver attempted to stab a soldier at the Gush Etzion Junction in the central West Bank, but the serviceman repelled him and a second soldier opened fire, wounding the man.
Netanyahu’s criticism was directed against a decision to reopen Israel’s crossings with the West Bank on Saturday night. The government had initially put in place the closure for the Rosh Hashanah holiday last Tuesday and Wednesday — a common practice for major Jewish and national festivals — but decided to extend it through the weekend in light of the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners from Gilboa Prison in northern Israel. The extension of the closure was in large part meant to assist Israeli security forces in their search efforts, making it more difficult for the fugitives to cross from Israel into the West Bank.
However, neither of the Monday attacks appeared to have been made possible by the ending of the closure. The Jerusalem assailant entered illegally, not through a crossing, and the suspect at the Gush Etzion Junction was within the West Bank and did not pass through a checkpoint to reach the site of the attack.
The former premier said his successor Naftali Bennett was busy offering “gifts to the Palestinians” while meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Sharm el-Sheikh, rather than keeping Israelis safe.
Seeking to further downplay what was the first public visit by an Israeli premier in Egypt in over a decade, Netanyahu’s Likud issued a statement revealing that the former premier had met with Sissi six times in the Sinai Peninsula since 2011. Those visits had not before been publicized.
Netanyahu went on to demand in the video statement that the government cease “being preoccupied with its political survival and start working for the health and safety of the citizens of Israel” — a critique that was frequently voiced by opposition lawmakers when the Likud leader was last in power.
In a subsequent Facebook Live appearance, the opposition chairman accused Gantz of “showing weakness at every turn” in his response to the recent uptick in violence.
It was the first personal attack against Gantz by Netanyahu since the new government was formed. Recent months saw several reports claiming that the Likud leader was courting the Blue and White chairman to bolt Bennett’s fledgling coalition and instead join the opposition chairman in forming an alternative government.
Netanyahu and Gantz were coalition partners in the previous government, but it collapsed last year after the former refused to pass a budget, in an attempt to block the latter from becoming prime minister in their previously agreed upon rotational deal.
Asked about the Likud offers, Gantz has repeatedly said he was not interested and that Netanyahu could be trusted.
However, the two have also been seen rubbing elbows at public events in recent months, pouring more fuel onto speculation that Gantz might indeed jump ship.
Though Netanyahu evidently determined that such a possibility is no longer in the cards and chose to go after Gantz publicly for the first time in months on Monday.
Asked for his reaction to the opposition chairman’s attack during an evening event with Blue and White supporters, Gantz shrugged it off.
“Hut ehr gezugt,” he said, using the Yiddish idiom for “big deal.”
“Okay, so he said that. What am I supposed to do?” Gantz continued. “It does not matter to me what he said. I think… we are providing a high level of security to the country.”