Former general emerges as adept foe to Netanyahu
JERUSALEM — Former military chief Benny Gantz has burst onto Israel’s political scene as the great hope of the country’s shrinking “peace camp” with a message that is anything but dovish.
The retired general, who wants to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April 9 elections, boasts of killing Palestinian militants and aligns himself with political hard-liners. He fires back at Netanyahu’s criticism with scathing counterattacks.
In today’s Israel, Gantz’s ready-to-rumble rhetoric appears to be the only way to bring down the long-serving Netanyahu. That’s turning him into an unlikely source of hope for Israelis who view ending their country’s rule over the Palestinians, now in its 51st year, as a priority.
Yossi Beilin, an architect of the 1993 interim peace accords with the Palestinians, said fear of another Netanyahu term is driving much of the support for Gantz. He called Gantz a “black dove” — an imperfect but tolerable alternative to Netanyahu.
“Not that I agree with everything he says, but many of the things he is saying are OK from my point of view,” Beilin said.
Opinion polls forecast victory for Netanyahu’s Likud Party. But since Gantz’s recent maiden political speech, his new “Israel Resilience” party has emerged as No. 2.
The race could swing in the challenger’s favor. Netanyahu faces possible indictment in a series of corruption investigations, perhaps before the elections. Meanwhile, Gantz is reportedly exploring mergers with other centrist parties.
Gantz appears to be modeling himself after Ehud Barak and the late Yitzhak Rabin — former military chiefs-turnedprime ministers. Both used military credentials to lead security-obsessed Israel to peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Wary of being branded a “leftist,” considered a put-down by many Israelis, Gantz has said little about his vision of peace with the Palestinians. He dresses his rhetoric in security terms as he tries to win support from Netanyahu’s nationalist base.
Without giving details, Gantz has vowed to “strive for peace” and — if that is impossible — to shape a “new reality.” He said he’d strengthen West Bank settlement blocs and retain control of the Jordan Valley, a strategic section of the occupied West Bank the Palestinians seek as the heartland of a future state.
Gantz said he’s currently re-reading Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” Asked how many militants he has killed, he said: “Personally, quite a few times, and as a commander, many times.”
In Israel, the 2014 Gaza war is generally seen as having dealt a blow to Hamas, and Gantz’s military record an electoral asset. Driving home the point, he appointed Moshe Yaalon, another former military chief with hard-line political views, as his deputy.
Opinion polls show Gantz neck and neck with Netanyahu when it comes to fitness for prime minister and handling security. About one quarter of Gantz’s supporters formerly backed Likud or the allied Kulanu party.
Benny Gantz meets with voters during a campaign stop Feb. 1 in the city of Rishon Letzion.